For 42 years, YWCA Toronto has applauded the remarkable lives and work of women. They are your colleagues, teachers, friends, mentors and neighbours.
YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Awards recognizes outstanding work in support of the advancement of women and girls in our communities. These women are trailblazers driven to create change and advance equity for women, girls and gender diverse people.
Hosted by award-winning journalist and host of CBC Toronto News at Six, Marivel Taruc, CBC Toronto is a proud sponsor of these awards to be held on YWCA Toronto’s 150th anniversary.
WHEN: Thursday, June 8, 2023
WHERE: The Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 123 Queen St. West, Toronto
For more information and to get tickets, visit ywcatoronto.org/womenofdistinction
Get to know the recipients!
Melissa Alexander has made an enormous impact in the lives of incarcerated women. After experiencing incarceration herself, she set out to ensure women in prison had every opportunity to advance and build a thriving life upon release.
She the first parolee to return to the program Building Up, which helps incarcerated women enter the trades, and also returned to Walls to Bridges, a program out of Wilfrid Laurier University that creates greater opportunities for incarcerated people to receive a postsecondary education.
As a driven champion for women who have been incarcerated, Melissa will continue to advocate and create opportunities for women and girls so they can prosper and thrive.
From a young age, Manvir Bhangu wanted to change the conversation on gender in the South Asian community. Today, she is the founder and Executive Director of Laadliyan, Celebrating and Empowering Daughters, a Peel Region non profit created to empower South Asian girls and women using education, engagement and awareness.
Through Laadliyan, Manvir has directly supported over 5800 girls and women in the South Asian community with everything from bridging intergenerational divides, navigating living in Canada as an international student, to accessing free menstrual care packages.
Her drive for creating inclusive spaces and mentorship opportunities for South Asian girls and women exemplifies Manvir as an extraordinary changemaker and as an inspiration for young women leaders everywhere.
Agapi Gessesse is the Executive Director of the Careers, Education, Empowerment Centre (CEE) for Young Black Professionals and the Founder of Lehizibu Consulting and Strategy group. Agapi ensures hundreds of Black women and girls have the skills and resources needed to succeed.
For over a decade, Agapi has worked to enhance the lives of Black youth through her work with Toronto Community Housing, United Way Greater Toronto, and as the Executive Director of POV 3rd Street, an organization focused on breaking barriers for young people in the media and film industry.
Agapi affirms that “allyship is critical to affect change” within her work and in the development of Black women leaders.
Dr. Notisha Massaquoi has been a powerful force in Black women’s healthcare for over 30 years.
As the Executive Director of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre – a centre specializing in providing primary healthcare to Black and racialized women – she played a critical role in shaping community-level healthcare programs for two decades, changing the lives of thousands of women in Toronto.
She has founded and contributed to a number of organizations and projects that uplift Black Canadians, such as Africans in Partnership Against AIDS and TAIBU Community Health Centre, among other notable achievements.
With Dr. Massaquoi at the table, equitable outcomes for Black and racialized women’s health can become a reality in Toronto.
Daphne Taras has been a trailblazer for women in male-dominated fields. Her work within the labour relations field garnered significant recognition and earned her a spot testifying before a senate subcommittee on issues of gender pay equity and as an expert advisor to a federal commission on employment standards.
As dean of Canada’s largest business school, the Ted Rogers School of Management, she formally and informally mentors academics, inspires prospective leaders to apply for decanal positions, and lobbies senior leaders to change taken-for-granted institutional practices that prevent women from achieving equity with their male counterparts.
Through her visionary management style, development of meaningful initiatives and unrelenting commitment to gender equity, Daphne Taras is a force for transformation.
Dr. Umut Duygu Uzunel is a lauded ophthalmologist who has dedicated her career to providing free, essential eye care to women and children in underserved communities in Somalia, Senegal, Uganda and Mali. Dr. Uzunel spent her annual vacations and personal earnings to fund her work in remote villages. Over the course of her time volunteering, she has examined an astounding 20,000 individuals and performed more than 3,000 operations, with her work often saving a patient’s vision.
Dr. Uzunel has overcome immense personal struggle to continue her work. Most importantly, she has been impacted by a muscular disease that causes muscle weakness and requires assistance. She also fled her home country of Turkey after the government objected to her involvement with a nonprofit and hid from the police for three months.
“Umut” means “hope” in Turkish. As her name denotes, she is a shining beacon of hope for women and children trying to access vision healthcare locally and internationally.
Charlie Wall-Andrews is the Executive Director of the SOCAN Foundation and inaugural Vice-Chair of Music Canada’s Advisory Council, she is a leading voice for advancing inclusion within the Canadian music industry.
When Charlie learned of the lack of women represented on the Billboard Top 100 chart as artists and producers, she spearheaded the Equity X Production Mentorship Program to help level this disparity. Thanks to Charlie’s efforts, the program has allowed over 100 women across Canada thus far to access the software, training and confidence to produce music for themselves and others.
Through Charlie’s visionary leadership, there are greater possibilities for women and girls in Canada’s music industry.
The Women of Distinction Awards is YWCA Toronto’s largest annual fundraising event. Proceeds from this event will make it possible for YWCA Toronto to help women, girls and gender diverse people escape violence, move out of poverty, and access safe, affordable housing.