As a student in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto, Amanda Dale took the honour of being named “most likely to contribute to improving the status of women” to heart — and has kept it there for more than 30 years.
At the time, she was struggling to pay her rent, despite working three jobs. Education wasn’t her only focus, and she was at risk of dropping out of school altogether. Receiving the City of Toronto Women and Gender Studies Scholarship changed her trajectory completely.
“That award allowed me to take my academic life more seriously and to focus on it centrally,” Dale recalls. “My entire career since has been a contribution to the goal of the scholarship: to improve the status of women. I have taken that mission quite seriously.”
When she received the scholarship in 1988, women and gender issues weren’t yet widely accepted as a “legitimate” area of study. The male domination of academia was largely unchallenged. The scholarship — combined with her studies in U of T’s Women and Gender Institute more broadly — helped launch a career as a valued resource and recognized voice on gender equality.
“Having a women’s studies department that allowed me to focus on the kinds of academic questions that I was interested in, which related to social justice and the movement outside of the university, was all new in itself,” says Dale. “Then to have a scholarship specifically in my area of interest that also recognized that was quite extraordinary.”
As a member of Woodsworth College, Dale earned her honours bachelor of arts degree in political science and women’s studies from U of T in 1988. She credits the City of Toronto scholarship for leading to a Commonwealth Scholarship, which enabled her to pursue her master’s degree in social and political thought from the University of Sussex, UK, in 1991. She earned her master’s degree in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford, UK, in 2011, and a PhD in Law from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in 2018.
The City of Toronto scholarship’s mission stayed with her as her career developed, including most recently as executive director with the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, an alliance of organizations committed to advancing women’s international human rights in Canada, and previously as executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, which offers legal, counselling and interpretation services to marginalized populations of women who have survived violence.
“The scholarship gave me grounding that has allowed me to think clearly and strategically with a deep-rooted feminist understanding of real-life situations throughout my career,” she says. “It changed everything, all my opportunities going forward. I say that without hyperbole. I have contributed to the world as a result of it.”
She’s particularly proud of her work with the Barbra Schlifer Clinic, taking it through its largest expansion and positioning it for stability and sustainability into the future. The expansion doubled the clinic’s staffing, more than doubled its funding, and diversified its revenue sources to enable survival through changes in government priorities.
“Given that we are only touching the tip of the gender-based violence “iceberg” in my lifetime, I wanted to be a responsible custodian of this amazing community-built treasure and leave it for next-gen feminists and specifically, feminists of colour working from an intersectional lens, to shape for their needs,” Dale says. “I feel I have achieved that goal.”
This profile is part of our celebration of the 35th anniversary of the City of Toronto Women and Gender Studies Scholarship. Read about other recipients here.