Chenthoori Malankov, Community Advocate

Chenthoori Malankov is a Toronto-based advocate who works towards ending gender-based violence within immigrant and refugee communities across Ontario. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Chenthoori Malankov wears purple shirt with white floral pattern
(Photograph: Jessica Laforet)

Chenthoori Malankov; @Chenthoori

How do you describe what you do to your parents?

I currently work towards ending gender-based violence within immigrant and refugee communities across Ontario. I use arts and education models to disrupt power and challenge systems of oppression. I work with folks from various lived experiences who are incredibly vulnerable to violence, but do not have the access to gain services or support.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to York University and I took sociology as well as gender, sexuality and women’s studies.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

Gaining support and mentorship from Farrah Khan, who is a badass gender-based violence advocate and social worker in Toronto. I auditioned and got a lead role in a play she was supporting in bringing community together called Heartbeats: The Izzat Project.

Heartbeats: The Izzat Project is comic book created by young South Asian women in Toronto. It is a love letter to our communities.  We came together to challenge how “izzat” or “honour” has been used to rationalize violence against us. Our bodies belong to us, not to patriarchs, media or governments.

What would you say has been your biggest fail, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

I don’t necessarily have a career failure, although I do fear the precariousness of the work. Currently, with the change in government and elimination of the Status of Women Canada, it poses a threat to folks doing this line of work and also community members trying to access resources. The reason I bounce back is because it’s incredibly humbling and a privilege to meet these people. Community constantly teaches me  why I choose this line of work.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

As much as your negative self talk will get the best of you, trust your passion.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

“Do more school.”

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do/watch/read/listen to bring yourself back up again?

I watch A LOT of videos of baby elephants in mud! It’s actually really funny & cute. And of course my six-year-old dog Jasmine owns my heart.

Who are your three favourite social media follows from your industry? What do you love about them?

Vivek Shraya is a fierce artist whose body of work crosses the boundaries of music, literature, visual art, and film. I love her boldness, fashion and ability to captivate an audience.

Roxane Gay is one of  my favourite authors. I love that she challenges and has honest conversations about the ways in which women-identified folks have a relationship with their bodies as survivors, specifically fat women who are not a part of societal standards of beauty.

And Angela Davis is one of my sheros, her work around prision abolition and transnational solidarity work is something I am constantly aware of when engaging in community-based education and ongoing solidarity work with other marginalized communities.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

The representation and inclusivity within the non profit sector in general is interesting because it is precarious work. When it comes to it, racialized people need to get paid more for their work, commitment and time.

As Melayna Williams powerfully wrote for Maclean’s, “the gender wage gap has real-life, often life-altering implications for women. And while we have come a long way, we are still producing an unhealthy tension between one-dimensional and intersectional feminism when we fail to prioritize women of colour in wage-gap analyses and solutions. We know how easily women of colour can be drowned out of conversations, even ones pertaining to their own livelihoods. There is nothing progressive about being satisfied with an aim we’ve failed to fully consider. Especially an equity-seeking aim that does not start with the ones who need help—and power—the most.”

Additionally, I think we have to move beyond  representation and inclusivity. I don’t want to just have a seat at the table, I want to be able to have a voice in issues that affect my community.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

I believe we have a long way to go when it comes to women living in a world free of violence and not dictated or censored by misogyny. The issue facing women currently is multi-faceted when it comes to race, class, legal systems and institutions that do not support the ongoing work of community activists.

Have you ever asked for a raise? If so, how did you phrase it and did you get it? If not, why not?

I have not asked for a raise as my job itself is precarious and heavily dependent on government funding.

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