Local Non-Profit Ask Her Encourages More Women to Run in Calgary's 2017 Municipal Election

Ask Her was aiming to get 20 women to run in the election.

Kara Levis, Salima Kassam and Esmahan Razavi.

Photograph of Kara Levis courtesy of Jonathan Yee; Photograph of Salima Kassam courtesy of Jackie Duncan; Photograph of Esmahan Razavi by Jennifer Friesen


Last year, four Calgary women started the non-profit Ask Her to encourage more women to run in the 2017 municipal election. Their motivation can be aptly summed up by the political aphorism: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” 

Kara Levis, a lawyer and one of the founders, recalls discussions with women of differing political stripes at federal and provincial levels of politics. “We agreed to disagree about some things,” she says, “but on the issue of there being a lack of women on city council, we were of one mind.” With only two women on the current 15-member Calgary municipal council (Druh Farrell and Diane Colley-Urquhart), Levis and her colleagues set out to recruit women who are known community leaders to run. Their goal was to recruit 20 (at the time this article was written 22 women had filed candidates’ papers).

“The personal is political” became the rallying cry of women’s equality advocates of the ’60s and ’70s. For Esmahan Razavi, one of the founders of Ask Her, personal experience was also the inspiration to step up and run in Ward 6. Razavi, a professional mediator, was born in Saudi Arabia and immigrated with her family to Canada when she was 13 years old, leaving behind a rigid theocracy where the lives of girls and women are restricted. “Having lived where democracy doesn’t exist profoundly shaped me,” Razavi says. 

If elected, she vows to engage with residents as much as possible, identifying the mitigation of noise from the proposed ring road as being a major issue for the west-end ward.

On the opposite side of the city in Ward 10, anti-poverty advocate Salimah Kassam sees a need for a council voice that will fight for better economic opportunities for residents of the most ethnically diverse ward in Calgary. About 86 per cent of Ward 10 residents are immigrants or new Canadians, who Kassam says are not getting the representation they deserve. 

“I grew up in this area; I see good people having to fight for development. The northeast doesn’t get the attention other wards get,” says Kassam. “I want to change that.”

This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Avenue Calgary. Subscribe here. 


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