In honour of International Women's Day, we bring you a list of 14 incredible Canadian women who we find ourselves turning to for inspiration, again and again. A day meant to celebrate and educate, the theme of this year's campaign is #PressforProgress. In light of recent movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo, which are calling for global change and fuelling activism, the 2018 campaign's strong call to action is entirely befitting.
From inimitable icons to fresh faces, these women are just a few of the many noteworthy Canadians making change by engaging their communities and the world around them – dominating fields like tech, politics, entertainment, and fashion, all while challenging gender, economic, sexual and racial barriers. On top of all that, their determination to fight for change and equality in a world where the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings tell us that gender parity is still over 200 years away. Here's a little bit about why we are so enamoured, and how the work of these women can motivate you to take action as you #PressforProgress in your own way.
The storyteller: Alanis Obomsawin
Alanis Obomsawin's prolific filmmaking career spans over 50 films. A documentarian and singer, her decades of work have focused on documenting the lives of Indigenous communities in this country, giving voice to the struggles of people whose stories have not been heard. One of Canada's most decorated filmmakers, Obomsawin's works use storytelling as a tool to inspire change. Alanis was honoured with the Canadian Screen Awards' Humanitarian Award for her "exceptional contributions to community and public service." Her oeuvre serves as proof she is a powerful voice not only in Canadian film, but the entertainment industry as a whole — an industry still dominated by white men.
Follow her lead: Share the stories of those who haven't been given the opportunity to be heard — especially if that includes your own.
The runway role model: Winnie Harlow
Fresh off of the runways of Fashion Month, Winnie Harlow is a Canadian supermodel defying the prejudice and narrow beauty conventions often found in the fashion industry — and society at large. As a child, she was bullied because of her skin condition, vitiligo, and today conquers the global fashion scene one campaign at a time. Her outspoken candour (via panels and even TEDTalks) about living with her condition and finding confidence has served as an inspiration for many while continuing to slay on the runway.
Follow her lead: Often easier said than done, embracing everything about yourself can lead to the ultimate expression of your talents.
The president: Gabrielle Bouchard
This past December, Gabrielle Bouchard was elected president of Quebec's main women's rights organization, the FFQ (the Fédération des femmes du Québec). Coming from a career as an advocate and public educator, her position as the first transgender woman to oversee the FFQ will focus on defending women's rights – and she's made it clear she'll be advocating for equality for all women. "My job is to represent all experiences, for all women in Quebec, so I need to listen." she told CBC News late last year. Her determination to be a voice for all women, of all backgrounds, including those who have been marginalized, has us excited for the progress and change her presidency will create and inspire throughout the province, and across the country.
Follow her lead: You don't have all of the answers, but don't let that stop you. Listen to those around you and push for change together.
The queen of late night: Samantha Bee
It's an understatement to say that Toronto-born Bee's career has taken off since her days playing Sailor Moon in a '90s touring production of the anime juggernaut (where she met her husband Jason Jones, who was playing Tuxedo Mask), but honestly we're pretty excited by that starting point, too. After co-founding one of the city's most successful all-women sketch comedy troupes, the Atomic Fireballs, Bee was cast as a correspondent on The Daily Show, where she made us cry with laughter (almost) nightly for over 10 years, until leaving to host her own show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, in 2016. Not only has the award-winning comedian, writer, producer and actor broke ground as virtually the only female voice in a sea of almost-identical white male late-night hosts, she consistently speaks truth to power while delivering some of the sharpest jokes around and turning them into real action (the sales of Full Frontal's 'Nasty Woman' shirt raised over $1 million for Planned Parenthood last year). Bee also happens to have one of the most diverse writers rooms on television at "50% female, 30% non-white", proving that television's pearly white past doesn't have to be its future.
Follow her lead: Empower the less empowered around you, whenever and however you can.
The empowering entrepreneur: Aisha Addo
Disrupting the male-dominated tech and taxi industries, Aisha Addo is the founder and CEO of DriveHER, an all-women ride-share app based in Toronto. She is also the founder of Power To Girls Foundation, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to offer young black women mentorships, role models and an environment in which they might "discover their individual identity, and creative gifts by developing qualities that will help them become leaders and contributing members of society." Aisha has made it her mission to empower and protect women through providing "the guidance and resources that help them identify their true purpose and calling to reach their full potential".
Follow her lead: Mentor and look to those who are coming up behind you. Volunteer — no matter your age or experience – there's a way to engage in your community and provide support to those around you.
The Olympian: Tessa Virtue
While we may have spent the entire Winter Olympics swooning over the skater's undeniable chemistry with her ice dancing partner, there's so much more to celebrate about this incredible athlete. With three Games under her belt — and five shiny medals — Virtue made history this year as the most decorated figure skater in Olympic history (along with partner Scott Moir), adding to a distinguished resume that includes three World Championship wins and countless Canadian titles. And while her unparalleled athleticism and artistry prompts us to stop and stare every moment she's on the ice, it's Virtue's perseverance through painful injuries and short-lived phases of retirement throughout over 20 years in the sport that really shows us what she's made of.
Follow her lead: Acknowledge your setbacks, accept them — and then persevere.
