Passion • Principle • Voices
Ilana Landsberg-Lewis has spent her entire adult life engaged in the struggle for human rights and social justice. Throughout her years working with women’s groups around the world, Ilana learned to harness her true voice and fight for what she knows is right.
Growing Up Empowered
As a young person, Ilana was painfully shy. However, being raised in a home dedicated to human rights and social justice, she discovered a burning passion for involvement in social change. Unfortunately, fear of disapproval often silenced her voice.
Ilana’s opinions were strong, and those values didn’t always align with society’s standpoint. Eventually, the desire to make a difference pushed her out of her comfort zone and undoubtedly towards the life's work she was destined for.
Finding Her Own Voice
While Ilana developed her voice for justice at a very early age, she didn't hone the external and public expression of her own belief system until her twenties. Through her work at a legal aid clinic, she began to deeply understand women’s experiences throughout the world. These differences include class, race, socioeconomic status, and varying access to privilege. Additionally, she learned to look at the human experience as a whole.
Making an Impact
Ilana’s drive to create real change led her to work with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (now UN Women). Here she worked with women’s rights groups all over the world. As an out lesbian, she quickly learned there were no gender equality or LGBTQ+ rights for employees of the United Nations.
This was largely due to the fact that the organization’s policies and guidelines were created by the governments which made up the UN. As to be expected, a majority of those governments were not supportive of equal rights for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community. At the time, it was uncommon to stand up for these groups. There was a real threat of losing your job if you chose to speak up. However, Ilana felt called to step into her bravery and formed UN Globe, the LGBTQ+ rights organization, which still exists today.
Ilana founded the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign in an effort to continue blazing a trail of international solidarity and impact in the fight for human rights. With firsthand knowledge of the immense challenges grandmothers in Africa faced, she knew this would be an important and impactful path.
Tragically, many women in Africa have lost their adult children to the AIDS pandemic. As such, these older women were now responsible for raising their grandchildren. Oftentimes, grandmothers are taking in and nurturing 10 – 15 children, all while grieving the loss of their own adult children. Sadly, these powerful women are nearly invisible in the narrative around HIV and AIDS, both in their own country and internationally.
Standing in Solidarity
In summary, Ilana lives with passion and commitment. She desires to help other grandmothers around the world connect to the stories from African grandmothers. Ilana believed these struggles would resonate with others who experience the same profound love for their families. In essence, she knew others would also feel called to financially support the grandmothers of Africa.
As it turns out, Ilana was right! The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, along with the Stephen Lewis Foundation, raised $30 million over the last decade. There are hundreds of groups all over Canada, and these grandmothers (and grand others!) come together in solidarity with the women of Africa.
Are you looking for more inspiring episodes about social justice work and activism? Here are a few we recommend:
- There’s so much power in the ‘why’.
- When it comes to women’s rights, we’re constantly experiencing teachable moments.
- Teach your children to focus on their intuition instead of looking for praise. It's a powerful lesson.
- There is a significant difference between charity and solidarity.
- It’s important to ask yourself where you fit in the trajectory of social change, social justice, and women's rights.
Like us, Ilana deeply believes people should look to and support organizations with the courage to stand up in the face of adversity. In light of this, she supports Grandmothers Against Gun Violence. Organizations like this bravely demand social transformation and challenge values that don't serve humanity as a whole. Besides access to mental health services, the organization also promotes extra research around the causes and prevention of gun violence.
Grandmother's on the Move
As if all this wasn’t incredible enough, Ilana also hosts the Grandmothers on the Move Podcast. Each episode highlights personal, intimate conversations with grandmothers from all over the world. They discuss the contributions they're making to their families and to society. Overall, all lived experiences are celebrated in these conversations.
Grandmothers bring us a long history of survival
Ilana also has a book, Powered by Love: A Grandmothers’ Movement to End AIDS in Africa. The book contains hundreds of interviews with African grandmothers. There are also interviews with Canadian women involved in the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. Ilana focuses on solidarity, the impact of love, and the value of human rights.
Connect with Ilana
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