During Women's History Month, Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) proudly presents an inspiring roster of women who are making history, and whose contributions to advancing gender equality will leave an enduring mark for generations to come.
As WAGE celebrates its 5th anniversary as a department, we take this opportunity to highlight these remarkable individuals who contribute significantly to organizations supported by WAGE.
They come from a wide range of backgrounds, embodying the core message of this year's theme, 'Through Her Lens: Celebrating the Diversity of Women.' Collectively, they have broken down barriers and championed transformative change, offering unique perspectives that underscore their actions in community advocacy, breakthroughs in research, policy development, improving access to housing, dedication to ending gender-based violence, entrepreneurial drive, commitments to reconciliation, and courageous leadership.
Aline Nizigama, YWCA Canada, Chief Executive Officer
Aline (She/her) is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of YWCA Canada. Through her leadership and dynamism, her ambition is to move Canada forward to a more inclusive future, proud of its diversity and equality. She wants to contribute to making the world a better place for the next generations by using her lived experience as a former refugee to bring about trauma-informed change.
Her extensive professional experiences working with equity-deserving groups have given her a deep understanding of issues affecting Francophone and multilingual communities, as well as Black people, Indigenous people and People of Color; as does understanding how these complex issues intersect to produce varying degrees of inequities in Canadian and global contexts; and how to meet these challenges. She highlights that systemic challenges such as misogyny and racism require systemic solutions. It is through partnerships and coalitions that results and responses can have a real impact.
It is through her leadership in gender equality that she wishes to amplify the multiple voices of the YWCA Canada movement. Aline wants to support the consistent and meaningful work of Member Associations in a way that helps them progress towards excellence. In particular, as CEO, she aims to bring a perspective of lived experience and to prioritize issues such as anti-racism, reconciliation, liberation, intersectional feminism, paying attention to urban/rural considerations, and bridging the Francophone-Anglophone worlds.
Gerri Sharpe, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, President
Gerri was born in Yellowknife and proudly calls Gjoa Haven her hometown. Throughout her life, she’s had the opportunity to live in various parts of Canada, but currently resides in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. She is a mother of two and a proud grandmother of four.
Gerri's commitment to advocating for the well-being and safety of all women, particularly Inuit women and women and children at the national level, has been a driving force in her life. Over a span of seven years, she served on the Inuvik Transition House Board and dedicated many years to the Inuvik District Education Authority during her time in Inuvik. Additionally, she served as the Vice President of the Beaufort Delta Education Council and contributed five years to the NWT Human Rights Commission, enabling her to actively participate in important discussions and initiatives.
In February 2022, Gerri was elected as the President of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. In this role, she continues her passionate advocacy for the rights and empowerment of Inuit women across Canada. Through this work, she aims to create a more inclusive and equitable society for women and girls, drawing inspiration from the strength and resilience she has witnessed in her community and throughout her life.
Her unique background and experiences as an Inuk woman have deeply influenced her passion for promoting gender equality. At Pauktuutit, the organization is advocating for equality and social change for Inuit women and gender-diverse Inuit. Part of this advocacy involves emphasizing the need for new and existing policies, programs, and services to consider the unique needs, voices, and social experiences of Inuit women, girls, and gender-diverse Inuit.
Her advice to future generations of women and girls aspiring to make a difference in the pursuit of gender equality: “Never underestimate your potential to effect positive change. Embrace your unique background and experiences as sources of strength, and seek out opportunities to learn, grow, and lead.”
Harmy Mendoza, WomanACT, Executive Director
For the past 16 years, Harmy Mendoza has led WomanACT. This non-profit organization advocates for a world where all women and gender-diverse people live free from violence and have economic security. She brings a rich tapestry of experiences to her passionate advocacy for gender equality. Born in Mexico, Harmy’s journey to Canada was a testament to resilience and determination, shaping her commitment to championing equal rights.
