Gender and Immigration – Spotlight on Migrant Women in Canada

This post was written by Bronwyn Bragg, volunteer with the Women’s Centre Social Policy Committee

Did you know in 2017, 24% of women who came to the Women’s Centre had either an immigrant or refugee background? This number is just slightly below the number of immigrants living in Calgary. According to the 2016 Census, 29.4% of Calgarians are immigrants, a number which has increased in the last two decades.

We often hear news or read articles about the many challenges faced by migrant women, especially those who leave their countries of origin due issues like to regional instability, war, economic insecurity, and many forms of violence, including gender-based violence.  While many women from around the world work tirelessly to build a more secure life by migrating to Canada, women who undertake this journey are often faced with a whole new set of challenges once they arrive.

At the Women’s Centre, we see the way these challenges impact immigrant and refugee women specifically. People who research and study immigration often say that immigration is a “gendered experience.” What this means is that men and women experience the process of migration – including its ups and downs – in different ways.

For example, women’s caregiving responsibilities, as mothers, spouses or daughters impacts the kinds of opportunities they can access in Calgary. Often immigrant and refugee women put off taking English language classes because there are few classes that offer childcare.

It is also often the case that immigrant women will often seek employment in minimum wage jobs, such as retail or food service, to help support their family while their spouse pursues educational upgrading and tries to find work in their profession. Because of the many barriers to employment that immigrants face in Canada, families have to make decisions about which spouse will try find employment in their chosen profession, and which will take the “survival job” to support the family in the meantime.

Some women who come to Calgary as immigrants are not eligible for services or support in Canada. Women who are sponsored spouses are not allowed to access social assistance unless they are divorced from their spouse. Women who enter Canada as caregivers are not eligible for federally funded settlement programs. In both these cases, women are dependent on their family (as spouses) or their employers (as caregivers), leaving them vulnerable to abuse, neglect and violence. These forms of dependency are made worse by social isolation, language barriers and not knowing what kinds of support are available to women in Canada.

For all of these reasons, the Social Policy Committee of the Women’s Centre has been developing policy on gender and immigration. As part of our Work for Change and policy work, the Women’s Centre works to consider the systemic barriers that impact women in our community. This includes addressing issues experienced by women like poverty or lack of access to childcare, as well as evaluating the way specific experiences – such as migration – impact women who access the Women’s Centre.

As part of this policy, we held a Social Issues Discussion in April 2018, on the experiences of women who come to Canada as migrant caregivers. This fall we are putting the finishing touches on a policy statement that will reflect the Women’s Centre’s policy positions related to immigration in Canada. The goal of all of this work is to promote a more equitable and just immigration system that takes into account the lived experience of immigrant women in Canada.

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