This year, women’s voices were louder than ever. Countless testimonials inspired by the #MeToo movement sparked real momentum on social justice issues. This pivotal movement encouraged us all to engage in what is now a global conversation around gender equality and women’s issues.
In 2018, we had the pleasure of working with Up With Women, a charity devoted to helping formerly homeless and at-risk women build sustainable careers and permanently escape poverty. We were inspired by the passion and energy of the organization’s founder, Lia Grimanis (she pulls airplanes while wearing high heels in her spare time, natch), as well as the entire Up With Women team. In recognition of the amazing things that are accomplished when women are empowered, we want to share the stories of Canadian women who push boundaries, break barriers, and punch up.
Lia Grimanis: A fitting first nod and the inspiration for this card. Lia’s incredible work in the homeless sector is inspired by experience. As an abuse survivor and formerly homeless teen, she worked her way out of poverty to eventually act as Regional Head of Financial Services for global technology firm TIBCO. Lia is an example of what can be accomplished when vulnerable women are given access to a path out of poverty. She now manages Up With Women’s career program full-time, where she helps women escape the poverty trap.
Bhutila Karpoche: This year Bhutila made history when she became the first person of Tibetan heritage to be elected to public office in North America. Bhutila is a public health researcher who is passionate about issues concerning the social determinants of health. Her studies address barriers specific to racialized refugees and immigrant women.
Mia Kirshner: Mia was one of the first Canadian women to publicly share her story as a survivor of sexual abuse in Hollywood. On International Women’s Day, she and other advocates in the industry released a report entitled #AfterMeToo. The movement began with a symposium at the Globe & Mail that examined sexual abuse in the Canadian entertainment industry. This conversation brought together survivors, witnesses, trauma experts, and lawyers, whose insights ultimately informed the #AfterMeToo report.
Susan Gapka: A voice for several marginalized groups in Toronto, Susan made local history when she became the first trans person to ever be presented the key to the city. She was honoured for her years devoted to advocacy around the LGBTQ2S community, as well as issues around affordable housing, education, and mental health.
Tanya Talaga: Tanya is the Toronto Star reporter who received massive acclaim when she published Seven Fallen Feathers, in which she takes a hard look at human rights violations against Indigenous communities in Thunder Bay. Since then, she has won numerous writing prizes, completed a public policy fellowship with the Atkinson Foundation, and became the first Indigenous woman to present at the prestigious CBC Massey Lectures.
Lido Pimienta: Lido is a proud Columbian musician and artist who uses her craft to give back to the community she left. In 2017, Lido was awarded the Polaris Prize for her honest, uninhibited album on motherhood and sexuality.
Janice Fukakusa: Janice has been a prominent figure in the financial industry for years. She was named one of American Banking’s 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking and was inducted into Canada’s Most Powerful Women Hall of Fame in 2007. More recently, Janice broke barriers when she was elected the first female chancellor of Ryerson University.
Olivia Nuamah: A long-time community builder, proud mother, and artist, Olivia now adds Executive Director of Toronto’s annual Pride festival to this list. She works diligently to make Pride a festival that reflects the needs of its communities and offers an opening, inclusive environment for all.
Zoë Dodd: You may remember her as the woman who grilled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Vice Canada talks around the legalization of cannabis. Zoë is a harm reduction worker on the front-lines of the safe-injection site in Moss Park. She has seen the detrimental effects of the opioid crisis first hand. Zoë is an outspoken advocate of the opioid epidemic, calling for immediate action to be taken on this public health crisis that continues to take lives on the daily.
Jennifer Keesmaat: She didn’t win the Mayorship, but she garnered almost 200,000 votes, and turned the conversation towards urban issues that our debates would have otherwise glossed over. She speaks and Tweets eloquently about affordable housing, improved transit, and how to build a better city.
Domee Shi: You may recall this year’s heartwarming Pixar short film, Bao. A groundbreaking film by many measures—this was the first Pixar short to be directed by a Chinese-Canadian, the first directed by a woman, the first to be brought to fruition by an all-female writer-director-producer team, and the first to be set in Toronto. Domee took inspiration from her own experience growing up in a Chinese family, and immigrating to Toronto.
June Rowlands: June was a trailblazer in Toronto politics. She was the first female mayor and the first woman to head the Toronto Transit Commission and Metropolitan Toronto Police Commission. She built her legacy fighting for affordable housing and advocating to preserve Toronto’s ravines and historical neighbourhoods. She passed away in December 2017 at the age of 93.
Hadiya Roderique: After leaving a prestigious role in private practice on Bay street, Hadiya stirred up the Canadian legal profession when she published a harrowing, honest article in the Globe and Mail about her experience as a woman of colour practising law. “Black on Bay Street” is her personal account of learning, time and time again, that success is not always based on merit, but rather on how well you fit in. She went on to earn a PhD in organizational behaviour and resources management from the Rotman School of Business and has subsequently completed two journalism fellowships at the Walrus and the National Post.
Dianne Saxe: Dianne is the last Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, a nonpartisan watchdog and forceful advocate for the environment, appointed unanimously by all MPPs in 2015. Coming off of an impressive 40-year career in law, in which she was rated amongst the top 25 environmental lawyers in the world, Dianne is a firm advocate for more regulatory and private sector attention to be directed to the climate crisis. In December 2018, the Ontario provincial government passed legislation to remove the independence of her office, to break her personal contract with the legislature without compensation, and to crush her staff’s union.
Kate McInturff: Policy analyst, feminist researcher, and scholar, Kate was widely recognized as a trailblazer in her field. She earned lots of media attention for her annual report, “The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada,” which was heralded as a benchmark on the state of gender equality in Canada’s largest cities. Kate passed away this year after a three year battle with colon cancer. Her legacy in the fight for gender equality was honoured by her colleagues at the CCPA with the establishment of the Making Women Count initiative, a fellowship created in her name.
Esi Edugyan: Hailed as the most ambitious novelist in Canada, Esi was honoured again this year when she was named the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize for the second time in her career. In her novel Washington Black, she explores what constitutes true freedom.
Weyni Mengesha: An award-winning director, dramaturge, and teacher, Weyni was named Artistic Director of Soulpepper theatre company this year. She recently made her U.S. directorial debut in Los Angeles. Her most successful productions include A Raisin in the Sun, Father Comes Home from the Wars, and Kim’s Convenience, which has since become a popular television series on CBC.
Annamaria Enenajor: As you can imagine, it’s been a busy year for the Cannabis Amnesty Campaign. As Director, Annamaria is passionate about advocating for system change as cannabis convictions disproportionately affect racialized and Indigenous populations. After clerking with the Supreme Court of Canada, Annamaria was also named partner at a law firm with two of Canada’s top litigators, where she has established herself as a prominent figure in criminal defence law.