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The Women Who Inspire Us

Happy International Women’s Day to all the women-identifying folks out there! CSI is a women-led organization, and just over 50% of our staff identify as women, so it’s safe to say that at CSI, we’re celebrating women all year long. Today, we asked our staff to highlight some of the women who inspire us every day. Here are the people whose cultural, social, economic, or political achievements inspire, encourage, and motivate us to continue putting people and planet first.

Nawal El Saadawi

Nawal El Saadawi
Photo credit David Degner, Getty Images

Shoutout to Nawal El Saadawi (1931-2021) who is a feminist icon and Egyptian legend thanks to her brave activism and literary prowess. She was a physician by trade and a writer by impulse who is most notable for her scientific, social, and political work fighting against the prevalence of FGM and domestic violence in Egypt. Nawal’s persuading reflections on the body as a site of power was undeniably instrumental to the progress made in women’s rights in Egypt and remains relevant to the progress required to build an egalitarian society. You can see her words come to life in how Egyptian women continue to show resilience and resistance every day – whether on the streets of Cairo or in the fields of Fayum. Nawal’s impact resonates beyond the contemporary borders of Egypt as she calls for all people to be visible and counted bodies in the face of an exclusionary political landscape.

– Norhan Haroun, Community Operations Coordinator

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald
Photo credit ellafitzgerald.com

I first picked up an Ella Fitzgerald CD in high school, not knowing who she was, and have been in love with her music ever since. Her voice has a way of provoking a wide range of emotions, and whenever I listen to her sing, I’m always captivated.

Fitzgerald’s cultural contributions are undeniable. She has won 13 Grammys, plus one Lifetime Achievement Award, and has rightfully been deemed the First Lady of Song and Queen of Jazz. You can’t listen to jazz or swing without feeling the influence of Ella. She was also a philanthropist and civil rights activist, refusing to minimize her own experiences with racism for the comfort of non-BIPOC audiences and cancelling shows that enforced segregated seating.

Recommended listening: My favourite songs from her are Goody, Goody and, on the other end of the emotional spectrum, Black Coffee. I would also be remiss to not include her Grammy-winning improved performance of Mack The Knife.

– Ashley K., Digital Marketing and Communications Coordinator 

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai
Photo credit malala.org

Malala Yousafzai’s achievements are nothing short of remarkable. At the young age of 11, she began to advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan, despite the Taliban’s attempts to prevent girls from attending school. Her activism gained international attention, and in 2012, she survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Instead of being silenced, Malala continued to speak out for girls’ education and became a symbol of hope for young women everywhere.

Her courage, resilience, and unwavering commitment to education and equality are what inspire me the most. Despite facing extreme adversity, Malala has never given up on her mission and continues to use her voice and platform to advocate for change. Her story reminds us that even in the darkest of times, we can all make a difference and inspire others to do the same. Her advocacy for education for all children, especially girls, has made her a role model for people around the world. Malala’s work shows us that one person’s voice can make a significant impact on the world, and we all have the power to create change in our communities.

– Sanjay Parker, Community Operations Coordinator

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton
Photo credit imaginationlibrary.com

Oh there are so many to choose from, but here’s one of my unlikely and over-the-top favourites: Dolly Parton.

  • For being unapologetically herself and not letting how others first saw her be the way she defines herself
  • For her raw and refined musical talent
  • For being ahead of her time and persevering while waiting for others to catch up
  • For her attention to imagination, words, humour, and libraries
  • For her attention to opening education and employment opportunities in her local community
  • For keeping it real – she’d be a great CSI Animator

– Gonzalo Duarte, Community Director, CSI Annex

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Photo credit Franmarie Metzler; U.S. House Office of Photography

I’m inspired daily by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (also known as AOC), US Representative for NY’s 14th congressional district. I was a fairly recent expat when she was first elected in 2019, and it was thrilling to watch her grassroots campaign succeed at a time when no one thought it would. She continues to push for policies that inspire me and give me some hope for my home country, most notably Medicare for All, efforts for equitable taxation, and a Green New Deal. She’s an excellent communicator and I’ve learned a lot about political communications from her. She doesn’t hesitate to question the status quo, call people out on their bullsh*t, and admit when she has more to learn. I’m personally very excited to see what she does next!

–  Colleen Mahaffie, Marketing and Communications Manager

Irena Sendler, Katherine Johnson, Lesya Ukrainka

I am mostly inspired by women who overcame extreme difficulties and stayed strong and true to their values and did so much to make this planet a better place. Some of the women who really fascinate me:

From left to right, photos of Irena Sendler, Katherine Johnson, Lesya Ukrainka
Photos and credits from left to right: Irena Sendler, irenasendler.org; Katherine Johnson, nasa.gov; Lesya Ukrainka, daily.jstor.org

Irena Sendler, who saved 2,500 Jewish children during Holocaust in Poland and even survived her death sentence.

Katherine Johnson, the black American woman who earned the nickname “the human computer” at NASA during its space golden era. She calculated the trajectory of man’s first trip to the moon while facing heart-breaking discrimination.

Lesya Ukrainka, a Ukrainian great poetess, writer, activist, and interpreter, who was bedridden due to tuberculosis, but had the strength to advocate in early 20th century for women education, women rights and development of the Ukrainian culture. She even had courage to support lesbians’ rights at that time.

– Oksana Belyakov, Fundraising Specialist

Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall
Photo credit janegoodall.ca

For me, it would be Jane Goodall, I remember watching a tv show, feeling so inspired and honestly wanting to just leave everything, travel, and work with animals, protect wildlife. She was so dedicated to her passion and making the world a better place!

– Elvira Omarbagaeva, Executive Assistant to the CEO

 

Amy Westervelt

Amy Westervelt
Photo credit amywestervelt.com

I’d choose Amy Westervelt, who is an American environmental journalist and the founder of Critical Frequency which includes some of the best podcasts out there. I think what inspires me most about her is that she’s managed to build her business and career while always holding onto the core values that got her into the work. Her podcast Drilled is one of the best environmental podcasts, period, and her diligence and critical thinking is apparent in all of the work that she does.

– Stefan Hostetter, Community Director, CSI Spadina

 

 

 

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