by Tamanna T., Staff Writer
October isn’t just the start of fall, but it’s also Canada’s Women’s History Month. Every year I see lists of women celebrated throughout the month, and the lack of diversity in these lists is astounding to me. From critiquing the pay gap between sexes and talking about the same 10 women, we get the same content every year. It’s high time Women’s History Month in Canada generates more conversation around diversity and inclusivity. Here are some Canadian women of colour who deserve more recognition.
Dr. Maria Anderson
Dr. Anderson is the youngest Indigenous person to graduate from the faculty of medicine in Manitoba. Further, she is the youngest person to be the president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada. Being Cree-Anishinaabe, Dr. Anderson has been a key figure in bringing to light the faults of the healthcare system and institutional racism towards Indigenous communities. She has been vocal about the significant impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples and the stigma around vaccines — which is drawn from trauma in the communities. Dr. Anderson currently serves as the executive director of Indigenous academic affairs at the Ongomiizwin Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing.
Ashevak is one of Canada’s most celebrated Inuit graphic artists. She was an ambassador for Inuit art on a global scale and is adorned with awards and achievements for her art. Her work gained immense popularity and The Enchanted Owl she made was even used on a Canadian postage stamp. In addition to her traditional artwork, she also made blankets and indulged in carving. Ashevank continued on to become a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Art and was also appointed to the Order of Nunavut.
Augustine is the first Black woman to be elected to the Parliament of Canada and has been a social justice advocate and teacher. Born in Grenada, Augustine is an immigrant who has paved the way for women of colour — especially Black women — to enter into politics. She was also an active part of Toronto’s Caribbean communities as a teacher and an advocate for women’s rights. Augustine had a key role in establishing Black History Month in Canada on a federal level by bringing the motion forward to recognize February as Black History Month. She continues to advocate for education and women’s rights to this day.
Ruth Berhe — more commonly known as Ruth B. — is a singer and songwriter from Alberta. Her single “Lost Boy” was an immense success in 2015, and she continues to make music that invokes tears from fans. Her music initially found fame through the app Vine, and she credits a major part of her success to social media. Ruth B. is the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants and the culture is ingrained in her music. The Black Lives Matters protests had a significant impact on Ruth, and she wrote the song “If I Have a Son” inspired by the struggle of Black people, particularly after the death of George Floyd.
A civil rights activist and a Black businesswoman, Viola Desmond from Halifax has been an inspiration and a mentor to many Black Women. She tackled racial discrimination and fought for her rights as a Black woman. For challenging segregated seating in a movie theatre, she was arrested and convicted for a “tax offence.” Decades after her death, Desmond became the first Canadian woman to appear on the $10 note. During her life, she also opened a salon catered towards the Black community. Later, she would go to open a beauty school and create her own line of beauty products.
I am partial to Esi Edugyan because not only is she a woman of colour in literature who deserves more recognition, but also because I have read her novels and they give you all the feels. She currently resides in BC. As the daughter of an immigrant, Edugyan writes heart-wrenching stories that deal with identity, Black diaspora, and belonging. Her second novel, Half-Blood Blues is critically acclaimed and the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Her highly anticipated novel Washington Black also became a finalist for the Booker Prize.
Jalaluddin is an author of South Asian origins who is also a culture and parenting writer for The Toronto Star. Being a second-generation Canadian, her famous debut novel Ayesha At Last attempts to break down stereotypical barriers and merges South Asian and Canadian cultures beautifully. Jalaluddin was inspired to write fiction by the lack of South Asian and Muslim representation in modern literature, and she hopes her readers will find familiarity with their culture in her work.
A Toronto-born musician and rapper, Mighty is a performer whose style is self-defined as “profound introspection and incisive socio-political critique.” She was a part of the famous Canadian rap group The Sorority until 2019. Since then, Mighty has been producing her own music and has gained recognition for her music from publications such as Billboard and Pitchfork and The Rolling Stone. In 2019, she dropped her song “In Women Colour” for International Women’s Day, in which she touches on her identity as a Black woman. Mighty continues to be an advocate for “those who don’t fit the status quo.”
Baljit Sethi is an advocate for refugee and immigrant rights in BC. As an immigrant herself, she has improved the lives of new immigrants and highly supports multiculturalism. Hailing from Punjab, India, she founded Immigrant and Multicultural Services of Prince George, which provides information about employment, immigration welfare, and other settlement services to new immigrants and refugees.
Hide Hyodo Shimizu
Shimizu was an activist and an educator from Vancouver, BC. The daughter of Japanese immigrants, she taught Japanese Canadian children at a time when anti-Japanese sentiments were on the rise in Canada. She was also one of the first Japanese Canadian women to receive a teacher’s certificate. Her work later focused on teaching children in internment camps during World War II. Shimizu fought for the right to vote for Japanese Canadians and faced racism and discrimination head-on by recruiting many young Japanese Canadians who she trained to teach others. She truly carved the path for other women of colour to stand up for their rights.
Irene Ayako Uchida
Uchida was a pioneer for women in cytogenetics (the study of chromosomes) in Canada. She was accredited with the rapid screening of chromosomal abnormalities, which are abnormalities in genes caused by genetic mutations. After the death of her close friend in a car accident and her sister dying from tuberculosis, she decided to dedicate her life to helping others. She was the first Japanese Canadian to enroll at UBC and during her studies she worked to advance the rights of Japanese Canadians.
Walia is a South Asian anti-colonial activist and author from Vancouver, BC who has been an active participant in anti-racist, Indigenous solidarity, and anti-capitalist movements. She is also the co-founder and active member of No One is Illegal, which is one of Vancouver’s most vocal migrant justice and immigrant groups. Walia has dedicated her life to activism in order to better the lives of the mistreated, and is the author of Undoing Border Imperialism where she discusses the brutal effects of capitalism, ableism, and Eurocentric Western feminism. Walia continues to fight for undocumented immigrants and those who have been deported.