International Women’s Day, an annual celebration of women’s social, political, and economic accomplishments, is right around the corner. From celebrating Canada’s most accomplished women entrepreneurs to shining a spotlight on women of influence who are leaving their mark on a variety of fields, celebrating women’s wins is a daily practice at Women of Influence. But this celebration is also an opportunity for us to reflect; to look back at our histories as diverse women and envision a future where gender equity is the norm, and not a promise — and to take action in the present to bring that vision to life.
It’s another chance for us to recognize that marginalized women, especially Black, Indigenous, and racialized women, transgender women, and women living with disabilities, face intersecting challenges that contribute to an even wider gender gap and create additional barriers to their success. From an investment gap that saw Black and Latinx women combined receive just 0.64% of total venture capital investment between 2018 and 2019, to a wage gap that values disabled women’s labour 46% less than that of non-disabled men, we must be conscious of persisting systems of oppression that intersect with sexism to devalue women’s contributions.
March also marks the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it be as working moms trying to balance childcare and professional responsibilities or as frontline essential workers, women have had an extraordinary few months, further demonstrating the extent of our contributions to all aspects of life. The pandemic is threatening to wipe out decades of progress for women at work, and has already taken its toll on the 20,000 Canadian women who left the workforce between February and October of 2020.
Despite all of that, women continue to make moves and push back against narratives that seek to erase their contributions and worth. From creating mutual-aid networks and starting their own businesses in an ongoing pandemic, to keep pushing on wherever they are, women have continued to persist and resist for yet another year. They have innovated and led across a variety of sectors, and moved the dial on gender equality by showing up however they could — pushing for progress in their own way.
Here are seven women-led initiatives that are advancing equality that you can support right now!
Advancing Muslim Women’s Leadership
Aisha Azba Amijee
Founder, Voices of Muslim Women, Vancouver, BC
Aisha Azba Amijee is the founder and executive director of Voices of Muslim Women Foundation, a Vancouver-based non-profit organization that educates and mentors girls and women professionals to be confident, connected, and informed leaders. Aisha’s love for community, conversations, and good coffee, contribute to her continuous pursuit of building relationships and meaningful connections that help women define their own narratives and create the life they want to live. Founded in 2017, Aisha grew Voices of Muslim women from a digital storytelling course into a global virtual sisterhood with a mission to connect, inspire, empower, and celebrate Muslim women around the world. Voices of Muslim women envisions a world where Muslim women inspire each other to live big and lead now; to become leaders in their industries; to connect with like-minded Muslim women around the world and to create a community where they belong. Through education, mentorship, and community support, Aisha is emboldening Muslim women to step into their power and lead by example.
Elevating Indigenous Women and Girls
CEO & Chief Changemaker, SheNative Goods
Devon Fiddler is a Cree Mother of two, from the Waterhen Lake First Nation, SK. Devon is the Chief Changemaker of SheNative Goods Inc, a brand of handbags and accessories dedicated to elevating Indigenous Women and girls. A fashion brand with a purpose, SheNative is putting their mission to work by employing Indigenous women in the design and manufacturing of our goods, involving Indigenous communities and customers in their design process, sharing the experiences and perspectives of local, national and international Indigenous woman changemakers and giving 2% of revenues toward causes that positively impact the lives of Indigenous women. Under Devon’s leadership, SheNative exists to instill inner strength and unwavering confidence in women, using teachings that come from Indigenous Nationhood, which to them means knowing who you are and where you come from.
Prioritizing Young Women and Girls with Disabilities
Director of Youth Initiatives and International Relations, DAWN Canada, 2021 Top 25 Women of Influence
Nelly Bassily is an intersectional feminist, sexual rights, and anti-racism activist and media maker with over 15 years of experience in the non-profit sector. Born to Egyptian parents in Montreal, immigration, diaspora, and identity also inform her activism. Currently the Director of Youth Initiatives and International Relations at DAWN Canada (Disabled Women’s Network Canada), she focuses her work on young women with disabilities and Deaf young women. In 2020, Nelly oversaw and worked in collaboration with lead researcher Sonia Alimi on the creation of Girls Without Barriers, an intersectional feminist analysis of girls and young women with disabilities in Canada. The report identified gaps in research regarding the needs of girls with disabilities, and aimed to increase the participation of girls with disabilities and Deaf girls in girl-serving programs. In a world where the experiences of women with disabilities are often erased and overlooked, Nelly’s work is not only improving the accessibility of programs, but also increasing opportunities for Girls with disabilities and Deaf girls to develop their confidence and leadership as they witness their ideas and opinions transform into concrete actions.
Amplifying Women’s Voices
Alejandra Porta, Stefanie Grieser, and Amy Wood
Co-creators, Shine Bootcamp
Alejandra Porta, Amy Wood, and Stefanie Grieser are the co-creators of Shine Bootcamp, an immersive, three-day keynote speaker bootcamp for women in technology, marketing, and startup environments who want to kickstart their speaking careers, share their stories, and become respected thought leaders. Shine Bootcamp is focused on giving women the tools they need to effectively share their stories and expertise, and the opportunity to develop the confidence and the skills to build an audience and create change. Shine Bootcamp is less about addressing imposter syndrome or content creation, and more about giving women access to coaching, mentoring, and speaking experiences that may otherwise be hard to come by. Alejandra, Amy, and Stefanie are filling a much needed gap between women whose stories have the potential to create change and an event and conference organizing sector that has yet to harvest that potential.
Investing In Young Women and Girls of Color
Dr. Monique Morris
Executive Director, Grantmakers for Girls of Color, U.S.
Dr. Monique Morris, an award-winning author, educator and activist, holds three decades of experience in the areas of education, civil rights, juvenile and social justice and has been a lifelong advocate for improving the educational and socioeconomic conditions for girls and women of color. In 2020, she was named as the first executive director of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, a leading philanthropic organization dedicated to cultivating investments in support of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and Pacific American girls in the United States by mobilizing philanthropic resources. Through these efforts, Dr. Morris is reshaping the philanthropic landscape to prioritize building power and capacity-building among girls and young women.
Advancing Financial Feminism™
Judy Fairburn, Shelley Kuipers, and Alice Reimer
Judy Fairburn, Shelley Kuipers, and Alice Reimer are the founders of the51, a Financial Feminist™ platform where investors, entrepreneurs and those who aspire to be, come together for democratized access to women-led capital for women-led businesses — to build mutual wealth and social/environmental impact, share knowledge and experiences, and become influential investors, innovators, and consumers. By uniting Canada’s untapped wealth among women, The51 is creating a new critical mass of women investors, making Canada the centre for woman-powered capital. With 30% of Alberta’s tech start-ups founded or co-founded by women, The51’s home province is well on its way to achieving this goal; however, with woman-founded startups only receiving 3% of venture capital available world-wide, The51’s vision spans globally. By connecting the nation-wide movement of women accredited investors, women entrepreneurs and the larger community of voices eager to support them, Judy, Shelley, and Alice are powering new wealth creation, and bringing about essential social change.
Advocating for Trans-Inclusion
Pastor, 2021 Top 25 Women of Influence
June Joplin, known by many as Pastor June, is a Mississauga-based pastor whose coming out as a transgender woman during a livestream sermon on June 14, 2020 proved to be the message of acceptance and love needed by many in the world of queer Christianity. It is a message that is far too often lacking in the lives of transgender people, especially trans Christians who are often faced with the task of choosing between their true selves and their faith. Inspired by her own experience as an 11-year-old — the age when she felt called to ministry, while also having intense feelings that she should be a girl — June hoped to use her position as Pastor to provide the affirmation she’d lacked growing up to all those trying to reconcile their faith and their identity, especially transgender youth. Shortly after the revelation, June lost her job after a congregational vote (52% in favour of termination, ‘for theological reasons’) that was in direct opposition to the outpouring of love from parishioners and supporters on social media. Nevertheless, June continues to share her message through weekly sermons, available on her YouTube channel, and guest preaching.