Scholar Spotlight - Areesha Imaan Siddiqui

Laidlaw Scholar Areesha Imaan Siddiqui on combatting homelessness and leading with open, honest communication.

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Areesha Imaan Siddiqui, a University of Toronto Laidlaw Scholar and Co-President of the Laidlaw Alumni Society, on combatting homelessness and leading with open, honest communication.

Areehsa Headshot

Research title: A Qualitative Study of Homelessness for Women in Toronto

My research studies the effects of social and cultural processes that make it harder for homeless women in Toronto to re-integrate into society. For this research, I compiled news articles, research papers, and government documents into an archive to showcase the presence of a problem. I then explored the nuances of this problem by conducting interviews with various experts within the housing institutions across Toronto.

Based on both the archive and the interviews, I have divided my analysis into three sections: violence/abuse, pregnancy/children, and substance use. My research expands upon the concept of intersectionality that links all three themes together in a much larger web of stereotypes, gender norms, and stigma, all of which need to be addressed in order to help the women get the support they need to get back on their feet.

Where did your passion for this research originate?

Homelessness is prevalent all over the world. I chose this research study because it pains me to see people in this horrid situation, knowing I could help. Usually, when people think of social justice and social aid, they think of countries far away from them. In reality, their own cities and countries have just as many issues that need to be addressed. Social justice begins at home, helping the people around you. 

This topic is of further interest to me because I am aware of the subtle social constructs that govern how women are seen and treated in everyday life. Social constructs include perceived gender roles in society, such as the requirement to wear makeup at work. Feminism is something everyone should be passionate about as it affects all members of society.

Women ages 16 and up, with and without children, comprise the majority of the ‘hidden homeless’ because they will go to extreme lengths to avoid living on the streets due to the increased risk of sexual violence. This 'hidden' status also means that women are barely represented in the media – only 19% of articles on homelessness are dedicated to homeless women (SNA, 2018). Knowing this, I wanted to focus my research on homeless women in Toronto in hopes of ramifying this social injustice.

Real-life leadership lessons 

I have utilized and embodied many of the leadership qualities I’ve learnt throughout my Laidlaw experience in all of my activities, most notably as the new Co-President of the Laidlaw Alumni Society. The leadership workshops taught me so much about myself and my biases, which has helped me understand my leadership style and the way that I view the world. Having this insight empowers me to be a better leader because I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses. Being a Laidlaw Scholar also opened a diverse network that has allowed me to meet and learn from amazing, intelligent scholars. This helps me better see different perspectives and develop creative solutions to any challenges that I face, whether that be in my role as President or in my internship. The workshops gave me the confidence to step into these leadership roles and face any challenges that may arise.

Top leadership tips

⚡️ Staying open-minded - understanding and being open to all the differences that make everyone unique

⚡️ Honest, open communication - creating an inclusive atmosphere where every team member feels heard and valued

⚡️ Teamwork - working with the team rather than the team working for you 

⚡️ Reliability - having the full trust of your team

⚡️ Positivity - leading the team with positivity and energy

What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

Being a Laidlaw Scholar is an incredible honour. I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to independently research a topic I'm passionate about and to be given the confidence to go outside of my comfort zone. The Laidlaw Foundation has provided me with an outlet for my passion and has helped me turn my ideas into positive change around the world. For me, being a Laidlaw Scholar means always being curious, striving to learn more, and expanding my horizons. It means being focused and open-hearted, and aiming to help others in every way that I can.

Which leaders inspire you and why?

My family inspires me every day to be the best version of myself—especially my dad. He has always exemplified the perfect leader and showcased amazing leadership qualities in his everyday life. He taught me to always be understanding and open, listen to everyone, and move the team forward together. He also taught me to remain strong and firm in my beliefs and to persevere towards my goals. Whenever I am unsure about anything, I think of what he would do in that situation, and his example guides me through any decisions.

Two women that also inspire me are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and my aunt. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a strong leader, working steadfastly in a male-dominated field where she is constantly battling all forms of inequality, and yet, she still remains determined and empowered. She inspires me to work hard and push for my goals and ideals to create positive change in the world. My aunt has the incredible ability in her leadership to make every person around her feel valued and heard, which also inspires me. Being able to communicate effectively and gain the respect of one’s team, while also maintaining a work/life balance, is a strength of my aunt's which I aspire to emulate.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s cover page for TIME Magazine 2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s cover page for TIME Magazine 2019

Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

I am striving to create a future where everyone is treated with equality and respect. A future where all are able to do what they want, when they want, without any fear of aggression towards them or their beliefs. A future in which everyone lives comfortably and happily. 

Quick-fire Questions

📺 Currently binging: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation

🎵 My quarantine anthem: Weekend by Taeyeon

📚 My top book recommendation: The Six of Crows duology 

The Six of Crows

🎧 Podcast obsession: The Lockdown Traveller 

The Lockdown Traveller

🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Being able to go for a hike in the forest near my campus. I love being in nature, especially after months of staying indoors.

A photo of me during a hike in the forest surrounding University of Toronto - Mississauga campus.

A photo of me during a hike in the forest surrounding University of Toronto - Mississauga campus.


Areesha is the Co-President of the Laidlaw Alumni Society. Join the Laidlaw Alumni Society for regular networking sessions, career panels, engaging discussions, and all-around support.

Find out more about the Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship.

🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights: 

  • Fatima Formuli (University of Toronto) on improving mental health access for Muslim Canadians and the importance of communities.
  • Roberta Hannah (Columbia University) on researching the lives of Black LGBTQ+ elders, and exploring the overlooked subtleties that shape our lives.
  • Polina Foteva (University of St Andrews) on working with a recently-discovered enzyme and making scientific knowledge more accessible.
  • Inkindi Mutoni Sabine (University of Rwanda)  on developing a phone-detecting technology to help students focus on their studies, and leading the STEM subject community.
  • Brandon Yu (University of Toronto) on his research "The effects of N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) on B-cell activation" and launching his startup, iAscend.

Kayla Kim

Marketing Manager, Laidlaw Foundation

Hello! I was Laidlaw scholar in 2019, and I studied national, regional, and local identity in northern Tajikistan through the lens of women's fashion. 

For a year after graduating, I worked for the UN Mine Action Service which removes landmines from conflict and post-conflict regions. Now I have returned to the Laidlaw Foundation!

Please feel free to get in touch. I'm always happy to meet new people and chat, especially about nationalism/politics of gender/Central Asia/demining/UN/writing or even ballroom dance :)


Go to the profile of Susanna Kempe (she/her)
about 1 month ago

That is a future for which it is most definitely worth striving! Thanks @Areesha Imaan Siddiqui for sharing your story - so inspiring. I have every confidence that you will be an amazing Alumni President.