By RON FANFAIR
The first Black woman elected to the Parliament of Canada and the first African Canadian to be appointed Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA were honoured last week in Ottawa at an event to coincide with International Women’s Day celebrations.
Dr. Jean Augustine and Paulette Senior were presented with Black Women’s Civic Engagement Network (BWCEN) awards at the event organized by Member of Parliament, Marlene Jennings, the first Black woman from Quebec to be elected to Canada’s Parliament.
“Honouring Black Canadian women for their civic engagement has been long overdue,” said Jennings, the MP for the Quebec riding of Notre–Dame–de–Grâce-Lachine and a founding BWCEN patron. “For far too long, our contributions in building the Canada of yesteryear, of today and of the future have been invisible. I applaud the BWCEN for its efforts to ensure that the contributions of our wonderful civic leaders are made visible.”
BWCEN events co-ordinator, Denise Siele, said that International Women’s Day provides an excellent opportunity to recognize those trailblazers and role models whose life’s work has vastly contributed to the gains that women cherish today.
“This occasion is an overdue opportunity for sober reflection on what we, as stewards of this great country, must do to fulfill its defining creed, that of equal opportunity for women, regardless of colour, class, race, creed, religious belief, social background or political persuasion,” she said. “Simply put, we’ve got to do better.”
Augustine, who is also Ontario’s first Fairness Commissioner, was presented with the Leadership award while Senior was recognized with the Champion award.
Grenadian-born Augustine served as a Toronto District School Board elementary school principal and Metro Toronto Housing Authority chair before entering politics and representing the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding for four terms before resigning from federal politics four years ago to make way for current Liberal Party leader, Michael Ignatieff.
As the first Black woman appointed to Cabinet when she was named Secretary of State with responsibility for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, Augustine also filled the roles of Minister of State, Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole and Special Adviser for Grenada. She was also Parliamentary Secretary to then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and she chaired the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Parliamentary Committee and served on the Parliamentary Sub-Committees on Human Rights, International Trade, Citizenship and Immigration.
Augustine was the founding chair of the Canadian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development and Chair of the National Liberal Women’s Caucus.
Senior was appointed CEO of the YWCA three years ago after a career with the organization that began in 1992 when she occupied several positions, including director of housing. She also chaired the Malvern Family Resource Centre, served as executive director of the Yellow Brick House and has been a New Democratic Party candidate in municipal, provincial and federal elections.
Ignatieff, the Leader of the Official Opposition, and Minister of State with responsibility for the Status of Women, Helena Guergis, attended the event.
“Here in Canada, we have made remarkable progress in advancing the status of women overall,” said Guergis. “Women have made great strides in education, employment and political participation. Women are leaders in political institutions and in corporate Canada.
“Today, we have come together to honour the women who continue to work for equality. While there is still progress to be made, our government recognizes this and we are committed to taking action.”
The BWCEN is an Ottawa-based network of active professionals working to celebrate and create greater awareness about the contributions of women to Canadian civil society.