The third and final event in the Ending the Silence webinar series, held on March 4, 2021, was jointly hosted by NSA and OCASI, and it focused on reimagining cross-sectoral responsive support for gender-based violence (GBV) survivors.
People don’t trust the system as it systematically fails them
The discussion primarily centred around reflections on existing structural gaps and needs in the GBV sector, panelists diving deep in to take stock of factors that had so easily exposed the fragilities in the GBV ecosystem during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All the speakers had an in-depth understanding of the sector, including from a historical perspective. Further, having been committed activists for long years, many being survivors too;, they had been working tirelessly to create gains to eliminate gender-based violence, and to facilitate real change in the lives of GBV survivors, especially racialized women impacted by various forms of gendered violence. Second, all panelists agreed that only incremental changes have happened in the last thirty years, much progress being surface level and mere tokenism. Deep systemic root causes had led to this exacerbated GBV situation during the time of COVID-19.
One of the main reasons highlighted as being responsible for this current situation was the absence of core funding for agencies working in the GBV sector; at the root of this gap being the lack of focus and political will to address this status quo scenario. When funding is disbursed project-wise, there is obviously little room to build momentum for sustained work, and the ability to continuously build upon the work already done and consolidate gains achieved so far is diminished. Such a funding model also creates a competitive environment where agencies find it hard to work as partners and collaborators, unable to trust each other as allies working towards the shared goal of supporting survivors. This is a missed opportunity for a collective community approach.
Since there isn’t a core stability through funding for case management – even for organizations that have for long years demonstrated their experience, expertise and commitment to the sector – the prevention side of the GBV spectrum suffers. This is reflected in programming coming from a reactive place, in response to acute and inflammatory situations; and an inability to focus on education, and building long-term community relationships and resources that may provide sustainable support to women impacted by GBV, using a long-term approach.
Another important theme that came up repeatedly in the discussion,, was the lack of institutional understanding (and application) of an intersectional approach to address GBV. On the ground, while carrying out work in the GBV sector, this translates as lack of alignment and coordination between practices and processes within different sectors; and this also leads to prejudicial treatment of survivors. Blessings spoke about the need for a collaborative survivor-centric approach (not system-centred) to prevent secondary victimization of survivors so they don’t end up being compelled to narrate their traumatic story again and again, when they go to the shelter, and to the police, and then to the hospital, and on and on.
Jasmine pointed to systemic shortcomings, emphasizing the lack of prioritization of GBV by policy makers. By employing a race and gender neutral approach to GBV while formulating public policy, and by not listening to advocacy bodies that have been working with women and girls, and with survivors, they have ignored the fact that GBV intersects with other intractable structural issues like poverty, income inequality, inadequate housing, residency status in Canada, to name a few central determinants of marginalization, she highlighted.
Jessica, speaking in the context of a project on interventions in intimate partner violence (IPV), highlighted the lack of robust standards of practice across the board among organizations working in the GBV sector. These negative histories of relationships, and power dynamics, have led to an absence of mutual trust on the part of organizations, and reluctance to work together.
Arezoo spoke of the experiential perspective in GBV, highlighting that many women working in the sector come with lived experience of gendered violence, and of experience of work in the community-based sector. They carry within them a nuanced understanding of the problems and the solutions. From such an organic position, they see clearly that social determinants of health are important considerations, as is the need for holistic responses and strategic foresight for creating good solutions.
`How many more such consultations do we need’was the tired refrain that set the tone for the panel. The discussion pointed to the flawed and complex model of change that is constructed so, in a way by-design. It does not contain accountability mechanisms that can ensure compliance, and it waits for the slow trickle-down effect that often does not meet survivors’ nuanced needs. Such a model is also lacking in cultural sensitivity and fails to support women who just want the abuse to stop. They don’t want to be forced to call the police in an emergency situation, and they don’t want to leave their kids and their homes; they fear they may be putting themselves into further danger by their actions.
Panelists were emphatic about the need for a comprehensive integrated approach that is sensitive to the lived experiences of racialized communities, that is respectful and consistent with regard to the terminology being used-for instance, the issue of languaging- to describe survivors. The ability of language (`survivor’ versus `victim’) to alienate and criminalise women impacted by GBV was mentioned, as was the need for consistency in its use across sectors.
All in all, an important conversation to close the GBV series, with a clarion call for action that is survivor-centric, multifaceted and inter-sectoral, contextualized in an integrated framework, with understanding of intersectionality and accountability baked into it. Panelists insisted that robust processes and practices must be part of policy making if the objective is to create actionable solutions that can seriously address a complex multilayered issue like gender based violence.
Authors:Alka Kumar is the manager of research and policy at the Newcomer Students’ Association.
