Hillary Clinton once referred to women as “the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.”

To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, Canada’s Ismaili community tapped into this supply of expertise and creativity, hosting thought-provoking discussions in six cities across the country.

Approximately 850 participants attended events in Burnaby, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, and Montreal to discuss this year’s theme: Ismaili Women - Civil Society Champions: Living the Social Conscience of Islam.

On March 9, the Ismaili Centre Toronto hosted 250 guests for a panel conversation between Zabeen Hirji, Rumina Velshi, and Zaina Sovani. Velshi, the President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, spoke about how gender imbalances, though still widespread, are decreasing in 2019.

“What’s different today is the recognition that gender balance is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” she said. Velshi explained that an important part of her role is to speak to young women across Canada.

“If we want a strong workforce and greater innovation … the evidence is unequivocal that having women around the table pretty much guarantees success,” said Velshi.

In Ottawa, an audience ranging from high-school students to seniors gathered at Headquarters Jamatkhana for a discussion between Attiya Hirji, Aleeya Velji, and Farhana Alarakhiya.

The three panelists spoke about the challenges they have faced in the private sector as a result of being women. They encouraged the women in attendance to resist conventional gender roles impeding progress in potential personal or professional contributions to their local communities.

Alarakhiya, VP of product insights and analytics at Shopify, discussed how she sometimes feels her ideas aren’t taken as seriously because she is a woman working in STEM. She told the audience that a key part of her success has been “pushing boundaries and not being afraid.”

Speaking to the theme of civil society work, Alarakhiya emphasised the need to work collaboratively across sectors and consider the needs of both genders in decision-making processes.

“Innovation can’t happen if there’s no understanding and appreciation,” she said, imploring that men and women listen to and encourage each other in order to achieve a better society.

The three women also spoke about the role their faith played in driving their career progress.

“[Faith] made me come to all my jobs with compassion and empathy,” said Velji, who’s in charge of strategic design and innovation at the Treasury Board Secretariat. She believes Islam’s ethical framework should be used to build resilience in broader society for generations to come.

Hirji said the “moral responsibility to care for one another” was ingrained in her through community activities during childhood, and it shaped her career in international development.

The women’s day event allowed the youth in attendance to hear from professionals working in their fields of interest, as well as to network with accomplished women in our Jamat.

One university student, Inaara Merani, pledged to “make an active effort to stop using gender-discriminatory language” and to be “inclusive of all genders when engaging in discussions.”

“It really provided me with perspective and has given me something new to think about,” she said about the event. Having attended last year’s International Women’s Day talks hosted by the Women’s Portfolio, Merani said she was encouraged to participate again because of the inspiring atmosphere.

After the event, Hirji, the Fund Development Officer at Oxfam, spoke about the importance of the women’s day events.

“We need to support one another, build each other up, and give an opportunity for younger generations to seek positive role models,” she said, explaining that everyone has a role to play in transforming the inequities that exist in today’s society.

“It’s important to bring people, men included, together to talk about gender issues.”

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