by Florence Hwang in Regina, Saskatchewan
As International Women’s Day is being celebrated, and there have been many advances made for women’s rights in the past decade, there is still a lot of work to be done, say three influential women leaders.
Fariba Pacheleh, Jaswant Johal and Maggie Ip came to Canada looking for a better life and to experience more freedom and equality.
They ended up having a huge impact on their respective communities.
Effecting change in the science and technology sector
Pacheleh still sends flowers or calls her mother every International Women’s Day.
Growing up in Iran, she remembers learning about International Women’s Day from her mother who was an activist.
“Internally in the family I learned that I should have a voice. But externally when you went to the community, culturally, you couldn’t have,” says Pacheleh, an information technology specialist.
She moved to Canada in 1998 to experience freedom of expression and what she hoped would be a more equal society. She loves living in British Columbia.
“Wow, this is a women’s world. I love it here. I felt freedom. I could be myself,” she says.
After starting her career in Canada, she wanted to be a board member of an organization that focused on women.
She first worked with Iranian Engineers of British Columbia Association (IEBCA), Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and Boys and Girls Club of Vancouver. These organizations weren’t what she was looking for.
Then she joined Strategic Development of Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST), which ensured that women would have opportunities to fulfil their aspirations. For the past two years, she has been president and director of SCWIST.
On International Women’s Day, SCWIST hosted an event for women called Wonder Women Networking Evening. The women leaders supported other women in the community and learned about SCWIST’s Make Possible mentorship program.
“We need to support each other, especially when women get leadership roles,” says Pacheleh.
Building a media empire from scratch
Not surprisingly, Johal, executive producer of Punjabi Word Television Ltd., was named one of the 100 most influential women in British Columbia. Her sense of determination and strong-will helped her build an entire media empire catering to the Indo-Canadian community in British Columbia.
Moving to England at the age of seven, Johal had to learn her Indian culture. And when she came to Canada from England in 1989, she realized the lack of Punjabi media and started a local Punjabi radio show focusing on entertainment.
“If I could pick up Indian culture so quickly and get to love it, then obviously I can make the same thing happen here with community residing in Canada,” says Johal, who has been in the media industry for 26 years.
But the radio show wasn’t enough. She had an intense drive to do something significant.
“I want to do something in this world. It has to be something different. It has to have an impact. It has to be powerful. It has to be a challenge. It has to be something that nobody else can do,” says Johal.
What that something was, was a media empire. Once established, it wasn’t easy for her as a female leader because of the men’s responses.
“I had to deal with them very diplomatically because to be in media, you have to be liked, especially if you’re going out and doing everything yourself. Marketing, advertising – you’re out in the community a lot. And I was,” says Johal.
Johal is a pioneer of women’s events in her community. In the late 1990s, she realized few women were attending the concerts that were available for the Indo-Canadian community. This led to a first-ever concert just for women at the Cloverdale Rodeo. More than 13,000 women attended.
Her two daughters are part of a generation that is stronger than hers, says Johal.
Encouraging women to help fellow immigrants
Ip came to Canada in 1966 from Hong Kong for her masters of education at the University of Ottawa. A year later, the Cultural Revolution took place. Her mother, who had heard how much Ip enjoyed living in Canada, encouraged her to stay there and in 1970, she and her husband moved to Vancouver.
In the early 1970s when volunteering with YWCA Vancouver and the United Way, she noticed the large influx of immigrants, particularly from Hong Kong. Sensing the YWCA was not equipped to provide services for immigrants, Ip went on to develop the organization known as S.U.C.C.E.S.S. today.
“Starting S.U.C.C.E.S.S. was almost like preparing a doctoral dissertation,” says Ip.
The organization helps immigrants before and during their settlement into Canadian society. Ip notes the logo of the organization is two bridges: connecting immigrants to Canadian society and vice versa.
“We feel the government has a major responsibility to help the immigrants to integrate rather than the system before – you come, you swim and you survive,” says Ip, who was named in the top 25 Canadian immigrants in 2010.
S.U.C.C.E.S.S. is built on volunteers – many of which are former immigrants. When a group of women decided to give back to their community they started cooking Asian food for Meals on Wheels. Not only does this service provide food for those who are not so mobile, it also builds relationships within the community.
“When they deliver the meals, they can see if there are problems, they can report to organizations like health departments to send a nurse to see if there is anything wrong with the senior. That is a very important service,” she says.
Pacheleh says there is still much work to be done for women to be treated equally as men.
“This is a journey. This is a path that we have to take with men. We cannot do it alone. To be honest, I think this is the first thing we have to discover,” says Pacheleh. “This is a collaboration; this is a paradigm shift that we need each other and we complete each other.”
This article first appeared in The Source. Re-published with permission.