On Friday, February 5, 2021 the Newcomer Student Association (NSA) in collaboration with the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) under the 2020-2021 Immigrant and Refugee Communities Neighbours, Friends and Families (IRCNFF) Campaign hosted the second session of its 3-part webinar series, Ending the Silence. The focus of this session was on Responsive Community Support and Resources for Gender-Based Violence. The session was moderated by Dr. Alka Kumar—Manager of Research and Policy at NSA. The three panelists included two NSA team members—Dr. Rahbari-Jawoko (Ryerson University Professor and Manager, Strategic Initiatives at NSA) and Jaspreet Kaur—(NSA Manager, Programs and Events, Newcomer Resilience Award recipient and research contributor toDomestic Violence in Immigrant Communities: Case Studiesproject) as well as Sidrah Ahmed-Chan, a public educator, researcher and writer with expertise in survivors of Islamophobic violence. The panelists drew from their professional and practice expertise and respectively commenced their presentations with discussion of the various ways intimate partner violence (IPV) generally manifests in a relationship and called attention to what is needed to mitigate challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and existing community capacity building tools and resources.
Dr. Rahbari-Jawoko shared YWCA Spokane-Power and Control Wheel and discussed how at the core of IPV is the various expression of power and control which is “Manifested in emotional, psychological, coercion and threats, intimidation and dominance; minimizing, denying and blaming; isolation; cultural spiritual; immigration status, and economic abuse.” The pandemic has added new and unprecedented ways for abusers to victimize, including misinformation; controlling access to medical services; putting victim’s health at risk by infecting or threatening to infect victim; removing/isolating children, extended family members, pets and friends; withholding necessary items such as hand sanitizers, cleaning products, protective masks, etc.; controlling and monitoring means of communication, and manipulating to gain access to the home.
She emphasized how:
“There are misconceptions about who are the victims of IPV, as the target can be anyone, often targeted for their strengths— namely putting the needs of others before their own; being faithful; trustworthy; forgiving; believe in abuser’s potential as human being, and loyal.”
The abusers are often narcissists who begin abusing in subtle ways. It’s important to know and recognize the ways a relationship becomes unhealthy and abusive. In unhealthy relationships, parties communicate in hurtful ways, there is mistreatment, accusations, and controlling dynamics. IPV is cyclical and consists of tension building, trigger, instance of abuse, excuse, honeymoon, then the routine restarts again. The abused party gets consumed by the exhausting repeating cycle of unpredictability and recovery. Abusive behaviours hardly change and the abuser always blames their victims for their abusive behaviours or actions.
Rates of domestic violence have increased by 20 to 30% across Canada. A Statistics Canada survey released in early April 2020 reported 1 in 10 women say they are “very or extremely” concerned about the possibility of violence in their homes due to the stress of confinement alone. Experts attribute these numbers, among other things, to the intersectional systemic issues rooted in social and economic factors such as increased poverty; lack of affordable housing; precarious and low-paying employment; lack of universal child care, and unequal access to technology and internet service. These factors have created a pressure-cooker environment exacerbated by social isolation, an inability to leave abusive situations due to lockdowns, and added fear or discomfort with following COVID protocols with their triggering effect reminiscent of controlling or abusive experience of survivors and lack of privacy.
The second presenter, Sidra Ahmed-Chan drew attention to the reality of GBV statistics against women, but stated that:
“Men and boys can as well be victims of abuse including childhood sexual abuse and other forms of trauma, physical violence and psychological abuse…. it can as well happen in same-sex relationships.”
According to police reported data the majority of GBV is men abusing women with eight in ten victims of intimate partner homicides committed in Canada are women being killed by men. She noted, “Everyone who’s here at this webinar today is a potential resource to a victim or survivor of GBV.” As when informed and aware of the nature of GBV you would be able to read between the lines and hear if someone is in need of help and will know how to connect that person with community resources. She shared numerous critical community resources such as Shelter Safe an organization which provides a Canada-wide map of shelters and transition houses.
She discussed key myths about GBV and explained how it manifests in controlling relationships through multiple examples such as having to take photos to prove where and with whom you have been with because your partner doesn’t believe you. She emphasized that the abuse does not occur just because someone is angry or stressed, there is “controlled loss of control” and use of power. She noted newcomers face the same rates of GBV as other communities though they often face unique barriers for accessing support and services as they are ill informed about available community resources, they are underemployed, face racism and stereotypes and there is a lack of culturally sensitive support services. The main take-away from Sidra’s presentation was the awareness raised about victim blaming—the you should have known, greater understanding of how power and control are exercised in a relationship and how such awareness may be used to recognize GBV and support those affected by it.
The third presenter Jaspreet Kaur commenced her presentation with an engaging activity ‘Which would you choose?’ The participants were given two scenarios to choose from —one depicting a healthy dynamic between a couple and one that was not. She shared a myriad of resources such as SNC—“See It, Name It and Check It.” She then explained the BLUE SKY Model—a compassionate and trauma informed model in support of individuals experiencing violence and could be used to create safer communities.
