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Collage of the seven women from HHS who were nominated for the 2023 YWCA Hamilton Women of Distinction Award, including winners Doctors Sonia Anand and Natasha Johnson.
March 8, 2023

Celebrating International Women’s Day at HHS

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness about gender discrimination, and take action to drive gender parity. This year’s IWD theme is #EmbraceEquity – an opportunity to create an inclusive world for people of all genders.

Women of Distinction

On March 2, the 2023 YWCA Woman of Distinction Award Gala was held to honour this year’s award nominees. The Woman of Distinction Award is given to a woman in Hamilton or Halton Region who has made a significant difference in her community by showing vision, creativity and initiative. This can be achieved through being a role model and inspiring others through her leadership; breaking new ground or old barriers and being an agent for change; encouraging women to take part in shaping their future of their own lives or communities; and other extraordinary ways of impacting her local community.

We are fortunate at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) to have some of these nominees as colleagues. Seven women who are HHS physicians, staff and volunteers were nominated for this year’s YWCA Women of Distinction Award. Congratulations to Dr. Sonia Anand, senior scientist at HHS’ Population Health Research Institute, and Dr. Natasha Johnson, adolescent medicine specialist at HHS’ McMaster Children’s Hospital for winning awards this year.

Below, Drs. Anand and Johnson, and all the nominees from HHS, share what it means to be nominated, what IWD means to them and how we can embrace equity.

Congratulations to all of the nominees for the 2023 YWCA Women of Distinction Awards.

Dr. Sonia Anand, Senior Scientist at the Population Health Research Institute 

Doctor Sonia Anand

It is a great honour to accept this award that recognizes women who have worked to improve their local community through innovation, education, advocacy, and leadership. I was inspired by my parents to take on a career in medicine, and to make a positive impact in the world around me. This award recognizes that work.

International Women’s Day provides space for reflection and conversation regarding women’s positions in today’s society. Embracing equity sums up our collective action to achieve gender equality in the future. I congratulate all nominees for their tireless service to the betterment of our communities.

Dr. Natasha Johnson, Pediatrician and Adolescent Medicine Specialist at McMaster Children’s Hospital

Professional headshot of Doctor Natasha Johnson

As a proud Jamaican-Canadian and a single mom to two teens, I am honoured and humbled to win and to join the swelling tide of women who are being recognized for the fact that they are bold, brave, and changing the world. I was just gifted a lovely book called Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison. In the intro, Harrison shares that she created the book with her younger self in mind, saying, “I think about what kinds of dreams I might have had if I’d known about all these women when I was growing up, if I’d known that so many people who looked like me had done such incredible things. To be able to see yourself in someone else’s story can be life changing. To know that a goal is achievable can be empowering.” I hope that this recognition inspires other people – especially young, Black, female-identifying people – to pursue the things they are passionate about.

Nagham Azzam, Clinical Leader, Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation at McMaster Children’s Hospital

Nagham Azzam

I feel grateful and humbled to be nominated for this award. It is truly an honour to be recognized alongside such inspiring women who have made significant contributions to their respective fields. It serves as a reminder that none of us can achieve change on our own – that it takes a collective effort and a commitment to collaboration in order to make meaningful progress. I strongly believe in the power of community and our collective responsibility to take care of one another. These initiatives come out of a response to gaps in our systems, and a reminder that these gaps continue to exist and impact marginalized people. So with any celebration comes a sobering reminder of why this work is needed and to reaffirm our commitment to advocacy and systemic change.

IWD is an opportunity to reflect on the diversity of women and the Women’s Movement. Growing up, I was always surrounded by “one type” of feminism, that I never saw myself in. However, when I was exposed to the history and scholarship of other BIPOC women, I finally felt heard and seen in the Women’s Movement. For me, IWD is an opportunity to reflect on the advocacy and work of Black women, Indigenous women, and other women of colour in advocating for gender equity as I look to them to help me pave my way. IWD is also a reminder to celebrate and uplift the women in our communities and all of their achievements, while also acknowledging the challenges they face and the work that still needs to be done to achieve gender equality.