As an immigrant woman, Harmy intimately understands the hurdles marginalized groups face. This understanding fuels her dedication to promoting gender equality as the cornerstone of societal progress. As the Executive Director of WomanACT, she works tirelessly to dismantle barriers that hinder women's advancement and economic security. Under her leadership, the organization spearheads research, education, and policy reform initiatives to create an inclusive environment for all women.
Harmy’s story highlights the importance of celebrating diverse female achievements. Her ascent from a foreign land to a leadership position is a testament to the potential within every woman. Her efforts to highlight the accomplishments of women from all walks of life resonate strongly with her conviction that actual progress is achieved through embracing diversity.
As a female leader, Harmy emphasizes mentorship and networking opportunities for women with lived experience of GBV from diverse backgrounds. She believes in amplifying marginalized voices, fostering an environment where everyone’s potential can flourish.
Her advice to aspiring women echoes her journey: “Be ambitious, be courageous. Your unique background and roots are all sources of strength,” Harmy’s passion, even amid adversity, stems from her unwavering focus to keep the most vulnerable at the centre. She believes that challenges and oppositional thoughts should be welcomed as they invigorate change, propelling her commitment to creating a more inclusive tomorrow.
Helen Kennedy, Egale Canada, Executive Director
Having dedicated her life’s work to improving the lives of 2SLGBTQI+ people in Canada and around the world, Helen has learned that progress in the fight for equality can never be taken for granted. In 2007, with 22 years of experience in politics, Helen became the Executive Director at Egale Canada. In her own work, she has seen many legal and legislative advances including the win for equal marriage, the addition of gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, the Government of Canada’s apology for years of state-sponsored systemic oppression targeting 2SLGBTQI+ public servants and military personnel, and so much more. While these moments in our country’s history are important to celebrate and reflect upon, Helen would say to future generations of women and nonbinary people who aspire to make a difference in the pursuit of gender equality that this work must be collective and ongoing, and inclusive of trans, Two Spirit and gender-diverse people. Despite the challenges and obstacles that will always be present, by uniting together, we can continue to move forward in creating a more inclusive and equitable society that reflects the universal truth that all persons are equal and none is other.
Léonie Couture, La rue des Femmes, Founding President and Executive Director
For Léonie Couture, relational health is part of health, as with physical and mental health. Having faced violence, inequality, and bullying since childhood, Léonie found the best defence against violence was in the search for meaning.
Understanding questions like, “Why does violence happen?” “How do you survive it?” “How do you prevent it from happening again when violence has destroyed your inner sense of safety?” Or “What is behind femicides, and fear and hatred of diversity?”
As an adult, she became committed to promoting women’s rights, and she was shaken by the plight of the most vulnerable among her fellow humans: women experiencing homelessness who had survived violence. Because violence leaves wounds, and those wounds need to be healed to cure homelessness, she founded La rue des Femmes, a relational health institute.
Enriched by her years of experience working with these wounded women, Léonie realized that there are three branches of human health: physical health, mental health, and relational health.
Relational health is a state of profound wellbeing that fosters vital capacities for safety, connections, and happiness for yourself and others.
Relational health is based on equality, respect, empathy, kindness, acceptance, and recognition of others as people in their own right. By its very nature, relational health is inclusive and looks beyond all types of differences. Cisgender women or transgender women; Indigenous women, racialized women, or women from any other background; mothers or non-mothers; lesbians, straight women, or queer women – they all have a place at La rue des femmes because they are human beings. It’s that simple.
Lina Khatib, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, President
The resistance against oppressive systems is a legacy Lina Khatib has inherited from her parents who escaped to Canada from political persecution in Syria in the 1980s. It was Lina's mother who imprinted upon her the passion for championing gender equality and social justice. Throughout her upbringing, Lina marvelled at her mother's unwavering courage to challenge the status quo and fight for better circumstances. Lina is a community leader and volunteer who works to empower newcomer women by fostering greater health and well-being, civic engagement, and nurturing their sense of agency.
