In Sisterhood


Toronto / March 2024

The invitation to join a group of feminist sisters over a two-day retreat with a loose agenda and no plans for post retreat work was met with a hopeful sigh and a touch of skepticism. As I walked into the hotel lobby that Sunday evening after an uneventful ride from the airport to Gatineau, I was met by two of my African-descent sisters who had arrived earlier and had made themselves the unofficial welcome community. We hugged and I could feel the early loosening of the muscles in my upper back.

I knew I wasn’t the only Black woman attending, as I was on the same flight as another sister-colleague from Toronto who had left me at the airport waiting for my luggage while she went in search of a winter coat, having lost hers at Pearson airport between security and our gate.

The next morning as I walked into the hotel dining room to join my OCASI colleague for breakfast, I was pleased to see members of my diverse second wave feminists’ posse-women of a certain generation, with whom I have shared many conversations and arguments and laughter and good food and gossip over the years. For some we only met up in these national spaces. For others, we regularly shared a meal in a favourite restaurant or two in the central west end of Toronto. Some were colleagues, I had only met online in the various gatherings of women working on Gender based violence, on antiracism and migration, on 2SLGBTIQ+ issues and those with whom I worked in coalition on a cross-section of these issues.

As we made our way into the first part of the retreat in a bright and open space filled with tables with chairs enough for five or six people at each table, I couldn’t help but notice and appreciate the diversity of this sisterhood- race, disability, gender, sexuality, expressions of faith and age. And as we opened up to each other over the two days, diversity of thought and journeys to our various feminisms emerged. It had been a long time since I was blessed to be in a space like this- a space where we all knew that caring for ourselves was a revolutionary act, to paraphrase my Grenadian descent sister and African American Lesbian-feminist poet and essayist, Audre Lorde.

As we laughed and teased each other about getting through two days without a plan and schedules of meetings to plan meetings, the fabulous facilitator brought in by the organizers of the retreat - Women Shelters Canada and The Canadian Women’s Foundation - ensured that there was plenty of opportunities for getting to know each other, for honest talk about competition, about the need to call each other in, instead of out, about safe spaces and about the very real threats we face as a progressive movement as we watch the growth in power and influence of the well-funded political right of the country pushing back about the little gains we’ve made on issues on gender identity and sexual orientation, on women’s equality, on mainstreaming anti-racisms and on government funding for all of the above.

We reminded each other that there was much work still to be done. That we needed a new approach to stem the tide of younger women from diverse ethno-racial, faith and sexualities being coopted by the radical political right, where class analysis is absent and disinformation is used to convince people to support policies and approaches which is against their own and their communities’ interests.

But most of all we talked about joy. About creating it for ourselves and each other. We shared strategies for getting through and getting beyond the work, to see and appreciate the humanity of each other. We acknowledge how hard it was for many of us in the room – leaders all; at different parts of the journey of leadership- to check our egos at the door.

If you were to ask me what we talked about over the two days, I probably couldn’t tell you details. What I remember is how I felt. I left those two days filling full. Seen. Renewed. Recommitted to love as a radical practice of feminist sisterhood and joy as its greatest expression.

Being in fellowship with my Indigenous, Asian, European, LatinX/Caribbean and African sisters- cis and trans- left me with a straightened pain free back, a head full of new ideas and a grin that wouldn’t quit and deep appreciation for this thing called sisterhood. Our ancestors – the women are pleased!


Speaking of appreciation, I’m sending a shout out to OCASI members who worked and advocated tirelessly on changing policy at Employment Ontario for greater equity and fairness. As with many government programs (this is true at the federal and municipal levels of government as well), there is policy incoherence between programs in the same ministry.

The issue here is that agencies funded through Employment Ontario (EO) were discouraged from making referrals to other employment programs that would benefit their clients. How? Any referrals meant that one agency would ‘lose’ the client to another as they both could not count the services provided to that client. This resulted in programs like Bridge Training (geared to im/migrants and refugees) being undersubscribed and risked being discontinued.

A small group of leaders from EO funded agencies met with both senior leads at EO and Immigration at MLISTD (Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development) to make the case for policy change. After a number of meetings over two years or so - finally success. The memo announcing this policy change was sent out last month (February) and we are strongly encouraging agencies to refer their clients to programs that will enhance their labour market participation. Shout out to Janet Madume, Jennifer Hollis, Manjeet Dhiman, Alfred Lam, Madeleine Nerenberg and Fatima Filippi (Women’s Caucus Co-Chair) for shepherding this advocacy work.

And finally, the feminist retreat that I talked about above, made both me and my OCASI colleague Leah, excited about the possibilities of the OCASI administered Feminist Alliance of Racialized Immigrant Women. The Alliance has been meeting for over two years now and enthusiasm to continue to build this new convening space remains strong. For our sisters in the membership and across the country interested in learning more about the Alliance, send an email to me or to Leah at

I want to end this rant by acknowledging how important it is this month, to shine light on Indigenous women across this land. Indigenous women -From First Nations, Inuit and Metis – are land and water defenders, care takers, healers, culture keepers who have suffered under the genocidal practices of this settler colonial state, and who are being murdered or disappeared due to a combination of racism and misogyny. Indigenous women demonstrate time and time again, enormous creativity, generous knowledge sharing, resourceful and forward-thinking leadership and a worldview that has allowed these lands and people to thrive since time immemorial.

As a woman of African descent, I continue our historic solidarity with Indigenous women here in this land we now call Canada, acknowledging that there are many women who have mixed African and Indigenous heritage. We share a history of genocidal violence and colonialism and we will continue to fight for a better world together, as both Indigenous and African descended women often come from matrilineal societies where women are the heartbeat. When we thrive and lead, our communities are the stronger for it.

I am thankful for this sisterhood of solidarity.

Happy International Women’s Day/Week/Month!