“You cannot reduce poverty if women can’t work.”


Coady graduate Sultana Jahangir stands up for immigrant women and girls in Toronto.

Sultana Jahangir has seen too many educated women lose their dreams. It’s why the Bangladeshi-born founder of the South Asian Women’s Rights Organization (SAWRO) in Toronto is laser-focused when persuading politicians and bureaucrats to do the right thing.

Two out of three women who use our services have a master's degree, but have trouble finding work,” she says.

In 2007, Jahangir cobbled together some money to set up a learning and resource centre in a converted apartment to help newcomers. Since then, more than one thousand women have jumped at the chance to more fully participate in the Canadian economy. They’ve learned to run computers, sew, cook, apply for social insurance and health cards, and explore options for employment support and counseling.

One woman, now a peer supporter, couldn’t find work, even in a coffee shop, after obtaining her PhD in environmental science. With some training, she was able to secure a job with a company making solar panels.

Jahangir successfully pitched the City of Toronto for money to launch a civic engagement project, which in turn led to a partnership with Unifor, a national trade union. Women in the East Danforth district have established a Unifor Community Chapter to defend the workplace rights and dignity of employees in low-wage, tenuous jobs.

“If the community’s women advance, then the whole community will advance,” she says. “Being able to work means much more than just getting a paycheque. It really means greater economic independence and a sense of freedom.”

Jahangir says her time at Coady Institute in the Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute has paid big dividends.

“I’ve been able to learn much more about current trends in social services, explore new ideas for women in the economy, and to support girls and women in their own leadership development.”

Her success has led to a new opportunity. Jahangir was selected to join six other Coady alumnae at a global forum sponsored by the Association for Women in Development, taking place in Brazil this September.