Lina strongly believes that we cannot advance women’s equality without recognizing that different girls and women face multiple forms of oppression and inequality that can be simultaneous and cannot be separated. This is why Lina joined the CRIAW-ICREF's Board of Directors in 2019 where she supported the organization’s goal of building collective capacity for intersectional advocacy on women's issues. Lina is currently the President of CRIAW-ICREF, continuing to support the only national bilingual feminist organization dedicated to researching and documenting the economic and social situation of women in Canada.
Lina’s academic and professional career has always been at the intersection of people, systems and social justice. She has worked for the provincial government, the non-profit sector, in startup environments, and currently with a consulting firm that specializes in diversity, equity and inclusion. She is inspired by the new and fearless generation of women who are fighting for gender climate justice and believes wholeheartedly that empowering women and girls to lead during these challenging times will mean a better future for all.
Melanie Omeniho, Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak, President
Melanie Omeniho is a descendent of the historical Métis community of Lac Ste Anne and is a proud member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. As a young person, Melanie attended meetings and assemblies alongside her mother and other strong Métis women role models who set the stage for creating spaces for Métis women’s voices to be heard. Her political and advocacy career led her to play a role in the development and incorporation of Les Femmes Michif Otipemisiwak (LFMO) and to her four terms as President, elected by Métis women across the homeland. Melanie has been the President of Edmonton Métis Local 1886 for nearly 30 years. She is also past-President of Women of the Métis Nation in Alberta.
Melanie has extensive experience in the areas of community development, social programming, family and children services, and economic development. She has developed many community programs and advocates on behalf of her community and Métis women to effect changes to the various social programs to better meet the needs of the Indigenous community.
Melanie plays an integral role in Métis Nation governance. She sits on the Board of Governors of the Métis Nation as a non-voting member, while ensuring consistently that the interests of Métis women are considered in every decision. She also played a key role in the development of Métis Nation priorities to be addressed at the Permanent Bilateral Mechanism table between the Métis Nation and Canada. Melanie has acted on behalf of the Métis Nation on several critical matters as they relate to the Duty to consult and engage.
Melanie Ratnam, The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology, President
Melanie Ratnam is the President of The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST), an organization dedicated to advancing gender equality and removing systemic barriers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for equity-deserving groups nationwide.
Dr. Ratnam represents SCWIST at gender equality and STEM policy forums across Canada to develop a national strategy that addresses systemic disparities in the STEM ecosystem spanning from early education to career progression.
Her national initiatives at SCWIST are deeply rooted in her Scarborough origins. Mentoring over 1,000 elementary, high school, and university students, she empowers them to tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our time through innovation in science and technology.
As Tamil immigrants, Melanie arrived in Canada when she was less than a year old with her family who were in search of a life free from war and discriminatory educational policies that limited endeavours in science and mathematics. Her family's experiences were foundational to her journey, shaping her commitment to strengthen the collective voices of Canadians for a more equitable future that fuels Canada's economic growth through advancements in STEM.
Dr. Ratnam has a PhD in neurobiology from the University of Toronto. She has contributed to the understanding of how resident immune cells of the brain, microglia regulate inflammation after cerebral ischemia.
The advice Melanie would give future generations of women and girls who aspire to
make a difference is “Embrace your past and understand your ‘why’ because within it lies the strength to shape our shared journey towards a brighter future.”
Nneka MacGregor, Women’s Centre for Social Justice, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Nneka MacGregor is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Centre for Social Justice, better known as WomenatthecentrE, a non-profit organization founded and run by women, girls, gender-diverse and trans (WGGDT) survivors of gender-based violence (GBV).
