Two York grads named YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction

Two York grads are among seven recipients of this year’s Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Toronto Women of Distinction Awards for their dedication and commitment to improving their communities and the lives of women and girls.

Angela Robertson (BA Hons. ’91, MA ’93) was named the Woman of Distinction for Social Change. She is the executive director of Sistering, a woman’s place which offers practical and emotional support to homeless, under-housed and low income women in Toronto. Beverley Wybrow (BA ’71), president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, was named Woman of Distinction for Community Leadership.

The YWCA chose Robertson and Wybrow, along with five other women, for their part in addressing the most critical needs of women in Toronto. They have worked to improve immigrant women’s access to employment and have battled against poverty, discrimination and homelessness. The YWCA calls them role models and trailblazers who are turning the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa, reshaping public office, mobilizing young women to reclaim their bodies and rallying corporate investment in women and girls.

Right: Angela Robertson

During her tenure at Sistering, Robertson has doubled the agency budget, facilitated the expansion of Sistering’s space on College Street and spearheaded a new development on Bloor Street West. She was also instrumental in securing funding and community partnerships for two buildings designated as permanent and secure housing for women. Over 2,000 of Toronto’s most marginalized women use Sistering’s services annually, whether it’s to drop in for meals, for employment support, to have a shower, a mailing address or for counselling.

Robertson is the chair of the Policy Governance Board of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention. She is a past board member at Second Harvest and Central Neighbourhood House and the past board chair of the Nightwood Theatre, Canada’s feminist theatre company.

As a student at York, she founded Black Women at York and was a member of the Black Women’s Collective of Toronto. She helped mobilize campaigns for social justice on issues such as violence against women, rights for racialized workers, racism, police violence and reproductive choice. Over time, her commitment to challenging social inequalities expanded to issues of poverty, housing, rights of citizenship, anti-racism, anti-oppression, voices of Aboriginal women, HIV/AIDS and the arts, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Robertson has also contributed to the black queer community as a community organizer and is a founding member of Blockorama, a celebration of black pride.

Left: Beverley Wybrow

Wybrow is determined to change the face of poverty in Canada. As a leader, she has inspired the non-profit sector, mobilized the business world and challenged the nation to invest in transforming women’s lives. The Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) is the first and only national public foundation dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls in Canada. She has been at the helm of the foundation since 1991. The CWF raises money and provides grants to move women out of poverty, end violence against women and build resilient girls. The CWF has raised over $31 million and supported more than 825 programs across Canada, ranking it as one of the top 10 women’s foundations in the world.

In addition, Wybrow is one of the founders and the first chair of an inter-agency steering committee which came together in 1985 to address the rise in crisis calls from abused women. Their cooperative work led to the establishment of the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, the first telephone crisis service of its kind in Ontario. The helpline is now a province wide 24-hour crisis line for women experiencing violence. It offers support, safety planning and referral services for women in 154 languages.

From 1987 to 1991, Wybrow served as director of public education at the Ontario Women’s Directorate, where she oversaw the first government public education media campaigns on wife assault and sexual assault.

In 2007, Wybrow was presented with the City of Toronto’s Constance E. Hamilton Award on the Status of Women, given to women who have made a significant impact on securing equitable treatment for women in Toronto, either socially, economically or culturally.

YWCA offers over 40 programs across Toronto supporting women at turning points in their lives. The awards will be given at the 29th annual YWCA Women of Distinction Awards dinner, presented by Sun Life Financial, in Constitution Hall in the North Building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on Wednesday, May 13.

To buy tickets to the awards dinner, visit the YWCA Women of Distinction Web site.