Charissa Cordon, former Chief Nursing Information Officer at HHS (now Director of Professional Practice and Clinical Resource Team at Trillium Health Partners)

Charissa Cordon standing outside.

To me, this award symbolizes women who are trailblazers, leaders, movers and shakers, and well-respected in their field and in the community. I never saw myself in that space. It means a lot to be recognized, especially as a woman of colour, a nurse, a Filipina, a mother, and as a leader. My family and I came to Canada in the early 1990s. My parents gave everything up in the Philippines to move to Canada with the dream of building a better life for my brother and me. They worked hard for us and this nomination is, in essence, for them, too.

International Women’s Day is a global day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Growing up in Canada, even when I started out in my career as a nurse, I didn’t see many Filipino women in senior-level leadership positions. I think when we #EmbraceEquity, it means that all women, regardless of race, class, or gender, have the capacity and capabilities to be leaders and to be successful, when given the tools and opportunity.

When I was 19, I was a single teenage mom worried about my own future and that of my baby boy. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for my university tuition. I worked two jobs, but with the help of my family, friends, mentors, and others, I was able to navigate the system and finish school.

I think one way that we can honour International Women’s Day is for women to lift each other up; amplify them and their achievements; recognize their work, and nominate them. I certainly will make sure to lift others up, especially my fellow Filipinas, so that our younger generation can see what is possible and strive for excellence.

Dr. Kassia Johnson, Developmental Pediatrician and Senior Medical Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at HHS

Doctor Kassia Johnson

This nomination is an opportunity to be a part of the history of women in Hamilton that have grown this community and pushed for change.

To me, embracing equity is about active disruption of the systemic structures that maintain inequities in our institution. Everyone has to participate in this disruption to ensure that we make the change that is needed. We may think of an embrace as a comfortable and soothing activity. But pushing toward equity is uncomfortable and instead of shrinking away from this discomfort, we have to embrace it so that we can push toward equity.

Dr. Stacey Marjerrison, Hematologist/Oncologist at McMaster Children’s Hospital 

Dr. Stacey Marjerrison

I am so incredibly humbled to be nominated for this award among such an amazing group of women. To be honoured for amplifying the voices and stories of children and families who do not always have a voice renews my hope that we can build care systems that are responsive to the communities that we serve. Families facing a cancer diagnosis typically require a parent to take time away from work, along with significant additional costs which can put even the most stable families in turmoil. For families who were already on unstable footing prior to their diagnosis, this added pressure can be devastating. Being trusted to advocate with and for these families, and make changes that improve their lives is incredibly rewarding work.

International Women’s Day offers a lovely moment to be able to pause and recognize all the wonderful, and often overlooked work that the amazing women in my circles do every day. It also is a moment to reflect on the disparities and injustice that women face around the globe with regard to equity, and consider how we may be able to use the privileges we hold to effect change. When considering equity in a children’s health-care lens, there are no easy fixes to the impacts of marginalization on child health. However, inviting those underserved families to share their stories, perspectives and suggestions, and then taking action based on what they’ve shared is an important first step.

Tabassum Wyne, Family Advisory Council member at McMaster Children’s Hospital

Tabassum Wyne

I was born, raised and educated in Hamilton. It’s an honour to be nominated for the YWCA Women of Distinction Award alongside so many other incredible women. This nomination is a reflection of the work done at the Muslim Advisory Council of Canada and our ability to quickly adapt and respond to the needs of our communities. It’s a reminder of the community’s trust in not only myself, but the organization I founded three years ago and I am so grateful.

Equity is a pillar of my work, to ensure those in positions of power are implementing equitable policy solutions to ensure all racialized communities have the tools they need for success. But I don’t do this work alone and will take the time on International Women’s Day to reach out to all the women who have been crucial to our success and thank them. It truly does take a community and I’m grateful for the community of women who have supported me in my journey.