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Stronger Together: Women working together to address SDG gaps at grassroots

By: Yusra Qadir

“We are all so different – yet similar in how we feel and the challenges we face. There is so much we can learn from each other.” -Project Facilitator at VAFCS

May 18th brought three groups of women together from Indigenous, Muslim, and Refugee and Immigrant communities. They had all faced multiple barriers to accessing essential services, experienced stigma and discrimination, lived in isolation, and felt unheard when decisions impacting them were made. MMC mobilized these three groups through the Women’s Insight Project funded by Economic and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

The Women’s Insight Project takes a bottom-up approach to advancing Canada’s progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It invests in women at the grassroots level to mobilize them and build their capacity, enabling them to identify SDG gaps in their communities and implement innovative projects to bridge them.

The Mothers Matter Centre believes in women uplifting other women, and this project is a testament to the effectiveness of this approach. The three groups of women, convened by each partner (ISSofBC, Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society and Al-Mustafa Academy Trust), bonded over the past six months and are now confident to act and support other women, girls, and vulnerable groups in their communities. As stated by a project participant from ISSofBC, “when we come together and talk about issues that we face at the community level, we can exchange ideas with people that know our reality. We can put issues on the table to find solutions. We don’t want to implement a project for just six months or eight months. We want to continue working because it will help our community. It will break the isolation for women and strengthen the community.

The women received training that focused on increasing their awareness of the SDGs and helped them understand how their local contexts and problems fit into the bigger global picture of sustainable development. As a project participant from VAFCS put it, before these sessions, “we thought the SDGs were something big that governments dealt with. We did not know what they really meant. But as we learnt more, we saw how deeply they linked with the crucial problems we face. The project has helped us connect with the SDGs personally, especially when we think about our 7th generation. We have come together to build a better future for our children.” Likewise, through this training, Nada Hussain from Al-Mustafa Academy Trust shared, “I am discovering a lot about myself and others. And I am also realizing, even more than before, how much we are in need of so many services for our community.”

All three groups are now designing projects to address the SDG gaps they identified at the local level. The Indigenous women will work to provide services to Indigenous youth transitioning out of foster care so they have the skills to live independently and are not ‘lost’. The Muslim women will make culturally appropriate sports and recreation activities available to young girls, so they can access similar opportunities as boys in the community while adhering to their Islamic values. According to Nada from Al-Mustafa Academy Trust, the goal is to empower these girls “socially, mentally, intellectually and physically.” And the Refugee and Immigrant women will work to provide services to newcomer and refugee women to break their isolation and cultivate healthy attachments and friendships as they piece their life together in Canada.

The women bring passion, commitment and an urge to change things to the project. They actively drew upon their experiences when they needed support and services but could not access them. They wish to change things for themselves and also want their communities never to face the challenges that they did. In their pursuit of leading change at a community level, all women groups work with stakeholders to ensure their projects are strong and well-connected. They believe this will be critical to sustainability. A Women’s Insight Project participant explained, “One person cannot change things, but when we have the community working together, we believe we can create some real change. This needs work – we have to talk to stakeholders, get feedback, and ensure we are including everyone and being flexible. Our group has really come together, and we are prepared to work hard to improve things for young girls in our community.”

After months of planning, the women are now initiating their projects. They strongly feel that the participatory approaches used in designing their projects will bring strong community ownership and make them successful. As said by a project participant from ISSofBC, “we are still figuring things out, and we are excited about the project. We feel confident we will deliver because we are all working on this together.”

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