March 8, 2022, marks International Women’s Day - a day to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness against bias and take action for equality.
The theme this year is #BreakTheBias, which encourages us all to do our part to build a world that's diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
To recognize the day, we’re shining a spotlight on one amazing woman who is moving the world for animals.
As well as being the Chair of the Board for World Animal Protection Canada, Maureen Armstrong, B.A., LL.B., ICD.D, is the Interim York University Ombudsperson. She’s held the position of University Secretary and General Counsel for York University, Director General of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Vice President of Legal Aid Ontario, and Chair of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Maureen is also the creator and host of the podcast The Animal Guide for Curious Humans.
We asked Maureen to share some of her experiences with World Animal Protection and beyond.
1. This year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias. How have you overcome bias in your career?
I have been fortunate to spend my career in several progressive work environments where most of my colleagues were sensitive to and supportive of gender equality. But biases can be difficult to root out and they often manifest subtly. One of the most prevalent was the unspoken expectation that the women on the team would take on the less important but necessary tasks. Whether that was setting up food and beverages for a lunch meeting or compiling and distributing notes of that meeting, this additional work disproportionately falls to the female members of the group. Another common bias was to expect women’s voices to be homogenous (“what do the women think?”) rather than appreciating our rich diversity informed by our race, culture, ability, and experience.
2. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned that you want other women to know?
Self-acceptance is a superpower that can shield us from the effects of injustice and unfairness. If we internalize the biases and prejudices of others, it can erode our sense of self-worth. Embracing who we are - our strengths and our foibles – helps us stay strong in the face of adversity.
3. What message do you want to send to young women interested in protecting animals and the planet?
The non-human animal kingdom needs you! You can contribute positively to the lives of animals through your choice of career, engagement in volunteerism, and in how you live your daily life. I love to see young women pursuing scientific careers and many advancements in animal welfare and protection can be credited to female scientists. World renowned primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is a wonderful example of that. There are countless other fulfilling career pathways including government positions in law or policy, working in a not-for-profit organization, or starting a business relating to animals. A step we can all take right now is to make animal-welfare informed decisions in our daily life. Shopping cruelty-free, eliminating animal products in your diet or consuming only humanely raised products, and refusing to support businesses that exploit animals for entertainment or other purposes have tremendous impact.
4. What does it personally mean to you, as an animal lover, to be Chair of the Board for World Animal Protection Canada?
It is a true honour to be part of World Animal Protection Canada and its global family. The organization is incredibly skillful at having difficult but respectful conversations with policy makers and corporate actors to influence positive change for animals. We are also adept at mobilizing people to respond to animal welfare concerns around the world.
We have a great team of board members, managers, staff, and volunteers all devoted to creating a world where animals can lead quality lives in a healthy natural environment. We help make a real difference in Canada and abroad. For example, we have helped bring about important advancements such as Canada’s “Free Willy Act” that prohibits the breeding, display, and trade in cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) for public entertainment and we successfully lobbied African Lion Safari to end elephant rides. We’ve also made huge strides globally. Together we moved the South Korean government to commit to banning bear bile farming by 2026 and the EU has phased out the unnecessary use of antibiotics on farm animals.
5. What makes you the most hopeful about the future for animals and our planet?
Three things make me really excited about the future. First, technology has enabled citizens of the world to connect and unite in a way never before possible in human history. When used effectively, it amplifies our voices and leads to real change, often quite rapidly. We need to ensure that every single human being has access to it.
Secondly, I believe that the profound wisdom of Indigenous peoples, communities and organizations on animals and the environment can help us reform current systems of exploitation rooted in colonialism and ignorance. There is much we can learn from following the leadership of Indigenous communities, from across Turtle Island and beyond, and listening carefully to their guidance.
Finally, with the assistance of the first two elements, a spirit of compassion, and some global goodwill, I believe that a University Declaration of Animal Welfare is possible in my lifetime. And I’m a grandmother! We can do this. We can, and we will.