Kaur called for community members who know somebody living with abuse to speak to them in person, support them by sharing tasks to maximize support, advocate for victims and/or survivors while being respectful of their confidentiality. She added, there is much community support for individuals supporting survivors of GBV and there are a lot of people in the world advocating, researching, and working towards creating safer communities like you. She drew attention to examples of everyday actions, grassroots efforts by community organizations and advocacy groups that help support individuals experiencing abuse such as:
The graphic novel and the booklet were created with immigrants, refugees and people without status who had experienced GBV to share accurate and culturally relevant information. They are excellent resources to generate conversations within any community—available in English, Arabic, Armenian, Dari, Punjabi, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu, and Simplified Chinese. Whereas, “A Future Without Violence” is a tool kit to build newcomer resilience through community education and advocacy. Moreover, the resources help to provide practical ideas and guidelines for hosting community-based educational events service providers and advocates have identified as a best practice in addressing GBV. Kaur emphasized when helping immigrant women who are dealing with GBV, we must be vigilant of:
“Their previous experiences with seeking support prior to them immigrating to Canada, where they come from, their social location and other intersectional issues that may worsen their situation.”
She shared how to signal for help against violence by showing a palm to the camera or a person and “tuck thumb and then trap thumb” as shown.
She also shared #NOExcuseForAbuse one campaign which provides 4 Steps to help support individuals who are living with abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“myPlan Canada” is a free downloadable mobile app or a website tool depending on what is safest for the GBV victim and or the survivor. She advised to set a PIN as it will load a neutral screen if someone tries to access the device it’s uploaded on. She noted for the users to answer the built-in questions within the app to tailor it to one’s specific needs. Kaur advised us to weigh priorities and understand personal risks of danger and options for safety and well-being. The app can provide information and resources that could be personalized to help one decide their best path forward.
We would like to leave the survivors of GBV with a profound Persian proverb and an empowering poem by Shel Silverstein:
“Write kindness in marble, injuries in dust.”
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you—just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
Authors: Dr.Rahbari-Jawoko—Ryerson University Professor and Manager, Strategic Initiatives at NSA and Jaspreet Kaur—Manager, Programs and Events at NSA and GBD Researcher
To view the full virtual webinar, which includes a list of resources available for those dealing with gender-based violence, please watch the video below:
Seek the emotional support needed (friends, relatives, counsellor, etc.)
Get connected to GBV/ IPV survivor’s community resources
Focus on improving personal finances
Join women’s groups
Take time for yourself (fulfill your spiritual needs)
Give yourself permission to feel angry—find constructive ways to express it
Know “healing from GBV/IPV is not a destination but a practice”.
Systemic Advocacy and or Changes Needed
Anti-patriarchal, non-misogynous, intersectional and multicultural understanding of GBV by all service providers/and or practitioners involved is needed
The abused need their true experience validated
Pro-bono support for GBV survivors is needed
All survivors should have access to family court support workers and lawyers who understand trauma
Cheat sheet for lawyers on how to work with GBV survivors
Violence-informed approach with law school training and the family law and criminal justice system is needed in handling GBV cases by lawyers and judges
Awareness of legal bullying within child custody by abusers and their legal representors
Often legal tactics are used to stress and create continued trauma for survivors of violence
Opposing counsel/ party brings forward motions until women are exhausted and agree to settle
Harsher penalties for perpetrators of abuse to signal the lack of acceptance of GBV
To end domestic violence we need to talk about domestic violence. Let’s keep the conversation going through the third session of “Ending the Silence” with us.
Nation-wide Adoption of “Bill 17-The Disclosure to Protect Against DV” (Clare’s Law Act implemented in Alberta, June 2020):
The Bill is a response to the alarming reported rates of DV in Alberta- 3rd highest in Canada
Clare’ Law is the right to know and ask about criminal records of one’s partner
Req. emergency responders to inform individuals of abuser’s criminal history if its DV
Clare Wood (UK) was killed by her ex, contacted the police numerous times over an extended period of time but was not assisted
However, the Law does not increase services and shelter support for victims
May provoke ‘victim blaming’ and assumes accountability by police services and judicial systems who are already failing victims
Investment in creating other innovative safe, long-term options for GBV survivors such as cooperative housing arrangements to better support women and children post leaving GBV (childcare, peer support, etc.)
Assaulted Women’s Helpline: Provides counselling, emotional support, information and referrals 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The service is available in over 200 languages. Toll-free: 1.866.863.0511 impaired)
Justice Net: Lawyers offer services at a reduced fee, 416.479.0552
Community Support & Awareness/Capacity-Building
Ferzana Chaze, Bethany Osborne, Archana Medhekar and Purnima George. 2020. Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities: Case Studies. 9 Jun 2020, eCampusOntario. An eCampus Ontario Pressbook collaboration project between Sheridan College, Ryerson University and Archana Medhekar Law Office.
