Sisters join forces to create the Brown Women’s Empowerment Sisterhood

An organization of empowerment, protection, and support for Women of Colour

The BWES is an organization that works to empower, protect, and support Women of Colour in Montreal. Graphic Courtesy BWES

The Brown Women’s Empowerment Sisterhood, a non-profit organization in Montreal offering a space for Women of Colour to come together and speak about issues affecting their community.

McGill students Rachel and Michelle Ernest-Cohen co-created the BWES in Nov. 2020. The sisters realized the absence of an organization in Montreal dedicated to not only Black and Brown women, but to all Women of Colour. “There wasn’t a designated place that we could come together, have a discussion, advance a cause, and do good for our community in other ways than just provide a space [for WoC],” Michelle said.

For both sisters, BWES is an organization for women by women. “We have 30 women that we can go to and share with, people who experience similar things and understand us,” Michelle said. “It is super important to us to help the community but also create a community.”

The sisters want Women of Colour to feel comfortable and exist without the constant pressure from societal expectations of women and stereotypes associated with them.

BWES helps Women of Colour to embrace who they are without prejudices. “Our mantra is empowerment, protection, and support,” Rachel said. “As an organization, what we represent is a community shield where women feel that they can express themselves freely. They can feel empowered through the initiatives that we do.”

The group organizes activities and initiatives to involve their members and WoC. They plan three to four big fundraising events each year, Girl Talk Sessions that involve workshops with  guest speakers, along with community discussions. The organization also prepares events such as dinners and meet-ups for their advocacy group and their members as a whole.

“What we represent is a community shield where women feel that they can express themselves freely.” — Rachel Ernest-Cohen

They work to find events that matter to their members, inviting feedback from their members in regards to their planning.

“We want to come up with events that are relevant and tackle issues that are needed to be spoken about,” said Michelle. These issues include a lack of healthcare access for Women of Colour, racism in queer spaces, mental health services as well as an overarching problem of insufficient diversity in available professionals. 

Erica Zhang, a member of the BWES, participates actively to contribute to something greater than herself. “Since I’m the only [Asian] member [...] I try to bring the perspectives that I know from [my own] life experiences and issues that happen in my community. I think it is very important to talk about them with others,” she said. 

She also adheres to BWES' values that promote the acceptance of every Women of Colour. “They promote respect, openness towards everyone's views, engagement, and compassion,” she added.

BWES posts educational content on their Facebook and Instagram accounts. “We want to raise awareness about Women of Colour and the issues they face, what kind of experiences they have, creating space for them,” Rachel said. “Making sure that we present our issue in a way that men can not only sympathize but take actions and improve their own behaviours.”

The group produces content related to advocacy and activism that addresses violence against women, such as genital mutilation, sex trafficking, and sexual violence. The posts provide information and resources to call if they find themselves in any situation of violence.

They plan on making a resource list by cataloguing local professionals willing to offer their services. They are also looking to provide the BWES community access to therapists, lawyers, and counselling services for WoC. The organization hopes these future initiatives will assist Women of Colour around the city and offer access to a group that is able to help when needed.

BWES can be reached by email or through their Facebook and Instagram.

This article has been updated to correct Erica Zhang's name. The Link regrets this error.