The legislative trailblazer: Jean Augustine
An educator, activist and Order of Canada member, this Grenadan-Canadian broke down so many barriers when she was elected the first black female Member of Parliament in 1993. Augustine topped that years later by becoming the first black woman in Cabinet when she was appointed Secretary of State, dealing with issues related to multiculturalism and women's rights. Though her list of accomplishments is long and weighty, Augustine will perhaps be best remembered for introducing legislation to declare February as Canada's Black History Month on a national scale, a motion that passed unanimously in 1995.
Follow her lead: Don't underestimate your ability to enact legislative change, on any level — whether that's showing up to vote on election days, writing your MPs or running for local government.
The Canadian wunderkind: Petra Collins
At just 25, this artist, curator, photographer and director has been lauded for more than most of us can dream of in an entire lifetime. Known for her signature dreamy, brightly-hued portraits of women all shapes and sizes, Collins has acted as the chief photographer for Rookie Magazine, directed music videos for celebs like fellow Canadian darling Carly Rae Jepsen, shot massive fashion campaigns for powerhouse brands like Gucci and even had her first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 2017. She's not afraid to push buttons with her art either, working deliberately to combat gender stereotypes and destigmatize elements of the female physique — like body hair — that are still making some squeamish, and have even been deemed inappropriate by brands like Instagram.
Follow her lead: Approach the uncomfortable with your art and your conversations alike — voicing something is often the first step in removing the shame of it.
The effusive Diva: Céline Dion
As if winning five Grammy awards, delivering two of the most iconic, Academy Award-winning ballads of the '90s and reigning supreme as the best-selling Canadian recording artist of all time wasn't enough, Queen Céline arguably had her best year yet in 2017. Above all else, Céline has proven throughout her entire career that there's value in being outspoken, candid and unabashedly caring in a world where seeming above it all often wins you more points. Whether she's getting real about her grief over the death of her husband and former manager René Angélil or taking the U.S. government to task for the way they handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we appreciate that the vocal powerhouse is being 100% herself.
Follow her lead: Find joy in the smallest things around you, and do you.
The gossip maven: Lainey Lui
TV host and the brains behind the inimitable celebrity gossip empire Lainey Gossip (which just happens to be the blog of choice for feminist icon and writer Roxane Gay), Lainey Lui has spent almost 15 years dispelling the notion that gossip is a trivial, sometimes-catty, (traditionally) female pastime, instead proving that it can be a powerful tool for understanding the social and cultural landscape of the world around us. Part cultural studies lecture, part traditional celebrity news site, Lui's analysis of the rich and famous' breakups and makeups — and shrewd knowledge of the power structures that dominate the celebrity ecosystem — is as intersectional as it is laugh-out-loud funny, paving the way for a robust career that includes several television shows and an acclaimed memoir.
Follow her lead: Look for and call out unacceptable race, class and gender constructs in all aspects of your life, even your hobbies.
The resilient restauranteur: Jen Agg
Jen Agg's Black Hoof put her (and charcuterie) on the Canadian dining map. She made cocktails cool again and we could sing her praises just for that, but we'd be leaving out our admiration for her insightful memoir of what it's like to be a woman restaurateur, and omitting our gratitude for her continued criticism of the structural sexism found in the restaurant industry. In a world where gender-based workplace harassment is finally starting to be talked about more prominently, Jen stands out for being a defender of women in the food industry who's not afraid to fight discrimination and call out those who have made it a problematic work environment for women.
Follow her lead: Stand up for those around you in your day to day life, and be outspoken in your defence of yourself and others too.
The actor turned advocate: Ellen Page
Her award-winning performance in Juno put her on our radar back in 2007 and we've been watching every move she makes onscreen and off ever since. Since coming out as gay to an audience in her speech at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Time to Thrive conference in 2014, partly because she wanted to "make a difference to help others have an easier and more hopeful time", she has been a remarkable role model, particularly for the LGBTQ community. Page made headlines once again this fall for a Facebook post detailing how producer Brett Ratner outed and sexually harassed her on the set of X-Men: The Last Stand when she was just 18 years old, a move which ultimately led to him being rightfully dismissed from several upcoming projects.
Follow her lead: Do good and be kind to people; as Ellen said in her powerful THRIVE speech, "this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another."
The culture critic: Scaachi Koul
Scaachi Kouls' best-selling debut book, One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter uses humour and personal anecdotes to comment on racism, sexism and feminism. The author, social media maven and culture critic's honesty has resonated with a young audience. Her vulnerability and candidness make her all the more relatable, and her wit and words have proven her to be a force of modern feminism.
Follow her lead: Be fearless and fair in your critique of the world around you, whether putting pen to paper or your voice to social media.
The fun mom: Catherine O'Hara
Order of Canada member and Emmy and Canadian Screen Award-winning actress Catherine O'Hara has been gracing us with her unmatched comedic prowess since the early days of SCTV and (thankfully) continues to do so with each new episode of Schitt's Creek. Not only has she played some of the best on-screen moms of all time in films like Beetlejuice and Home Alone, she excelled as one of few women in the tough, male-dominated Canadian comedy scene in the 1970s, and proves with each new project that women over 50 can still inhabit some of the most interesting roles on television.
Follow her lead: Harness your authenticity — and be fierce and funny as hell.