The panel discussion, Ending the Silence – A Double Pandemic: COVID-19 and Gender Based Violence (GBV) was a webinar jointly hosted by the Newcomer Students’ Association (NSA) and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), on December 10, 2020. It was part of the annual international campaign on 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, (starting on November 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ending on December 10, on International Day of Human Rights). Moderated thoughtfully by Sara Asalya, founder of NSA, all three panelists—Cheyanne Ratnam, Salina Abji and Margarita Pintin-Perze—brought their powerful reflections to this discussion.
All panelists began by grounding themselves through sharing their migration beginnings as children of immigrants and refugees to Canada, going on to situate themselves in their professional work in relation to GBV. They noted inequities, as well as an absence of both culturally appropriate services, and of coordinated policy responses leading to systemic failures; and they highlighted the need for differentiated understanding of uniqueness and diversity within the immigrant experience. Cheyanne stated unequivocally that racism in Canada is not a remnant of the country’s colonial past, but is current and ongoing, and that she believes we are closer to the starting point rather than to the finish line when it comes to the prevalence of gender-based violence, be it in Ontario or nationally. Salina asked for states to be held accountable for providing resources, protection, and policy measures to support victims of DV and GBV. Margarita pointed to the continued dehumanization of women, asking who is labelled human, and who has the right to “be human.”
Panelists highlighted the false universality and rhetoric associated with the human rights discourse as these erasures, they claimed, of vulnerable cohorts of women, continue to happen when human rights are systematically denied to racialized, immigrant and refugees, non-status, and indigenous women. Where is the promise of ‘human rights’ then, they asked, and what needs to be in place so that metrics for contextualizing, implementing and measuring these can be realized?
We can’t talk about combating GBV here in Canada and within the immigrant and refugee community without acknowledging that there are thousands of Indigenous women, trans, and two-spirit people who are particularly vulnerable to violence because of historical and ongoing systemic sexism, racism, and trans/misogyny. How can we build a national advocacy movement to talk about GBV?
Panelists noted the complexities and dilemmas of combating GBV through building a national movement based in solidarity, and with humility, across differentiated experiences of women groups listed above. Particularly, the discussion problematized the need and concerns around establishing mutual and respectful alliances while centering the conversation on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), holding space for these “different” stories of violence to build a Canadian story.
What can purposeful ally-ship, necessary for creating solidarity momentum, look like in this complicated scenario, one rooted in multiple histories and paradoxical narratives? How can immigrant and racialized women, being settlers ourselves, initiate such a coalition, and be there for our indigenous sisters? Given that shared understanding of gendered experience must simultaneously co-exist with differentiated forms of GBV in different communities, an equity (not equality) lens was one of the approaches suggested by panelists when thinking of a national movement, one tempered in equal part by accountability, compassion, and discomfort. The candour these passionate speakers brought forth in each of their responses, and the nuance with which they explored complex multiplicities not only in their own immigrant positionality, but also in the many approaches to understanding and addressing GBV, was a significant aspect of this dialogue.
For instance, to look with self-awareness at the Canadian dream of building a better life that immigrant families carried in their hearts as part of the migration trajectory (as all newcomers to Canada do); and while doing so, to also acknowledge and question one’s own place and complicity within the history of settler colonialism, is certainly a reflexive stance we must take. The immigrant story is so tied in with the narrative of nation-building in Canada—, one requiring of gratitude, especially from those seeking a safe haven here; but the real on-the- ground experiences of racism and microaggressions, sexism and exclusion faced by racialized groups, make them question, “Is this the Canada I signed up for?” What is at stake, and what is the backlash, when immigrants and refugees, racialized individuals and groups, are not adequately grateful for the refuge they received here?
The issue of gender-based violence has always been present in Canadian society, but the GBV crisis during COVID-19 is the new shadow pandemic, with an increase of 20-30 percent of gender-based violence and domestic violence cases since the start of COVID-19, and the number of domestic violence calls to helplines in some regions having increased by up to 400 percent. What do you think are the root causes behind such an alarming escalation in GBV at this time?
Proposing an intersectional approach, the panelists referred to the disproportionate negative impacts of COVID-19 on racialized women, discussing how the GBV crisis already raging pre-pandemic, further caused inequities and gendered violence to explode in racialized communities in the last few months, women being further left behind by social isolation, loss of critical supports and of employment, in many cases with added threats of deportation being used by partners and employers to further restrict their freedoms. In an environment where physical distancing becomes the norm, formal and informal resources to support women suddenly disappear; what could/should a safety plan for a woman faced with GBV look like? The solution framework, panelists suggested, must go into GBV work with a ‘differential’ approach and an `empathy’ lens, one that has at its center humility and respect for uniqueness. Victim blaming will not do, nor will theoretical insights that do not consider the entire experiential reality of a woman’s circumstances, including factors that often push her to continue staying in an abusive relationship.
In terms of safety strategies for women seeking escape from a difficult GBV situation, Cheyanne emphasized the significance of a preparedness plan, creating alternative, and covert, ways of sharing information, educating community members to be allies, playing the role of friend or listening ear, but without imposing one’s own ideology or pushing a point of view. Salina talked about system- level solutions, including listening well to grassroots migrant justice movements so that any post-COVID recovery is just, and that people do not have to negotiate between different harms; so that racialized community members can report without fear of impacting their immigrant status. Margarita suggested that GBV be understood and addressed as a social problem, needing a collaborative approach; centering and acknowledging individual experience, and a system- level metrics of support emerging from there. The bystander model was reiterated too, and following on that, the need to create safe spaces at an informal and grassroots level; making sure that structures, both formal and informal, can be created that center lived experience to ensure individuals impacted by GBV have a seat at the table so they can be the experts guiding appropriate solution-building rather than policy people making top-down unrealistic decisions on their behalf.
Part of the discussion were also questions relating to the role of the family unit and of socialization, with focus on elders and younger members of the family, to address issues of toxic masculinity in the home as issues like GBV can hardly be tackled with policy tools alone.
The magic potion of authenticity, self-reflexive courage and passion of lived experience that drove this insightful conversation was indeed one of the special treats in this pandemic year, we urge you to check out the recording of this event below and we hope to see you at our next webinar in February.
Authors:Alka Kumar is the manager of research and policy at the Newcomer Students’ Association.
Without comprehensive race-based data, equity policies within Canadian universities have limited impact in adequately addressing discrimination and racism.
As Canadian universities do not collect race-based data, 63 out of the 76 universities across the country are unable to provide a breakdown of their student populations due to absence of data collection,’ despite having diversity offices.
The open letter from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), dated Dec. 18, 2020, castigating Ontario academic and educational institutions for failing to meet the needs of Black, Indigenous, and racialized students in these challenging times, is certainly bold and timely. The position of public censure OHRC has taken on through this statement speaks to our unusual times, and also to the high levels of systemic disarray our educational systems have fallen into.
The COVID pandemic has pushed us all abruptly into virtual spaces, has resulted in what has been coined as “COVID stress”—causing social isolation, adversely affecting our mental well-being, and exposing pre- existing fault lines rooted in systemic racism and pre-existing discrimination. As recent data has affirmed, the pandemic has exacerbated simmering inequities in multiple sectors, pushing marginalized and racialized communities further into precarity. This is especially true for Black, Indigenous, and racialized post-secondary students, who should have the necessary support as they navigate and face institutional and structural barriers and racism. The absence of such support has potential to negatively impact their identity construction, academic success, and sense of belonging, as well as ability to equally and fully participate in all aspects of the Canadian society.
The Newcomer Students’ Association has issued a statement in response to the OHRC letter. In this statement, the group indicated it has “heard multiple accounts of students experiencing racism, discrimination, and xenophobia within Ontario post-secondary institutions.”
The pandemic, however, is certainly not the first instance of the issue of institutional and systemic racism being problematized within Canada’s postsecondary institutions. For instance, a policy brief by Aisha Shibli from the Canadian Arab Institute in 2019 titled, “Dismantling Systemic Racism in Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions: Arab Students’ Experiences on Campus,” indicated that racism and discrimination are inherently embedded within the culture of Canadian universities. Shibli notes that “63 out of the 76 universities across the country are unable to provide a breakdown of their student populations due to absence of data collection, despite having diversity offices.” This is a key factor as to why existing equity policies within Canadian universities tend to have an inadequate impact in effectively mitigating and dealing with existing institutional discrimination and racism. And it supports existing evidence suggesting that by and large Canadian universities are not essentially meeting their instituted legal obligations and general commitments guided by their anti-discrimination policies as well as the broader national institutional standards.
Moreover, the existing systemic racism poses a barrier to hiring, advancement, retention, and full inclusion of racialized students, as well as employees within postsecondary institutions. A 2019 report by Universities Canada shows that, while the percentage of women in senior leadership positions is now almost proportionate to that of men, racialized people represent only eight percent of senior leaders and 21 percent of full-time faculty. Representation matters, for many reasons. For example, as the popular adage goes, “if you can see it, you can be it,” to other robust arguments that real inclusion and diversity are essential at all levels of an organization, as that can mean huge and paradigmatic changes in thinking, leadership, and structures.
As we devise a post-pandemic recovery plan, we need to move beyond just “talk” and into actionable and meaningful change that focuses on implementation—for instance, creating safe spaces for full engagement, designing robust reporting and case management procedures, and moving from performative equity, diversity, and inclusion policies to ensuring effective support and mentorship processes. Certainly, further evidence is needed when it comes to creating optimal strategies for success and resilience of racialized students within post-secondary education, to assist faculty and staff to improve their pedagogy, and support resources and programs. We’re in dire need for transparency and accountability in policies related to employment equity and inclusive hiring.
Authors:Alka Kumar is the manager of research and policy at the Newcomer Students’ Association. Mojgan Rahbari-Jawoko is an instructor at Ryerson University. Sara Asalya is the executive director of Newcomer Students’ Association.
This article was originally published by The Hill Times on January 4th, 2021.
