Community

CBC Ottawa marks Women's History Month with new series

Meet four women who are making a difference in their communities and working to shape the future for women across Ottawa.

Meet four inspiring women helping to shape the future of Ottawa

This compilation of photos shows, from the left at the top, featured women Nayaelah, Meenakshi, Asanguan and Mariam. (Top left: submitted by Nayaelah Siddiqui/Top right: The Photo Essays/Bottom left: Hakizimana Photographie/Bottom right: submitted by Mariam Aly)

October is Women's History Month in Canada.

This year's theme, Because of You, celebrates women and girls in Canada who make a lasting impact on our country. As part of a special digital series, meet four women who are making a difference in their communities and working to shape the future for women across Ottawa. 

Visit the CBC Ottawa Community Instagram account for more on these inspiring women.

Meenakshi Sharma

Meenakshi Sharma, a mom of two, started The Lotus Movement Foundation to educate and advocate for mental health challenges within the South Asian community. (The Photo Essays)
Like a lot of women, Meenakshi Sharma wears many hats. She's a mom to two little girls, a senior policy analyst, a blogger and a non-profit founder. 
 
Meenakshi started The Lotus Movement Foundation, a non-profit organization established to raise awareness, educate and advocate for mental health challenges within the South Asian community. She also created an initiative called Let's Shine- Elevating South Asian Women in Ottawa, a campaign focused on highlighting the powerful South Asian women in our community and bringing them together to connect. 
 
"As women we need to be sure we are uplifting and elevating one another. Standing united is key," she said

For Meenakshi, Women's History Month is a time to reflect and acknowledge the work and perseverance of women who've come before her, while also looking to the future.
As women, we have the ability to dream and pursue our ambitions without discrimination.- Meenakshi Sharma

"The work and mindset that I am focused on is to hopefully make this world a better place for my little girls and all the other little girls out there," said Meenakshi.
 
"I make a conscious effort daily to empower and remind my girls that their voices matter."
 
This year's theme for Women's History Month is Because of You so we asked Meenakshi to tell us about the women in her life who inspire her.
 
"Both my grandmothers were strong and resilient women and I'd like to think that I have inherited their values. And of course my mother, with the go-getter attitude is something that I picked up from her," she said. 
 
Meenakshi wants to let women know that "your gender does not define you." 
 
"As women, we have the ability to dream and pursue our ambitions without discrimination. And when you feel defeated or challenges arise, pick yourself back up and stand stronger than before," she said. 
 
"Celebrate you and your achievements, always."

Mariam Aly

Mariam Aly, a 21-year-old political science student at the University of Ottawa, founded Sidra Treehouse, a mentorship program for newcomer children. (Submitted by Mariam Aly)
For Mariam Aly, a 21-year-old political science student at the University of Ottawa, Women's History Month is a time of year to redefine the narrative for women across Canada. 

"We honour the roads paved for us by the incredibly strong women that came before us," said Mariam. "We recognize our heritage and honour our predecessors through present-day action." 

Mariam is always looking for ways to give back and get involved in the community, a mindset instilled in her by her mother.

"My mother taught me that no matter what you have, you must always help and give back," she said. "I live every day to make my mother proud and I hope that one day I can pass on the lessons she taught me to others as well."

Mariam founded Sidra Treehouse, a mentorship program for newcomer children, when she was 17 years old. She also co-leads The United Muslim Organizations of Ottawa-Gatineau's COVID-19 Relief program that helps bring food to families in need across the city. 

Mariam acknowledges that there are many people who have helped her on her journey.

"I have been blessed with incredible family, friends and coworkers," said Mariam. "Without them, I would not be where I am today and I would not be able to see such a clear vision for my future." 

When asked what advice she has for other women, her message is simple: "Choose the people around you wisely and they will push you in a better direction."

Asanguan 

Asanguan is the creator of Bantú Fro, an online community for women of colour to have a space to talk about hair, wellness and fashion. (Hakizimana Photographie)
Asanguan is a public relations graduate and an online content creator. In 2016, she created Bantú Fro, an online community for women of colour to have a space to talk about hair, wellness and fashion.  

"Bantú Fro is an homage I pay to my tribe, The Fang people, from Equatorial Guinea, and an homage to the women in my life and the women who will come after me."

Through simple online tutorials created in three different languages for inclusivity, Bantú Fro showcases the versatility of Black beauty and lifestyle. 

"I am creating the space I wish existed when I was younger, " said Asanguan. "I love to get involved in my community."

As Asanguan reflects on Women's History Month, she explains that those who have helped her get to where she is are ordinary women, ones you won't see on TV or read about in magazines.

"The market women in Central Africa, the ones who sell the produce from their farms," explained Asanguan. "The women I met in university classes, in the library and dining hall, whose presence in certain rooms have empowered me to dream and keep going."

Asanguan believes Women's History Month is about celebration. 

"It's a celebration, a vibrant celebration and recognition of the impact women have in society," said Asanguan. "From science to fashion to politics women are part of society and months like these are only here to shine a light and celebrate women's accomplishments."

Asanguan believes women should stay curious and follow their intuition.

"Curiosity helps us innovate and think outside the box, " said Asanguan. "Follow your gut because some answers are already within you, you don't need to always ask for advice, sometimes you only need to follow your instinct."

Nayaelah Siddiqui

Nayaelah Siddiqui is the founder and Executive Director of Empower'em, a grassroots youth group providing safe spaces and programming for young women of colour and Canadian newcomer women. (Submitted by Nayaelah Siddiqui)
Nayaelah Siddiqui is the founder and executive director of Empower'em, a grassroots youth group providing safe spaces and programming for young women of colour and Canadian newcomer women. 

"I am passionate about equity in the world and giving everyone a fair chance to succeed, which is why I am determined to build solutions that create a Canada that is safe and inclusive for all," said Nayaelah. 
We can achieve big things, and it's possible to see change if we continue our efforts.- Nayaelah Siddiqui

Women's History Month serves as a reminder to Nayaelah to be grateful for all the women who have come before her and for their struggles and efforts.

"It is also a reminder of the responsibility that we have today to continue that work and pave a way for women in the future, because there is still a lot of work left to do," said Nayaelah. "We can achieve big things, and it's possible to see change if we continue our efforts." 

Like many women, her mother serves as her inspiration for her work.

"My mother is my main reason for success. Without her, it's hard for me to imagine that I would get anywhere in life," said Nayaelah. "I have watched how she has overcome many challenges and I am often amazed and left in awe by the courage and resilience she carries within her."

Nayaelah encourages other women to build a good support system. 

"If we want to see change in our lives, we need to be in a safe environment where growth can take place, " said Nayaelah. "Having a good support system has allowed me to make difficult decisions in my life and be confident in them." 

Look out for more from these four women throughout October on the CBC Ottawa Community Instagram account.


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now