September 17–23 has been designated as Gender Equality Week. This week provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the contributions that women and gender diverse communities have made, celebrate achievements and accomplishments, and address the gaps in equality that exist.
This year’s theme is United for Gender Equality: Stronger Together. The Government of Canada created a timeline of achievements towards gender equity, but there is still much work to be done.
In the hopes of inspiring you, we would like to share the story of Canadian athlete Abigail (Abby) Hoffman.
Abby Hoffman was born on February 11, 1947, in Toronto Ontario. She learned to skate at a young age and wanted to play hockey. Since there were no female leagues, at age 9, Abby cut her hair, changed her first name to Ab, and her parents enrolled her in the boys’ league. Abby excelled at the game and was chosen to play in an all-star tournament. It was only then, because of having to show her birth certificate, that the league discovered that she was a girl. Her story made the national news. She was allowed to play in the tournament and finished the season with her team, because there was no specific rule that stated that a girl couldn’t play in the boys’ league.
Once news got out about her story, parents called the league and demanded that a girls’ league be created. Shortly after, a girls’ hockey school was formed. However, after the media hype died down, the school stopped, no girls’ league was created, and a rule entered the books stating that a girl could not play in the boys’ league.
Abby turned her attention to track and field, where she excelled. She represented Canada on the international level and became a fierce advocate for equality.
Highlights of her track and field career included:
- 1963 Pan-American Games — Gold medal, 800m
- 1966 Commonwealth Games — Gold medal, 880yds.
- 1967 Pan-American Games — Bronze medal, 800m
- 1971 Pan-American Games — Gold medal, 800m
- 1975 Pan-American Games — Silver medal, 800m | Bronze medal, 1,500m
Abby needed an indoor track to train in, so that she could compete for Canada. She discovered on at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. However, Hart House was for men only. This was unacceptable to Abby who fought to make it open for women as well. This finally happened in 1966 and her efforts were commemorated in 1979 with a plaque that read, reads “Only she who attempts the absurd will achieve the impossible.”
In 1976, Abby carried the Canadian flag and led the Canadian Olympic team into the stadium, during the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Montreal.
Abby not only fought for women’s rights in sports, but in society as well. She also fought to end racism and for human rights. The latter work resulted in Abby founding Nellie’s, a hostel for battered women.
In 1981, Abby became the first woman to be Director General of Sport Canada. She spent the next decade fighting to increase federal funding for sports. Also in 1981, Abby’s advocacy for athletes resulted in her becoming the first woman appointed to the executive committee of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
In 1982, Abby was appointed to the Order of Canada for her contributions to sports.
In 1993, Abby left Sport Canada and became the first Director General of Health Canada’s new Women’s Health Bureau. In 1995, she was appointed to the Executive Council of the International Amateur Athletic Federation.
Her other accolades include induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, in 2004, induction into the Jewish Canadian Athletes Hall of Fame, in 2007, and receiving an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from the University of Toronto, in 2015.
Who inspires you to advocate for equality? Follow us on social media and let us know.