Doctor of Pharmacy student Munaza Saleem (photo credit James MacDonald) was selected from an applicant pool of young women across Canada to step into the role of Minister of National Defense for a day. Saleem is part of the Canadian #GirlsBelongHere initiative and one of 17 youth who are paired with government leaders, CEOs, and executives to illustrate every girl’s right to belong in influential roles.
The Girls Belong Here campaign is to celebrate International Day of the Girl on October 11 and is part of Plan International’s global initiative which has over 500 participants in 60 countries. The purpose of the campaign is to put young leaders in positions of power to inspire girls to break down gender barriers preventing them from following their dreams. Saleem was first involved with Plan International Canada as part of the Because I am a Girl Speaker’s Bureau three years ago, where she delivered motivational speeches on female empowerment and creating positive change.
Saleem began her day meeting Madame Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. After that, she headed to the National Defense Headquarters to meet with the Minister’s executive staff including Zita Astravas, the Defense Minister’s Chief of Staff, and Jody Thomas, Senior Associate Deputy Minister for the Department of National Defense.
“We had a discussion on the new Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy and the mental health of veterans and soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces. It was incredibly inspiring to talk to such accomplished and empowered women,” says Saleem. “They gave me sound advice on being a woman in politics and government, a career option I’m open to exploring as an aspiring pharmacist.”
Saleem then prepped for Question Period with the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defense, Press Secretary Jordan Owens, and Director of Parliamentary Affairs Louis Landry.
“I had the opportunity to discuss the new Defense Policy with Minister Sajjan and advocate for more female representation in the Canadian Armed Forces,” Saleem says. “It was eye-opening to discover how many different aspects on current issues need to be considered.”
When asked if there was gender inequality in Canada, Saleem says, “Canada has progressed a lot towards gender equality but we still have room to improve. Only one woman has been Prime Minister and a wage gap still exists. Canada has a 50% female population but only 25% of parliament is comprised of women and that needs to change to ensure we are properly represented when making important decisions.”
“I’m very grateful to Minister Sajjan and his staff for all their support and generosity in making this rare privilege so impactful for me,” Saleem says. “I’m forever thankful for Plan International Canada and the Because I am a Girl initiative for this opportunity and their strong work towards gender equality and female empowerment.”
Saleem is entering her third year of the Doctor of Pharmacy program and is the founder of Defeat Denial, a mental health awareness group, and YouthScope.org, an online resource for Canadian high school students to discover scholarships and enrichment programs. She currently represents the interests and concerns of pharmacy students as the Student Representative on the Joint Health and Safety Committee at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy.