Dr Glenda Simms : A fierce advocate for the rights of women and girls

Keisha Hill
Keisha Hill

May 3, 2022

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Dr Glenda Simms, a renowned feminist, catapulted to prominence in 1990 when she became the first black woman to be appointed president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

A product of the deep-rural farming community of Stanmore, close to Malvern, high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains of St Elizabeth, Dr Simms migrated to Canada as a young woman in the 1960s.

Simms’ first teaching job in Canada was in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, where she was the first black person many of her students had met. Though she initially knew little of their Indigenous culture, Simms found she could relate to their geographic isolation and economic circumstances.

She soon completed a master’s degree at the University of Alberta, followed by a PhD in educational psychology at the University of Lethbridge.

Blessed with a strong will and a dominant personality, she rapidly established herself as an activist defending women’s rights and a powerful voice for social justice, rejecting discrimination of all sorts.

As an adviser to the Canadian Government and a volunteer activist, Dr Simms’ work earned her lasting recognition in her adopted country.

She was also a founding member and president of the Congress of Black Women of Canada before convincing the then gender affairs minister in 1995 that she could position the Bureau of Women’s Affairs as a more influential institution in society.

In a comprehensive article on Dr Simms, Ron Fanfair, freelance writer and photographer, shared a quote from former Canadian Member of Parliament Jean Augustine about Simms, who was the Congress of Black Women (CBW) Canada president for five years and a close friends for nearly four decades.

“She was [a] very bright and outspoken person who cared deeply about women’s issues and their place in society and was able to articulate the concerns of immigrant women,” said the first black woman to be elected to the Canadian parliament. “As a leader, she had a clear vision of the direction [in] which we should go. Her imprint is on much of the early work the Congress did. Black and white women in Canada owe a debt of gratitude to Glenda for the enormous contributions she made in championing [women’s] rights.”

Augustine and Simms represented Canada as non-governmental delegates at the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1985, marking the end of the Decade of Women that adopted the ‘Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women’, the blueprint for improving the status of women in member states.

“Glenda advocated fiercely for women not in government, saying their voices were just as important,” added Augustine. “She was a real activist in that area.”

Returning to Jamaica in the 1990s, she served from 1996 to 2005 as executive director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs during the P. J. Patterson-led People’s National Party (PNP) government, working closely with then Cabinet minister (later to become prime minister) Portia Simpson Miller.

During her tenure, the bureau reviewed 42 pieces of legislation, which Simms noted then were pieces of law needed to help remove systematic barriers that worked against women and girls.

Simms also led or participated in numerous national and international commissions and committees and was lauded with numerous awards and honorary degrees, but according to those who knew her best, she never lost her ability to connect with ordinary people.

In 2014, Simms was awarded the Order of Distinction in the Officer Class for outstanding work in gender development.
She died at her home in Ottawa on New Year’s Eve following illness. She was 82.


Keisha Hill


Keisha Hill


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