Growing up, Gabrielle Guizzo was the only girl in her Hamilton high school who wanted a career in politics.
Today a fourth-year political science student and King’s Scholar at King’s University College, Guizzo graduated high school with about 500 people. Being the only girl she knew who had an interest in politics, however, told Guizzo something needed to change.
After many years of thinking about what that change might look like, she decided now was right time to put her ideas into action.
“When I started my university career, I wanted to leave having made a difference, a change in some way, and I always saw that through a conference,” she explains. “I know that not every girl is going to want to be involved in politics. But now if they are understanding the gap, understanding what the barriers are, maybe they can start their own solution.”
The results of Guizzo’s inspiration is the upcoming Ignite Conference at King’s University College’s Student Life Center, on Saturday, April 7.
Ignite is targeted towards female-identifying girls between the ages of 14-19, studying at the high school level. The day-long conference is dedicated, Guizzo said, to empowering young women to consider a future in politics.
The Ignite Conference will include a series of three speakers — including the former Chief of Chippewas of the Thames Leslee White-Eye, Elgin-London-Middlesex MP Karen Vecchio, and marketing and communications professional Shobhita Sharma — a series of three workshops and then a networking lunch.
The day will end with a panel discussion to include London West MPP Peggy Sattler, as well as Carol Dyke (Green Party), Kate Graham (Liberal Party) and Amanda Stratton (NDP), all candidates in the upcoming provincial election.
Guizzo said one of the goals of the conference is to create a forum where “diverse opinions and perspectives” are presented to enrich the experience of delegates while encouraging a dialogue offering a critical analysis of women’s role in political life.
“I want to see girls enjoying and being educated and learning. And hopefully taking something away from it,” she said. “If I can see girls gaining knowledge, closing that gap, that’s going to be really impactful for society. And that’s where we’re going to see future leaders created.”
Guizzo credits one today’s leaders — her course mentor and Women & Politics founder Shawna Lewkowitz — with not only helping her get the conference together, but also providing a tangible example of how women can be meaningfully involved in the political process without necessarily running for office themselves.
For her part, Lewkowitz quickly deflects any credit and instead praises Guizzo for the bringing forward an event that fits well with the goals of Women & Politics.
“We know that getting young girls interested in politics, and knowing they have a place in politics from a young age, is really important,” she said. “Important both for them in that moment, but also for their future prospects and endeavours.”
Considering what Guizzo called “the significant disconnect” between youth today and politicians due to the current political climate,” she said each generation has the potential to create change, but for that to happen there needs to be a greater sense of co-operation.
In light of that sentiment, and with so many women eager to lend their time to the conference, Lewkowitz said she believes there is “a real willingness” for that to happen.
“When you’ve walked that walk yourself, you recognize how important it is to be mentored, to hear from experienced leaders, to build relationships,” she said. “I think it speaks to the quality of the event that Gabby’s been able to attract the people she has. It also is reflective of the women leaders in our community and their willingness to support others.”