By Tricia Bassoo
Ashleigh and Alexandria Montague, daughters of Jamaican-born parents, are Sisters4Sisters. Working in Hamilton, Sisters4Sisters empowers women by raising money and awareness for women-focused organizations. “Women are powerhouses,” remarks Ashleigh, a graduate from McMaster University.
Through their parents’ experience, the sisters understand the challenges face by newcomers to Canada. “Women, especially immigrant women, who are typically very well educated, have a lot to offer. But they are often undervalued and overlooked because of language barriers, pre-existing racial stereotypes, and institutional impediments.”
Alexandria, who will be attending Ryerson University, emphasizes the correlation between women’s empowerment and education. Influenced by More’s Utopia and Lincoln Alexander, the first Black Canadian Member of Parliament, whom she met a few years ago, Alexandria is inspired to give back and reach out to the Hamilton community.
“There is a difference between having privilege and being privileged. And as young women of colour, we are part of the double minority.”
The sisters agree that injustice is the underlying issue that affects the availability of opportunities and resources for women. Equity rather than equality sets the stage for discrimination, intolerance and exploitation. Bringing awareness to the plight of women’s issues is at the forefront of the organization.
“This system is not built for us. I want to help women get around the system and become more aware of the resources available to them.” And although she is sympathetic to the responsibilities of work and school, she encourages young people to “get involved, learn about these issues, and network.” Ashleigh recalls a period of her life when she had difficulty connecting with other students. Her parents, and her father in particular expressly advised her to get involved in the community. And she hopes to reiterate this proactive response to the current generation.
In the past year, Sisters4Sisters organized 3 successful fundraising events. Working with the Native Women’s Centre, they raised $1500 during a charity brunch that was attended by approximately 175 people in March. This fall, they completed a toiletry drive to create care packages for clients of the Centre.
In October, Sisters4Sisters held an event for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Catherine Silverglen performed her one woman show, Busted! The performance was about her experience overcoming breast cancer and raised $750 for a New Horizon student scholarship. The Scholarship is in honour of Jean Turton who was a teacher at New Horizon who passed away from Breast Cancer.
Through Sisters4Sisters, Ashleigh and Alexandria intend to send a powerful message to all women, “We want to show that we are not weak… we want women to have courage.” And with the overwhelmingly positive response from the Hamilton community, Sisters4Sisters will likely continue to inspire and champion our young women.
Sisters4Sisters can be contacted by email at email@example.com or via facebook.com/S4SHAMONT.
Tricia Basso is a McMaster Political Science alumni, Guyanese-Canadian and fellow Hamiltonian. Follow her @HellaTrish.