I think we have done a lot of great things to be proud of as Canadians. Take a look for example at the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program — a one-of-a-kind refugee program that other countries should look at. But there are always ways to improve. Our response to the refugee crisis is a work in progress and just as we helped thousands of Syrian refugees find a safe home, we can definitely help other refugees find peace and safety in Canada.
But how can we look at the benefits from having such a great pathway to sponsor refugees through the private sponsorship program beyond just sponsoring refugees? In other words: Canadians who sponsored refugees demonstrated courage and compassion, and in return many of them found connection and community in this new experience. Sponsorship programs allow Canadian citizens to be ambassadors for refugees.
During my time working with LifeLine Syria — a non-profit assisting sponsor groups to welcome and resettle Syrian refugees as permanent residents in the GTA, I have heard and seen many heartbreaking stories, of people desperate to leave war-torn Syria. Even when we were trying to help connect these refugees to private sponsors’ groups, in many cases, we lost connection with these refugees and we never knew what happened to them. On the other hand, I have seen sponsors passion and commitment to help refugees resettle in their new home — Canada. An experience that is worth having.
A journey full of Obstacles & Hope (Barriers to Integration).
Through my migration journey, I realized how truly daunting the migration and settlement experience can be especially for immigrants of colour. There are several systemic and structural barriers experienced by immigrants and refugees settling in Canada.These barriers can be summarized under three major headings:
1. Employment and education.
2. Culture and social barriers.
3. Access to significant services such as settlement support, healthcare, child care and transportation.
Social isolation and exclusion is one of the biggest obstacles that newcomers face when they arrive in Canada. Immigrants of colour in particular might also face discrimination, prejudice and racism. Social capital and social network is so crucial to immigrants and newcomers. As a mom, for example, the lack of affordable childcare was a big barrier for me that hindered my ability to work and delayed my career plans — and even volunteer work was not possible without daycare or junior kindergarten. Back then, kindergarten was part time which is something that is not helpful for working moms. Now our provincial government is looking to bring back the JK and SK part time system and thousands of childcare spots are at risk now due to new provincial changes. These kind of policies and decisions will negatively impact thousands of families and moms out there particularly immigrant families who lack the financial and family network support and can’t afford childcare. The list of barriers and challenges faced by immigrants does not end.
This is just to name a few barriers. Like many newcomers to Canada, I faced many to employment-related issues including but not limited to credentials and Canadian experience. More importantly, immigrants of colour might face bias and discrimination when applying for jobs — statistically, women and immigrant women of colour are even at higher risk of facing employment challenges.
For immigrant students in particular, which my area of work and advocacy is focused, they are faced with many barriers and this quote sums it very well: “The concerns of newly-arrived immigrant students include the need for English language acquisition, the lack of social support networks and of social acceptance, racial labeling and categorization, acquiring new learning styles, post-traumatic stress syndrome, different cultural scripts, and the typical development issues that all students face” (Williams & Butler, 2003, p.9).
I have paused when asked by Farah Nasser at “Living in Colour” if I think immigrants are treated differently based on where they come from, for example (Middle East versus Europe). Two main thoughts came to my mind.
#1. The representation of immigrants of Colour and how these immigrants are portrayed in mainstream media. I grew up seeing all influential people in Hollywood movies, in business, in politics and different industries as white people. It was very rare to see a political leader who identifies as a person of colour. For example, I am someone who has political aspirations and I aspire to run for office one day but It is hard to visualize myself in that position when I don’t see immigrant women of colour in these positions. Representation really matters — genuine representation and not pulling the diversity card. This community should not be tokenized but rather recognized for their abilities, knowledge and experiences.
#2. This also goes hand-in-hand on how the mainstream media is portraying immigrants from certain backgrounds and identities such as Arab Immigrants, Muslim immigrants, Black and South Asian immigrants. Immigrants of Colour have been treated as outsiders and have been seen as “others.” Their race and identity have been linked to the criminal justice system and terrorism, these immigrants are treated differently based on their race, ethnicity, culture, background and where they come from. When I say media I not only mean newsrooms, but also movies, children’s cartoons, books, etc.
Many studies have shown the correlation and connection between media coverage and attitudes towards immigrants. It is time for our media to be on the right side of history and focus on the positive stories of migration. Media has the power to influence the discourse of migration and attitudes towards immigrants. The first step to change the negative image of immigrants in the media is to change the language being used in the media. Language has the power to transform our ways of thinking about this particular community. Language is used to frame, label and disadvantage a whole population. We should stop labeling immigrants as people that would drain the system, as unwanted invaders or even calling them “illegal aliens.” We need a paradigm shift in the ways those immigrants are portrayed. We need to focus and shed light on the untold positive side/ stories of migration –these stories deserve to be documented and told.
After living six years in a country that prides itself with its diversity, multiculturalism and acceptance to people from different walks of life, I do believe that immigrants of colour are treated differently. I believe that we live in a society that has a very well established system that treats immigrants of colour as second class citizens. I’ll end up by asking how can we eliminate and remove the systemic and structural barriers to integration that prevent immigrants from fully participating in society and particularly immigrants of colour. How can we help them find their voice and place in the community and their sense of belonging?
