Sociologist among nation's top gender equity champions

Social Sciences

- Anne MacLaurin

Benoit

Recognized by Status of Women Canada for her work in gender equality, Dr. Cecilia Benoit has devoted 25 years as a researcher to advancing the social rights of marginalized populations, especially women. On October 18, Benoit and five other women were recognized with the Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case.

The women we honour today ... are strong leaders and inspiring role models. As professionals, volunteers, and advocates, they have demonstrated how people with passion and commitment can change the lives of women and girls for the better.
Status of Women Minister and UVic alumnus Patty Hajdu (in a statement)

Benoit grew up in a large working class family during a generation where women were expected to serve men. From a very young age, Benoit watched how gender is closely connected to health inequities among marginalized groups.

“Gender is a fundamental factor because it mediates access to key resources: knowledge, money, power, prestige and social connections,” says Benoit. “My research places gender on equal footing with other important factors determining health outcomes, including indigeneity, race and socioeconomic status,” continues Benoit.

The Governor General’s Award is more about validation for Benoit-validation of her community-based research which has brought visibility to hidden populations, such as midwives, urban Indigenous women, street-involved youth, pregnant women who use substances and face other challenges, and adults involved in sex work.

“This recognition validates my research but also the goals I hold dear-including justice and equality for everyone, regardless of their social location or identity,” says Benoit.

Benoit has had a significant impact on national, provincial and local policy and social health programs including the legalization of midwifery and education for midwives in most provinces and territories, public funding of midwifery services, community outreach for Indigenous women, health care hubs for street-involved youth and substance-using pregnant women, and peer-led social-service programs, education and employment for sex workers.

“Cecilia is somebody who has made Canada a better place through her work. She has made us more accepting of vulnerable populations,” said Tim Stockwell, director of UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research of BC. “She is acutely aware of societal attitudes and stereotypes, especially where they could take us. Her research has given voice to people who are not usually heard.”

Benoit's energy, expertise and passion for social justice makes her an inspiring role model for many of her students who go on to successful careers in public service. She has mentored 40 graduate students and received numerous awards and honours. Even so, what remains is her top priority: to reduce barriers to social inclusion in Canadian society posed by stigma and discrimination.

Benoit notes that this award is due in no small part to the contributions of her dedicated colleagues, including her husband, Mikael Jansson, as well as her community partners and the hundreds of people who have been her research participants/co-researchers.

“They have contributed valuable knowledge that has enriched me enormously and positively impacted policies and practices in need of change in our society,” says Benoit.

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Another UVic advocate for equity, historian Merna Forster, will receive the Governor General’s History Award for Popular Media, also known as the Pierre Berton Award, in November.

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Keywords: gender, human rights, community, sociology, award

People: Cecilia Benoit


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