London NDP MPPs continue cancelled program honouring female community builders

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: ANGELA MCINNES
(From left to right) Dirka Prout, Peggy Sattler, Shawna Lewkowitz, Teresa Armstrong, Floranda Agroam and Terence Kernaghan kicked off the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Recognition Program nomination period during a press conference on International Women's Day.

London’s three New Democrat Party (NDP) MPPs are continuing a female-focused award program, despite its cancellation by the Ford government.

Ontario’s Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services launched the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Recognition Program in 2016. The program honoured women and girls showing strong leadership and volunteerism in Ontario communities with a certificate and formal reception.

When MPPs Peggy Sattler (London West), Teresa Armstrong (London-Fanshawe) and Terence Kernaghan (London North Centre) learned that the Ministry had cancelled the Leading Women Program for 2019, they decided to take over the initiative locally.

They kicked off the nomination period with a press conference on March 8, coinciding with International Women’s Day. The nomination period runs until April 5.

“From the government’s perspective, [the program] took nothing but a staff person’s time to receive and organize the nominations, then print out the certificates,” Sattler said at the conference. “For them to cancel a program that required almost no financial resources, but can make an enormous difference for women and girls, is just illogical.”

According to the three MPPs, Leading Women’s cancellation denotes the Ford government’s cuts or changes to programs impacting women and girls throughout the province.

“We’re further dismayed by the Conservative’s $47-million cut to rape crisis centres, cuts to the Ontario College of Midwives, stalling implementation of the Pay Transparency Act and removing mentions of consent and gender identity from Ontario’s elementary sex-ed curriculum – changes that disproportionately harm women- identified and gender-queer students,” Sattler stated in a March 8 media release.

For the past three years, London’s Leading Women program recognized 56 London women and girls. Previous winners include political scientist and researcher Floranda Agroam, community organizer Shawna Lewkowitz and geotechnical engineer Dirka Prout.

“The leading women and leading girls award has been such an important part of my life and my journey as a Muslim woman,” Agroam said during the conference. “The award has allowed me to understand my role as a woman in our community, a woman of diversity, a woman who is a minority, and allowed me to understand that my passion for my efforts do not go unrecognized.”

Lewkowitz, who is the founder and chair of Women & Politics, an initiative focused on engaging more women with politics, said that the award raises awareness of gender-based gaps in Canada.

“The work that women do to break down barriers and create a fairer community for all can go unnoticed and is often uncompensated. An award like this celebrates that work and reminds us all that it is vital,” Lewkowitz said.

Sattler, Armstrong and Kernaghan said the award can go to women and girls showing significant efforts in leadership and acting as positive role models in London. Nomination applications for the Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities Recognition Program are available at, and Winners will be presented their awards during a ceremony held Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m. at London’s Goodwill Centre.

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services did not respond to Interrobang’s request for a comment.