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Empower’em members Annette Kattackal, Romane Le Riguer, and Sara Asif. Photo: Stephen Cook.

Group aims to empower women through workshops, events, discussion

When Nayaelah Siddiqui launched Modest Muslimah in 2013, the idea was simple: provide a safe space for Muslim women to talk openly.

“I didn’t actually know it was something that was going to grow into what it is now,” said Siddiqui, the club’s current president. “But it was just like, well, let’s get a group of friends together and discuss some of the barriers we face.”

Empower’em, as it is now known, has since expanded its membership to include all women and does much more than just host conversation circles (although those are still a core component). The group, whose mission is focused on empowering women of colour and Canadian newcomers, provides skill workshops and leadership training to foster personal and professional success.

“Our programming is focused on that,” said Siddiqui. “That being said, we’ve never sent anyone home who’s shown up.”

Events and discussion centre on four categories: health, community, identity and skill development. In the fall, the group organized its annual hike in Gatineau Park to encourage a healthy lifestyle and forge new friendships.

“I think it creates a safe space for women,” said vice-president Sara Asif. “They can talk about any issue, whether it be mental health or even everyday stresses that you might have being a university student.”

But participants can also learn useful and sometimes unexpected skills.

“(It’s) also a place where we really promote skill-based activities for women,” added Asif. “It might be unconventional, like how to change a tire, which you don’t really learn in the school system or anything.”

For International Women’s Day on March 9, Empower’em is teaming up with University of Ottawa World Vision, Girl Up Ottawa and the Women in Management Network to host a conference called “Women in the World”, featuring speakers, workshops, panels and networking opportunities.

Empower’em also recently received a grant from the Inspirit Foundation to run mental health workshops starting in April.

“Basically it’s focusing on women of colour to talk about the taboo subjects of mental health,” said Annette Kattackal, administrative director. “We’re trying to create a safe space for women of colour to understand mental health is very important and how to deal with mental illnesses or even just to understand the concept of mental health.”

She said they hope to have counsellors lead both in-person discussions as well as online sessions, providing a space for people to submit questions anonymously.

Empower’em is currently seeking volunteers to help run these workshops as well as fill out their roster for next year.

Saddiqui, in her final year of a commerce degree, hopes to continue her participation in a more advisory role as the group takes on a new mentorship mandate.

“What the direction we want to take in the next year is kind of starting this leadership and mentorship program that is for women of colour by women of colour as well as faith-bases that allow for discussions and dialogues,” she said.

More information can be found on the club’s website.