Ismaili Women's Day Gala Inspires Many

The Ismaili International Women’s Day Gala took place on March 11 at the Ismaili Centre Burnaby and on March 4 at the Ismaili Centre Toronto with the aim of inspiring the audience to “be bold for change.”

As a mother and award-winning freelance writer, Taslim Jaffer juggles caring for her three children with blogging, running writing workshops, editing the women’s magazine Her Story, writing books and more.

But, while Jaffer has long been drawn to words, her decision to become a professional writer was not easy, she told a crowd of women and a handful of men gathered at the Ismaili Centre Burnaby.

Jaffer spoke during the Ismaili International Women’s Day Gala - an event that took place on March 11 in Burnaby, and on March 4 at the Ismaili Centre Toronto with the aim of inspiring the audience to “be bold for change.”

As a little girl, Jaffer loved losing herself in books and writing, but at university, she majored in psychology and later pursued a “practical” career as a speech therapist. It was only after her first child was born, as she struggled with postpartum depression and the news of her mom’s cancer diagnosis, that Jaffer made the bold decision to pursue her passion.

The beginning of her writing career was bittersweet. Her mother passed away two one weeks before she published her first blog. 

Jaffer was one of four women who shared their stories at the gala in B.C. including former pro-golfer Salimah Mussani, cosmetics company vice president Gultaj Somani, and non-profit organization founder Narmin Ismail.

In Toronto, guests enjoyed talks by human rights activist and journalist Sally Armstrong and TEDx public speaker and environmental entrepreneur Aliya Dossa. 

Speakers at both Galas connected with the audiences by opening up about their struggles and the bold decisions they made to reach where they are today.

“I thought that the women were very brave in sharing their authenticity with us in the audience.” said Nasima Ramji, an attendee in Burnaby and Panje Bhenu Kamadianima at Vancouver’s Downtown Jamatkhana.

“It was fascinating to learn how each changed her path for different reasons and how they remained resilient, strong and hopeful – and that it wasn’t easy.”

Personal struggle was a key theme in the presentation by Mussani, a professional golfer who has a degree from Stanford and a Canadian PGA Championship to her name.  She told the audience about her fight with Lupus at the heights of her athletic career. Eventually, Mussani gave up competitive golf for her health, but she went through an identity crisis, travelling around the world and working at a startup before finding her calling as a golf coach.

In contrast, Somani spoke about her struggles with work-life balance. Working up to 100 hours a week as the medical director of student health services at Simon Fraser University, Somani felt heartbroken when she missed her young daughter’s milestones.

Though she loved being a doctor and worried about what people would think if she changed her career, she cut back on her hours at her medical practice to start a local chapter of Arbonne International, a cosmetics and skincare company. Eventually, after suffering a head injury in a car crash, she gave up medicine entirely, but she found her passion at Arbonne, where she worked her way up to executive national vice president while spending quality time with her family. 

“You don’t need a big brain to serve others. You need a big heart,” Somani realized.

Ismail’s bold decision came after her decades-long career in business as founder and vice president of the Eighty20 Group. 

She decided to start her own foundation to provide education and leadership opportunities for young women in developing countries, despite the fear she wouldn’t succeed. Since establishing the Spark of Hope Foundation in 2014, Ismail has negotiated scholarships with universities, found on-the-ground partners to identify bright students with leadership potential and raised $3- million to support more than 70 women in undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs in 18 universities around the world.

In Toronto, Armstrong, a former journalist and a member of the Order of Canada, spoke about her experiences meeting incredible females during her many years covering stories in various conflict zones, including Taliban-held Afghanistan. She stressed the importance of using one’s voice and personal will as tools to bring about global change and equality for women. 

Dossa, co-founder of biotechnology company MycoRemedy Inc., talked about the significance of environmental sustainability and encouraged young women and men to unleash their potential and fight for social justice.

Back in Burnaby, Ismail had an important message for everyone attending the Women’s Day Galas:  “Don’t let fear stop you.”