Ilana is a labour and human rights lawyer, and is a passionate advocate for the rights of women and children. She spent eight years at the United Nations, with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), where she worked as the Agency’s CEDAW Advisor (the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). During this time she travelled extensively in the global South, working with grassroots women’s groups to apply human rights conventions and standards in their struggles against injustice and gender inequality, on everything from FGM, to gender-based violence, and all forms of discrimination. She went on to co-create a programme (with IWRAW Asia Pacific) that brought local grassroots women’s rights activists into the UN CEDAW Committee chambers to provide direct information about discrimination in their countries – a tactic that proved so successful, it has since been integrated into the official proceedings of that body. Ilana was one of the dedicated UNIFEM staff instrumental in bringing into existence and managing UNIFEM’s Trust Fund on Violence against Women, which was created to fund grassroots women’s groups in developing countries.  While working at the U.N., Ilana was co-founder and first President of UNGLOBE, a group advocating for the rights of LGBTQ U.N. employees.

In 2003, at the height of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, Ilana, along with her father Stephen Lewis, co-founded the Stephen Lewis Foundation to partner directly with community-based organizations that were – and are – at the heart of the response to the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Ilana was the Founding Executive Director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) from its inception in March, 2003 to February, 2019.  During her tenure, working with a passionate and committed group of colleagues, the Foundation partnered with over 330 grassroots organizations, raising and disbursing over 130 million dollars to more than 1800 different community HIV & AIDS-related initiatives. The Foundation’s internationally recognized Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign has grown, since its launch in 2006, into a movement involving thousands of committed and passionate grandmothers across Canada (now with groups in Australia, and the U.K.) who have raised over 30 million dollars for community-based organizations run by and for the dignified, indefatigable and expert Grandmothers of Africa, and the orphaned children in their care. (For a full explanation of the SLF’s work and mandate, please go to the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

In 2009, Ilana was the recipient of the YWCA Women of Distinction award for International Development, and in 2012 she was named one of the Top 25 Women of Influence in Canada, and received an Alumni Award from the University of Toronto in 2017. She is a proud Board Member of Gender at Work, and the Astraea Foundation for Lesbian Justice.

Ilana has been dedicated to amplifying women’s and grassroots activist voices to claim their human rights in a myriad of ways:

  • The United Nations Trust Fund on Violence Against Women (worked with UNIFEM colleagues to create this important funding mechanism.)
  • Global to Local: A Programme to bring women activists from around the world into the CEDAW Committee chambers to present Alternative Reports (co-originator with Shanthi Dairiam, IWRAW Asia Pacific and Alda Facio from Costa Rica, in Ilana’s capacity as CEDAW Advisor to UNIFEM)
  • United Nations GLOBE [LGBTQ Rights Organization] (co-founder and first President)
  • Stephen Lewis Foundation (co-founder, founding Executive Director, 2003-2019)
    • During this period, the Stephen Lewis Foundation engaged in many initiatives that sought to centre and amplify the voices and expertise of African grandmothers and grassroots experts and activists in the struggle to turn the tide of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, such as:


To learn more about the Stephen Lewis Foundation, go to stephenlewisfoundation.org.  To learn more about the SLF’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign and hear directly from the African community-based organizations supported by the SLF and the African Grandmothers at the heart of the response to the AIDS pandemic, you can read: Powered By Love: A Grandmothers’ Movement to End AIDS in Africa.  National Best-Seller and winner of the 2018 Atlantic Best Atlantic Published Book Award, published by Goose Lane Publishing.

Bringing Equality Home: Implementing The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, editor), written for the United Nations Development Fund for Women

This groundbreaking booklet chronicled, for the first time, how women around the world have used CEDAW [The Women’s Convention] for the advancement of women’s rights.  From Colombia to Nepal to Zimbabwe and India, women’s rights activists have employed the Convention to change Constitutions, laws and government policies that govern their lives.  It is a significant contribution to the promotion and realisation of women’s human rights.