“Own your truth, be unapologetic in your purpose, advocate for yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. And always remember to hold compassion and space for others at the same time. Most importantly, realize that adversity is not a road-block, it does not make you less than, you are worthy, you are capable, and deserve to be in these spaces.”- Rabiah Dhaliwal, Mental Health Activist, Founder-Director at Voices for Hope Foundation
A mental health activist, community leader, and pageant queen (Miss British Columbia 2019), and proud Punjabi-Sikh neurodivergent woman with a disability ; Rabiah Dhaliwal is the Founder and Director of the Voices For Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization which aims to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health through an intersectional framework by spear-heading educational initiatives such as workshops & campaigns, social justice think-pieces, policy & advocacy work, and providing those with mental health and addictions struggles, particularly those who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) and/or LGBTQ+, a safe-space and platform to share their experiences in an effort to empower and equip communities with the resources and tools for healthy healing.
What does being a woman mean to you?
For me, it’s about sharing my journey to help mentor and guide young racialized women and at the same time making sure to recognize and use my privilege as someone who is cisgender to amplify the voices of trans and non-binary people.
What has been your biggest achievement in 2020, personally and professionally?
I was a recipient of the 2020 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth Award, and was one of 10 women across Canada to receive a total of $110,000 in charitable grants from L’Oréal Paris. Receiving the grant was the affirmation and inspiration I needed to start my own non-profit organization: the Voices for Hope Foundation, which aims to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health through an intersectional framework by spear-heading educational initiatives, policy and advocacy work, and providing those with mental health and addictions struggles, particularly those who identify as BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+, a safe-space and platform to share their experiences in an effort to empower and equip communities with the resources and tools for healthy healing.
I was also named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women of 2020 in the category of RBC Future Launch Future Leaders, which recognizes young women who are transforming their communities through innovation, collaboration and courage. Growing up, I didn’t see women who looked like me being associated with labels like powerful, so it was a very liberating and full circle moment for me when I received this honour.
A milestone that defines your journey?
I spent more of my childhood staring at hospital walls than school hallways due to struggling with mental illness and brain injuries. Some may consider this to be a misfortune rather than a milestone, but it was a defining moment that changed the lens through which I viewed and navigated life forever. I truly believe there is power in reclamation and I am proud of surviving and clawing my way through adversity in a world where it often felt like the cards may be stacked against me as a Punjabi-Sikh and neurodivergent woman. I’ve accomplished things that my 14-year-old self could not have fathomed in her wildest dreams during a time in which I couldn’t see a future for myself beyond the present day. I’ve spoken at the House of Commons where I testified to introduce a Mental Health Parity Act which would close the disparity between mental health and physical health funding, been a part of international mental health campaigns that have reached 80 million people, started my own non-profit, advocated for mental health reform as Miss British Columbia 2019, and shared my truth unapologetically.
What are you working on right now and in 2021?
My wonderful team of directors at the Voices for Hope Foundation and I were recently the recipients of a community service grant from His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. We will be putting this funding towards creating care packages and providing meals to promote mental wellness and self-care for those risking their lives on the frontlines. We are also working on integrating sensory technology into community and post-secondary schools by creating “sensory hubs” which serve as safe spaces for neurodiverse students who are experiencing sensory overload, and we’ve also created a therapy grant program to make therapy more financially accessible for those who identify as BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+. This upcoming June 2021, I will be competing in the Miss Canada pageant where I will be representing the province of British Columbia. My goal if I win the title, is to use it to further my humanitarian work within the mental health sector and to uplift marginalized voices through a heart of service.
What inspires you to do better each day?
Honestly, lately, I’ve been struggling with finding a sense of purpose and have been asking myself what am I fighting for? And I came to realize that I’m not just fighting for myself, but I’m here to be a mirror for those who look like me, I am carrying my whole community with me. So I’m inspired to continue advocating for mental health reform for my community. Learning the stories of young women who say my story and advocacy efforts gave them courage to speak on their own experiences, gives me the strength and motivation to continue my work and serves as a daily reminder as to why I became a mental health activist in the first place. The power of community is a sacred one to me, and it is my driving force.
What’s your advice for women who wish to follow your path?
Leadership is truly a life-long journey of taking action, not just a title. Own your truth, be unapologetic in your purpose, advocate for yourself and what you are trying to accomplish. And always remember to hold compassion and space for others at the same time. Most importantly, realize that adversity is not a road-block, it does not make you less than, you are worthy, you are capable, and deserve to be in these spaces.
Photo: A Master Media