“We must open the doors and we must see to it that they remain open, so that others can pass through.”

rosemary brown

I am a 2024 YWCA woman of distinction nominee standing for Advancing Gender Equity. Here’s why and please vote for me here (my name is right before the vote button!). You can vote daily till April 12, so I can win a $10,000 donation towards Advancing Gender Equity. Please also consider making a donation to YWCA Metro Vancouver.

As a 2024 YWCA Women of Distinction nominee, I have joined with over 100 women leaders across our province to support the work of the YWCA in advancing gender equity. While the YWCA has a distinct category of programs/services for advancing gender equity, all of what they do makes the lives of diverse women and their children of all genders, better, which in turn makes our province and world better for all.

  • Advance gender equity
  • Support early learning and child care
  • Deliver affordable housing for single mother-led families
  • Support access to justice
  • End gender-based violence

Why does this matter?

As our current Canadian Minister of Women & Gender Equality & Youth Marci Ien said in her remarks at the 68th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Gender equality is non-negotiable. It is a fundamental human right that must be protected. In addition to this fundamental human right, advancing gender equity is urgent and is part of the solution to the most pressing issues we face today. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women where Minister Ien made her remarks has noted that “Closing gender gaps in employment could boost Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita by 20 per cent across all regions.” In a world of global economic strife, you ask yourself, why then are we not more urgently working to address gender disparities. Women make up just about 50% of the global population and have always had outsized impacts on economies through their work in the care economy, paid and unpaid whether in Canada or around the world. Yet, we know that when women and girls are empowered to have autonomy and choice and contribute to society, their entire families thrive and global economic and social outcomes are better. Barrier to women’s participation in formal economies and society must be removed in service of all. As the UNCSW notes, progress towards ending poverty needs to be made 26 times faster in order to meet the 2030 sustainable development goals. We must close the gender gap! (see more from the Canadian Women’s Foundation on current gender gaps in Canada)

What it means to me?

Advancing gender equity is personal for me. I am a Black, African woman, who has experienced the power of allyship and solidarity in advancing gender equity and significantly shifting the outcomes for women and girls in families and communities like mine, for whom systemic odds are otherwise highly stacked against. I am here, because of a grandfather who defied traditions and sent my mother, an ethnic girl who wouldn’t have been educated, to school in colonized Sierra Leone; she thus became one of the first Themne girls to attend an elite all-girls missionary school in the heart of Freetown, in a context where ethnic Sierra Leonean girls were marked for early marriage. She overcame all odds, including discrimination as a young girl in this context and later, overt and covert racist encounters in 1960s Canada. She, Fatmatta R. Kanu, would go on to earn a teacher’s certificate in Freetown, a business diploma in Canada, a Bachelor of Arts with a major in History and a minor in Education from the University of Maryland and her Masters in International Relations from Boston University. She would further have a lifelong career advancing gender equity and supporting women and girls empowerment projects and initiatives.

While my grandfather is often hailed for his foresight in defying traditions, I often think of the grandmother I am named after in my mother’s life, and the courage it took for her to defy the gender-based norms of the times. I have no doubt that she would have had to deal with the displeasure of women’s communities themselves, as her daughter donned a uniform and travel to and from school everyday. In parallel, the importance of empowered and powerful women is mirrored in my father’s life. In his case, it was my paternal grandmother who championed the need for her son to be educated, initially against her husband’s wishes. My parents would therefore go on to have big dreams for all their children, all 6 daughters and 2 sons had equal opportunities to pursue higher education and knew from day one in fact, that this was not optional. In short, I have not lacked for gender equity role models, in the women in my life as well as in the men, and I have reaped the rewards in more ways than I can count. These role models have provided much inspiration for the work I do and pursue in service of gender equity and uplifting the story of women leaders, such as with the We Will Lead Africa, Vol 2: women’s volume.

Now What?

This Women’s History Month, as I have stood in so many circles of women’s leaders, 100s at a time, whether at the YWCA Announcing the nominees event or the DiversCityxMinerva International Women’s Day event or the Elevate Her Leadership conference for Black women leaders, I have been imagining our stories. I have imagined the families, communities and ancestors we represent. I have been in awe of the possibility and the reality of us. I have been further touched, moved, inspired and challenged to keep on keeping on, to ensure that we all do all we can to break all the barriers—to look past the challenges and say YES to continuing to advance gender equity and meet the urgent needs of our world that is possible when women’s lives are transformed. As a fellow woman and/or as an ally, it may be daunting, but we can all do something. You can:

  1. Start at home and encourage your children or those you parent to fight for their dreams and be equity champions.
  2. Encourage that family member, neighbor or friend to loosen their grip on gender norms—with love and accountability, not with shaming (remember, shame is not an effective social justice tool).
  3. Be a lifelong mentor/sponsor to emerging women leaders of all intersectionalities.
  4. Be part of gender equity initiatives in your workplaces and communities.
  5. Be part of policy campaigns or policy-making that advance gender equity.
  6. Join or donate to community organizations advancing gender equity, like YWCA and so many others.

Here are more tips from the Canadian Women’s Foundation  on simple ways to support gender equity and continue our journey to #investinher. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres notes: Gender-based discrimination harms everyone – women, girls, men, and boys. Investing in women uplifts all people, communities, and countries.” So please:

Dare to lead, let courage be your song,
In every challenge, you belong.
Pave the way for those yet to come,
For in your journey, the battle’s already won.

Trish Mandewo*

*Stanza from “You Have What It Takes,” closing poem by Trish Mandewo at the Elevate Her Leadership Conference. Download the full poem here. Posted and sharing with permission.