Cohen brings social justice, equity perspective to CPHA chair position

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On Jan. 1, associate professor Benita Cohen began her two-year term as chair of the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), the only Canadian non-governmental organization focused exclusively on public health.

Founded in 1910, CPHA is a national, not-for-profit, voluntary association that serves as an independent voice for public health in Canada with links to the international community. The association champions health equity, social justice and evidence-informed decision-making. It also promotes the public health perspective and evidence to government leaders and policy-makers. 

Cohen was chair-elect during 2019 and 2020, and a director on the board from 2017 – 2018.

Cohen brings a social justice and equity perspective to her position, following years working as a public health nurse in low-income neighbourhoods and with marginalized populations in the Toronto area and in small Inuit communities in the Eastern Arctic.

“It was during my public health nursing career that it became overwhelmingly evident to me that unless we take action on structural and social determinants of health inequities, there will never be ‘health for all.  Since then, I have tried to integrate a critical social justice and equity lens in my work,” she said.

“My clinical and academic experience has provided me with knowledge of the Canadian public health system and the socio-political and policy environment in which it functions; the health promotion needs of equity-seeking populations; and many of the key issues facing public health practitioners and decision-makers.” 

Cohen said her job over the next two years is to ensure the CPHA keeps moving towards achievement of its six strategic priorities: strengthening and renewing public health systems and practice; advancing Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples; advancing social justice, anti-oppression and anti-racism; promoting population mental wellness; promoting action on the ecological determinants of health; and enhancing engagement and organizational sustainability.