“How we treat the poorest and the most vulnerable people in our community is an indication of what we are like as a society and it’s really important to make sure no one is left behind,” says Zulie Sachedina, Vice President, Human Resources and General Counsel at Providence Health Care.
Sachedina, a 2018 YWCA Women of Distinction Award recipient, is a human rights activist who has combined law and healthcare to help make sure marginalized groups are heard.
“Sometimes you need opportunities to be able to amplify that voice so that it is actually heard,” she says.
Born in the small village of Njombe in Tanzania, Sachedina left to pursue education in England and eventually made the move to Canada with her parents.
“We arrived in Montreal in the middle of winter. My mother was like, ‘what the heck have we done?’” she says.
Sachedina continued her education combining health administration and law.
Working with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Ontario, Sachedina was part of a task force that had been established to look at the processes for responding to complaints of sexual harassment that were brought to the College by patients who had been sexually harassed by physicians.
The task force had been established in response to complaints by women’s groups because the processes were very difficult for patients and the College was determined to make sure that when people complained, they were responded to appropriately, says Sachedina.
“This was my first area of looking at systemic processes and to put processes in place that help equalize the relationship of people who are inherently on the vulnerable end of it,” says Sachedina. “The process itself can be intimidating and now with the Me Too movement, it’s apparent we have to continue to work at figuring out how we equalize the power imbalance in relationships and the perception of power imbalance to make it possible for people to come forward and have their voices heard.”
Working with refugees
While working as a member on the Immigration and Refugee board, Sachedina was part of a team that heard the claims of refugees seeking asylum.
“We focused on the most vulnerable people seeking asylum,” says Sachedina.
She among many others helped create new definitions of what it means to belong to a social group, to include sexual orientation and victims of domestic violence.
“The refugee law system emerged after the Second World War, when countries made a commitment that when someone comes to your border and claims to be a refugee you must have a system in place to assess their claim,” Sachedina explains.
She says that the Refugee board members have to determine parameters when assessing a claim.
“I was lucky enough to deal with cases that dealt with persecution based on sexual orientation and transgender cases, which would never have been heard in the 1940s,” says Sachedina. “Those are the kinds of cases that helped advance the law and establish a system to expand the ways to define membership in a particular social group.”
That meant victims of domestic violence or sexual orientation could be “put into this bucket” and still stay true to the legal regime of legislation that had been set down, says Sachedina.
Helping others thrive
Sachedina encourages international development by looking for agencies that work in these areas.
After 9/11, Sachedina went to Afghanistan with Oxfam Canada, an international development agency that is part of a global movement to eradicate poverty, to assess the “humanitarian crisis.”
“I had the opportunity to see the refugee camps at the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan at the time. It was a shocking sight to see children and people in such dire strain,” she says.
Sachedina has also served on the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and raises money for causes like the Aga Khan Foundation, a not-for-profit development agency.
Sachedina is a member of the Ismaili community serving as chair on the Ismaili International Conciliation and Arbitration Board appointed by His Highness Prince Aga Khan.
The Board helps to resolve disputes through mediation, arbitration and conciliation.
“I’m a mediator at heart. I like to have people come together to see if we can work together to make something happen,” she says.