At the forefront of change: Helping all women to see themselves in the grand narrative of the Canadian experience
As a young girl growing up in Iraq, I was never exposed to the world of politics. The country was led by a dictatorship and men dominated nearly every facet of society. As women, we were relegated to lesser opportunities because our fathers and husbands felt it their duty to protect us from the dangers of being in public life—where disagreement with certain policies or the government would often lead to imprisonment or death.
A woman in politics was unimaginable because not only did we lack knowledge of the political process, we did not have role models to demonstrate that it was even possible.
It was heartwarming to arrive in Canada and to see that women were supported and represented in the public sphere.
I feel immensely blessed to live in a democracy that is open to embracing women who are the forefront of change—even women who have a different place of origin but now call this country home.
Although Iraq was not ideal, I am grateful for the global perspective it afforded me. Like others who immigrate to Canada, our places of origin often help us relate to women who come from less open societies and this spurs us to action. Regularly, I encounter brave women who have firsthand experience of some of the issues we are trying to address. They not only have lived experience, but ideas about how to bring about meaningful change. More importantly, they have a level of compassion that is so crucial for helping newcomers deal with the cultural, linguistic, and economic challenges that come with settling in a new country. It is my personal goal to help women navigate these challenges so we all can find our unique place in the beautiful mosaic of our society.
Every day, I feel blessed to be a member of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia and part of the fabric of Canada. As an immigrant myself, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from outstanding elected officials like Diana Whalen and Geoff Regan, whom I accompanied on the city’s doorsteps. They taught me the true value of democracy, where individuals can have a say on issues that affect them, and politics can be used for the public good. I have championed these kinds of opportunities that help newcomers gain a better understanding of their new way of life and the values that their neighbours hold dear.
In the end, my work is inspired by my two daughters. I feel a deep sense of gratitude that I was able to raise them in a country that has afforded them the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
I am deeply committed to using my time in this office to help other women to see themselves in the grand narrative of the Canadian experience and to help them to become future advocates for multiculturalism and Canadian values.
I believe it is something we must not only protect but that we must continue to make available to all, especially the little girls who long to call Canada home.
Rafah DiCostanzo, MLA for Clayton Park West
Rafah DiCostanzo has lived in Clayton Park West for more than 33 years and has been MLA for the district since 2017. She was born in Baghdad, Iraq and arrived in Canada in 1984. She graduated from Mount Saint Vincent University in 1988 with a bachelor of arts in modern languages. An avid volunteer and a strong advocate for youth, entrepreneurs, women, immigrants, refugees, and other community groups, Rafah is passionate about health care, and has also worked to raise awareness around the importance of green spaces. She is a parishioner of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church and a member of the Italian Cultural Centre. Rafah speaks five languages and has worked as an interpreter for new immigrants and refugees for almost 30 years, including for Nova Scotia Interpreting Services. She also has experience in banking administration, entrepreneurship, and business ownership.