OTTAWA — In a year when the Harvey Weinstein scandal enabled women to uncloak years of unspoken sexual misconduct by prominent men, Toronto-born Sharren Haskel recalls the moment when she found her power.
She was 18, and had left home for the first time to start her mandatory service in the Israel Defence Forces. She worked alongside other men, learning how shoot, run, kick down doors, and push her mind and body past its limits.
“As much as we are trying to engineer our society to make it better for females … it’s probably impossible to engineer a world like that,” Haskel recalled on a recent trip to Ottawa for an international meeting of young parliamentarians.
“Those challenges are what made me what I am today — having to push through those boundaries, those walls that people put in front of you in life.”
Haskel, 33, is now a rookie politician in her adopted homeland of Israel, where she was elected in 2015. Though she may have left Canada as a child, she’s found herself in the middle of some distinctly Canadian political issues in Israel — she’s a proponent of legalized pot and LGBT rights.
It was the nearly three years she spent as a frontline infantry soldier for Israel that prepared her for her current political battles. She served during the second intifada more than a decade ago, which claimed the lives of thousands of people.
This past fall, Haskel was among the more than 120 young members of parliament from more than 50 countries who came to Ottawa for a conference. They tackled a wide variety of issues, including the global migration crises and rising social inequality, all of it through a lens that focused on how young politicians made a difference.
The gathering unfolded as the allegations against Weinstein for sexual abuse and harassment were first coming to light, and as the #MeToo campaign took flight and gave rise to even more allegations of bad behaviour — primarily by men against women.
Female MPs Experienced Sexual Misconduct
Last month, a Canadian Press survey of current female MPs from all political parties found 58 per cent of respondents reported having experienced one or more forms of sexual misconduct during their time in politics, while 76 per cent had either witnessed or been told about sexual misconduct targeting another woman, including a staffer, page, intern, House of Commons employee or MP.
“This particular workplace that is Parliament Hill is one that is rife with hierarchies and power dynamics wrapped up in and around an institution that for centuries has been the purview of a certain type of person _ older, male, successful,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Change is happening, but slowly, he added: “We have a system that has changed, but a society that is changing not fast enough, and that is going to lead to difficult situations.”
The next generation of women will have it easier as a result of that sort of generational change, Haskel said, but there needs to be some soul searching now. “Sometimes that struggle actually gives you extra motivation to actually push you further.”
Haskel said she became a proponent of legal marijuana for medical purposes after seeing it as an issue of economic inequality. Too many people in poorer neighbourhoods were being busted for possession, and the consequences of having a criminal record were too steep in her view.
“Somebody that uses cannabis — they didn’t steal, they didn’t rape, they didn’t murder, they didn’t make any harm done to another person.”
She is a member of the Knesset’s multi-party LGBT caucus, which has been embroiled in a complicated struggle to advance rights for that community in Israel.
Israel is surrounded by many countries that don’t share the same views and values when it comes to equality of the sexes or minority rights, she says.
Haskel says she’ll stay in politics as long as she can keep winning elections. But she says she’s not willing to do that at any cost.
“I’m not the kind of politician who will go out and yell out slogans and shout out things that will divide our people and usually will gain you some votes,” she says. “We, as politicians, need to speak less and do more.”
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press