I reflect daily on my immigration experience, but to prepare for the Living in Color interview I had to dig deeper. I needed to compare my story to others’. Since I founded the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson four years ago, and through my capacity working in the settlement sector here in Toronto, I heard hundreds of these stories from fellow immigrant and refugee. I listened to accounts of struggle, fear, uncertainty, desperation, hope, sacrifice, courage, resilience and inspiration.
While this platform allowed me to connect with the community that I am part of — the immigrant community — it also showed me another side to life. A side that is full of fear and uncertainty, and how desperate people are to make fatal decisions to cross borders and rivers to seek refuge. A side that made me understand my position and privileges and question the human race/being. A side that made me wonder: If It was not for the people who gave me a helping hand when I first came to Canada, would I even be able to be where I am today?
Although our decision to move to Canada was influenced by the political situation back home, we still had a choice to make. Unlike many refugees who were forced to leave fleeing violence and persecution, we came here through the economic class as skilled immigrants. The Canadian immigration system is a point system that favours those who are privileged and have the resources and can afford to move and settle in Canada. We were the kind of immigrants Canada is looking to recruit. My husband and I were both highly educated, experienced, spoke the language and were young. We were privileged in the sense that we didn’t have to put our safety, or even our life, at risk coming here.
Is Migration Ever Going to End?
Migration, displacement and the refugee crises are not going to stop if we were not to identify and address root causes. We live in a world on the move where migration is influenced by circumstances and actions occurring around the world. Migration is shaped by politics, economy, demographics, human rights, climate change and much more. Climate change is and will continue to be one of the biggest drivers of migration. Natural disasters and the effect of climate change will continue to contribute to migration and displacement around the world.
Countries such as Canada will continue to have a growing number of people seeking asylum and protection. According to UNHCR’s annual Global Trends Report – released on June 2019 nearly 70.8 million people were displaced at the end of 2018. A number that is worth reflecting on. But how can Canada be a leading voice in migration? How can we do better in welcoming and accepting immigrants and refugees into our communities?
I was invited to speak at Living in Colour show at Global TV with Farah Nasser. Farah and the producer of this show, Alley Wilson, are both women of colour. I am always thrilled to meet trailblazers women like Farah and Alley who utilize the media to tell the otherwise untold stories of everyday, lived experiences of people of colour.
Storytelling can be a powerful tool to connect with people, their stories and relate to their experiences. I was struck by the incredible stories of people of colour in this show. Their courage, resilience and determination to not only share their own stories but also to continue to challenge the status quo. We need more platforms to feature POC and give them the space to share their own stories. Experiences with racism, microaggressions, experiences as visible minorities and how these people lead in everyday life while POC. How hard is it to lead while POC? How are our visible identities, race, colour of our skin socially constructed? How are we fighting for our space in a predominantly white western society?
When I asked the host and producer of Living in Colour about the idea of the show and what is the message that they hoped the audience will get from this show, they wrote back:
“Although it has taken many years, I’ve learned to not apologize for who I am as a Woman of Colour but rather embrace my unique voice. My producer, Alley Wilson, started this series to talk about everyday subjects through the lens of people of colour and offer audiences different perspectives that they may not be exposed to regularly. Some of these conversations have been difficult, embarrassing and uncomfortable but all of them have been eye-opening.” – Farah Nasser, host of Living In Colour and Global News anchor
“As a woman of colour, I always found it hard to express what it was I was going through on a daily basis to people who were not from a racialized community. I came up with Living In Colour because I realized that I wasn’t alone in the way I felt. I wanted a safe space for people of colour (POCs) to have in-depth discussions, which are sometimes difficult and painful to tell, with people who would understand what it was they were going through. For the people who watch the show, whether they are POCs or not, I hope they understand that we aren’t trying to point fingers or blame anyone about what it is we’re going through. Instead, I want the audience to take note of our discussions and try to understand what it is we’re saying and why it’s important to us.” – Alley Wilson, producer of Living In Colour
Do I belong?
Before coming to Canada, I never had any issues or struggles with my identity. During my interview, I told Farah that one of my biggest challenges had been renegotiating my identity and finding a community that I can belong to.
This is a very complicated experience for many immigrants. Negotiating a new identity and adapting to a new social location can be tough — but It is a self reflection journey that we should take. This journey has taught me that after so many years trying to desperately fit it, I now embrace my identity, who I am and feel a sense of pride that no one has the right to ever take from me. No one has the right to make me feel as if I don’t belong.
Many immigrants don’t feel the same way. During the interview, I wanted to share my self-reflection journey. I tell people that I will forever be an immigrant and, although I came to the realization of self-acceptance, the feeling of otherness in this country became my shadow — so do we really belong? Does that feeling exist in one of the most diverse countries in the world? Do we connect despite our differences? Do people appreciate those differences?
