Extraordinary Women: Jyoti Gondek
We have normalized now the idea of women and people of colour being in senior leadership positions.
Jyoti Gondek's feet may be planted in Calgary, but a piece of her heart will always belong to Manitoba.
Gondek made history on Monday night, when she was elected as the first female mayor of the city.
But the road she followed to Calgary city council has taken her many places — including formative years in southern Manitoba.
Gondek's family immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom in the 1970s, when she was just four years old. Her parents had moved to the U.K. from the Punjab region in India.
"It's funny — my parents, when we were living in England, felt that we had more opportunity in Canada, so they looked a map and said, 'You know, Winnipeg looks really central,' and it is," Gondek said in an interview with CBC Manitoba following her election victory this week.
"It was really cold, so when we moved there it was a bit of a shock to the system, but let me tell you, it was great times."
The Calgary city councillor turned mayor-elect says she had a typical upbringing in the Prairies, living in and attending schools in Winnipeg, Neepawa, Portage La Prairie and Brandon. Her first job after completing her university studies was as a policy analyst for women's shelters with the Manitoba government.
Gondek moved to Calgary from Manitoba in 1997, after her husband, Todd, accepted a job offer in the Alberta city. She and her husband still have family in Manitoba and have travelled back east to visit.
Loved ones in Manitoba cheered her from afar on election night, she says.
"I have cousins there [in Winnipeg]. They have been texting with my mom and phoning her and cheering me on from the sidelines," she said. "My husband's parents are there. It's just a lot of family that is still back in Manitoba.… It's an incredibly supportive bunch."
Winnipeg realtor Gurpreet Kaur says Gondek's election win in Calgary is a big step not only for women, but also for the Sikh and Punjab communities. Kaur says she's proud to see someone who represents her community become the leader of a major Canadian city. "It's gonna be a big, huge step for other women as well. They can also see themselves in her shoes one day, and it's giving them … another boost."
Jasmine Brar, who has political aspirations of her own — which included a run for the Progressive Conservatives in Burrows during the 2019 provincial election — says this is a proud moment for many immigrants who came to Canada for new opportunities.
"I also truly feel like we are more than capable to take a seat at the leadership level," Brar said. "We are very proud of her.… A woman like Jyoti is an inspiration."
Gondek says her win, and the mayoral win in Edmonton for Amarjeet Sohi — a Sikh immigrant from India — have been a long time coming, and that Canada can build from the momentum of the historic victories.
"We have normalized now the idea of women and people of colour being in senior leadership positions," she said. "I am happy that the population sees itself reflected in its local government."
~ Marjorie Dowhos, CBC News
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