Her identity as a Black woman, an intersectional advocate for Transformative Justice, and an abolitionist feminist is closely intertwined with her work. She frequently finds herself in situations where she stands out due to her unique identity, as she participates in spaces where critical decisions and policies are being made. Nneka is motivated by the pursuit of gender and racial equity, drawing inspiration from both her personal experiences with anti-Black gender-based violence and her commitment to advocacy. She firmly believes that survivors should be at the forefront of this effort as they are the genuine experts. By staying true to her convictions and standing in solidarity with her sisters, particularly Black and Indigenous women, she aspires to become a source of pride for her children, grandchildren, and colleagues. She leads by example, refusing to let fear or rejection define or restrict her.
Despite how it feels at times, gender/racial equity is possible. Nneka believes that we have the power to eradicate the social and economic injustices so many are facing, and she is inspired by the roles WGGDT people continue to play in building safer, kinder, and accountable communities that unapologetically value love and human dignity. As a female leader, Nneka is dedicated to her Amourgyny and Amourgynoir frameworks, which actively emphasize the importance of love and healing for WGGDT individuals. It's a straightforward approach, and Nneka believes that all Canadians have the capacity to embrace these principles. She is confident that more people will join in these efforts.
Shadwa Ramadan, New Brunswick Multicultural Council, Manager of Women and Gender Initiatives
Shadwa is passionate about decolonial ways of self-expression, marginalized people’s rights, decentralizing power and implementing equity since she was sixteen years old. She remembers the first realistic novel that she read about rape and domestic violence. This novel paved for her the way of analyzing the visible and invisible injustice in our world towards many women and marginalized humans. And therefore, formulated her educational journey in comparative politics and gender studies. Her thesis on rape and sexual violence as a political weapon against women including systematic violence and domestic violence opened her eyes to many untold and hidden survivors’ stories.
With New Brunswick Multicultural Council (NBMC), Shadwa is working as a manager of women and gender initiatives for leading the IMvisible NB project. With IMvisible NB, they are building culturally integrative capacity, tools and resources for non-status, refugee and immigrant women impacted by domestic and/or intimate partner violence in New Brunswick. As a team, they are developing different visualized methods to raise awareness and spread knowledge uniquely. They empower newcomer and oldcomer women by participating in building an intercultural ground for equal access to domestic violence prevention sector services. The IMvisible NB team is part of the solution and part of the New Brunswick intersectional feminism movement that takes into consideration women’s diverse stories, beliefs, backgrounds and beyond.
Shadwa, an advocate of intersectional feminism, aims to make a positive impact through her work with IMvisible NB. Her goal is to continue providing support and leave a lasting legacy in New Brunswick, both for the current generation and those to come. She envisions implementing meaningful initiatives and fulfilling her dreams in the realm of gender equality.
Thao Nguyen, Calgary Vietnamese Women’s Association, Director of Communications
Thao Nguyen is a Vietnamese Canadian who is passionate about supporting and advancing Vietnamese women’s unity and voice in the Vietnamese community in Calgary.
As a Vietnamese-Canadian, she, along with other women in the ethno-cultural communities, faces inherent barriers in Canada, especially the language and cultural barriers. That motivated her to become a leader in the Vietnamese community in Calgary.
She is currently a Board Director with CAVWA, managing the Feminist Response and Recovery project (2021-2024) and Capacity Building project (2019-2022) both funded by WAGE. The Feminist Response and Recovery project institutes the first ever research project for the health and wellness of the Vietnamese community. The Capacity Building project helped build the capacity of CAVWA’s Board of Directors through governance training, strategic planning, policy development, and project management.
She continues to empower the community through her involvement with the Action Dignity, CAVWA, and soon with the City of Calgary, and law clubs at the University of Alberta.
She deeply believes in the power of community and connections and hope that women and girls can join in to build such power.
She wants to see the Government of Canada and government officials continue pushing for women’s and girls’ rights so that girls and women can receive equitable treatment at schools, in the workplace, and every other area of their lives. She looks forward to a future where there is no barrier between women and who they want to be.
Report a problem on this page
- Date modified: