Celebrating resilience and empowerment of Black Women and Women of Colour
To celebrate Canada’s rich diversity and multiculturalism, Skills for Change organized the national Diverse Women of Canada: Stories of Resilience event on 9 March 2021 as a testament to the resilience of racialized women and to celebrate racialized newcomer, immigrant and refugee women. The virtual event supported by the Government of Canada brought together 20 women from diverse backgrounds, across ten provinces of Canada to acknowledge their remarkable journeys. On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, the national event was held to promote intercultural understanding of racialized women while celebrating their unique culture and heritage. The event running from 9:00 a.m. till 4:30 p.m., had over 600 participants from different backgrounds and provinces, and was supported by 15 community partners across Canada. It was broadcast virtually via Pheedloop and streamed live on Facebook followed by a networking session that provided an opportunity for deeper engagements between participants.
The event created space for the women to share their powerful stories of resilience interspersed with their personal journeys, challenges such as racism, microaggressions in the workplaces and systemic bias unique to women of colour, violence against women and inspiring messages to uplift other women. Their journeys along the thematic topics of equality, empowerment, leadership, education, employment, entrepreneurship and mental health and wellbeing provided a knowledge sharing platform and a chance to build solidarity as women tackle these challenges in different forms.
After the Canadian national anthem by opera performer, Charlotte Siegel, the women speakers, introduced by remarkable guest speakers, shared their stories filled with accomplishments, obstacles, lessons learned and anecdotes. Under the Empowerment theme, Peace Akintade, Eloisa Chaves-Valles and Nneka MacGregor shared the brave message for women to cherish themselves and rise up against adversities and trauma, work towards getting their voices heard and come together to stand for each other. Elnaz Golestani, Omolola Olawunmi and Sultana Jahangir under the Employment theme underlined the importance of economic empowerment of women to advance holistic progress of the Canadian communities and society. For the Equality theme, Cassandra Nimira and Zeba Khan emphasized their lived experiences of racism and gender inequality, and why women must continue striving for equality despite all odds. Under the Mental Health and Wellbeing theme, Nicole Waldron, Shieh-Chi Chen and Faïza Cheikh spoke about the need for women to normalize looking after their mental health to be able to reach their full potential especially with the ongoing flawed experiences of racism during the pandemic. Under the Education theme, Reequal Smith, Raven Khadeja and Alicia Noreiga-Mundaroy reiterated how educational experiences equip women to find their voice especially when faced with racism and systematic inequalities. Under the Leadership theme, Anita Agrawal, Ejibola Adetokunbo-Taiwo and Sara Asalya highlighted the effectiveness of leadership in women of colour to make a positive impact in the world. Under the Entrepreneurship theme, Karima-Catherine (KC) Goundiam, Shivani Dhamija and Zuly Matallana shared the message of confidence, patience and innovation that led them to achieve their ambitions despite the challenges imposed as immigrant women of colour in Canada. In many ways, the event created a unique platform for women to share their powerful stories covering different crosscutting perspectives in the context of racialized women.
During the keynote address, The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said, “Diversity and inclusion are the fundamental reasons that our cities are vibrant. We are aware that many immigrants continue to face barriers related to their identity, colour, gender and socio-economic status on a daily basis. We are committed to combat all forms of discrimination and racism. Celebrating and showcasing diversity and inclusion helps break down the barriers between cultures and creates shared histories.” Recognizing Skills for Change’s efforts, Minister Bennett added, “The resolute determination and enthusiasm of Skills for Change in organizing this event to bring forward the stories of diverse women is commendable. Skills for Change has always been leading and adapting to the evolving needs of a multicultural Canada and Diverse Women of Canada: Stories of Resilience is an example.”
The Honourable Jean Augustine, noted, “COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and systemic racism have given us the opportunity to examine gaps, make changes to our system and recognize that diversity and inclusion are the way forward. The theme for this International Women’s Day – choose to challenge encourages us to choose to challenge the inequality, power systems, social injustices, uneven progress and discrimination,” she said, adding that, “We must choose to challenge with solutions and recommendations for change at every level to ensure that voices are heard and policy decisions are made. We must choose to challenge ourselves to work towards the cause, empower women and participate in building an inclusive society. As we gather together at this event today, it is important that we choose to make decisions.”
Hosting the national event, Surranna Sandy, CEO, Skills for Change, emphasized, “By championing racialized women and mobilizing support for their successful integration into Canadian society, this event augments Skills for Change’s ongoing efforts to uplift racialized women who have suffered more due to systemic barriers and the pandemic and gives them a platform to share their stories and be heard. We hope that the courage and relentless spirit of these women will inspire others, raise awareness and bring solidarity in the community.”
The Diverse Women of Canada: Stories of Resilience event created an essential space for more women to connect and inspire each other through their stories across Canada by amplifying the voices of racialized women and how they triumph the harsh trajectories with resilience everyday. The space celebrated the stories of resilience of racialized women and applauded their accomplishments while uplifting all racialized women with a message of hope, recovery, reconciliation, peace and unity to progress as a multicultural and inclusive Canada. The stories underlined the much-needed relevant conversations on women empowerment, gender equality, systemic barriers such as racism and inequality, and discrimination as well as equal opportunities for women to flourish as change agents in different sectors to reshape narratives and to rebuild an equitable and resilient Canada that celebrates diversity and inclusion.
And for more information about the Diverse Women of Canada: Stories of Resilience, please contact Justine Namara, Associate Director, Programs and Strategic Initiatives at email@example.com