Everybody needs a helping hand at the beginning of their journey but are we giving these immigrants a helping hand or we are slamming the door behind us and saying enough of these immigrants? In the next blog I hope to start a conversation about how best to help.
Recently, the Ontario government announced its plan to reopen child care centres across the province. Unfortunately, this plan is not without flaws. The proposed strategy, which was given to child care centres only three days in advance of reopening, features 20 pages of new protocols and safety procedures, such as fewer children, no visitors and heightened cleaning measures. This will undoubtedly increase operating costs, yet the government has offered no extra funding. This does not serve the needs of parents nor does it support child care providers. Child care advocates have described it as “half-baked, at best” and “grossly misinformed”. It’s a plan that doesn’t prioritize families—a critique that often surrounds the Ford government’s policies. As Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care states, “The implementation of the government reopening of child care guidelines is impossible without proper support.”
There is no doubt that this pandemic has hit communities who are socially and economically disadvantaged the hardest, and this is especially true for women. According to Statistics Canada, over 1.5 million women lost their jobs in March and April. As the economy reopens, women will struggle to regain their pandemic job losses. According to Heather Scoffield, an economist columnist at The Star, “men have regained about 15 per cent of their pandemic losses; women, about five per cent”. For mothers with preschool age children, employment levels rose just two per cent.
We can’t reopen the economy without having a clear plan to support families in post-pandemic recovery. Canadian women contribute about 40 per cent of household income. Therefore, there can be “no recovery without a she-covery,” and there can be no she-covery without child care. In one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s daily COVID-19 updates, he acknowledged that “this is one of the first recessions we’ve ever seen that has so hard hit vulnerable workers in the service sector, particularly women, new Canadians and young people.”
The child care system in Ontario is broken and chronically underfunded. To make things worse, the sector has been recently suffering funding cuts introduced by the Ford government. Needless to mention that Ontarians pay the highest child care fees in the country, and Torontonians pay the highest infant care fees, estimated at an astounding $1,685 per month. We shouldn’t lose sight of the cracks and gaping holes in the system as we move forward with plans to reopen. The government’s rushed plan will push vulnerable women and working moms further into precarity.
Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged that “the need for child care has never been made clearer”. Clearly, stating the obvious doesn’t help the situation here. What families need is an action plan in place to support them, their children, early childhood educators and child care providers. A national child care strategy is indeed warranted.
Child care operators are scrambling to meet the new safety guidelines announced by the government, which come with no promises of funding to support increased operational costs (such as the need for extra staffing, personal protective equipment, staff training and cleaning supplies). Advocates and operators expressed their concerns about this plan. One of these concerns is the government’s decision to reopen without giving adequate notice to centres, and with a lack of consultations with experts. Furthermore, the government didn’t address the retroactive funding decision that has left child care organizations across the province in a deficit position. Instead, the Ford government’s plan has left child care operators hanging, with many unanswered questions.
Some child care centres refuse to reopen until the province meets their funding conditions. Sheila Olan-Maclean, CEO of Compass Early Learning & Care and President of the Board of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care indicated that her organization is almost $ 600,000 in deficit due to subsidizing their employee wages. She expressed concerns about being able to pay her staff a decent wage and questioned how child care centres are supposed to operate under the new guidelines. The ramifications of this plan could be equally devastating as almost 56,000 children in Toronto could be without daycare under this plan.
Former Premier Kathleen Wynne rightly called the plan an “unrealistic, ill-considered instruction that is bound to fail”. On top of this, the government has made clear that stiff fines have been put in place if child care centres do not comply with the reopening guidelines.
We join many parents in voicing concerns about the reopening plan, including the fact that potential increases in child care costs will fall on the shoulders of parents. Although Minister Lecce has promised to avoid increased fees, advocates argue that with no increase or government financial support, many child care centres will go bankrupt and be forced to shut down.
Families are already struggling financially under COVID-19, as the old system does not work with or for us. It is high time that the needs of all families are taken into account as Ontario phases out strict public health measures. Now is the time to finally establish a national affordable and accessible child care system.
The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care and the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario published an eye-opening report about a child care plan for Ontario. The report included 27 detailed recommendations for safe and healthy reopening of child care centres, including providing a minimum of three weeks’ notice prior to opening. Sadly, advocates say that the Ontario government didn’t consider most of these recommendations. Last week over 1500 individuals participated in a #FordFailsFamilies digital rally. More than 22,000 people signed an open letter to Ford and Lecce urging them to support and fund a safe child care reopening and recovery plan. Advocates are also calling for significant emergency funding about triple the government’s current child care budget to help centres safely reopen.
As two immigrant women, we have never reconciled with its unbearable costs. Many families simply cannot afford the rising costs and this is especially true for low-income families and newly arrived immigrants. If we want a just and fair recovery that acknowledges the gendered impact of this pandemic, then politicians need to listen to our needs and, once and for all, put families first.