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Immigrant and Refugee Women

This fact sheet was researched and written by Marika Morris and Jennifer Sinnott, with the advice of CRIAW's Research Committee chaired by Dr. Jo-Anne Lee. Special thanks to Addena Sumter-Freitag and the Immigrant Women's Association of Manitoba for their contributions, and to all those who answered our call for information. 

Only 4% of Canadians are not immigrants or descendents of immigrants. Only Aboriginal peoples are native to this land, and have lived and died here for 10,000 years. Thirty percent of Canadian women have themselves [1] and this population is growing four times faster than the population of [2]  Approximately 3,000 more females [3] However: Almost 15,000 more women emigrate under the family class, which has an impact on their social and economic [4]

  • Men are more likely to emigrate as principal refugee applicants with women cited as their family members (dependents),[5] even though the majority of the world's refugees are women and children.
  • Five times more men emigrate as principal applicants under the business class than women.[6]
  • Men are more likely to be the principal applicants under the skilled worker immigration class.[7]

Regulations placed on family class (sponsored) immigrants can make it difficult for them to receive social assistance and old age security, as well as limit their access to social housing and job training programs. Not only does this deny immigrant women the services they need, it also means they are forced to rely on men whether they want to or not. This can result in women and children living in abusive [8]

How does immigration policy affect women differently?

  • By awarding points for official language ability, education, and professional experience, which women [9]
  • By focusing on economic criteria and ignoring other characteristics including volunteer work in the [10]
  • By granting immigration officers discretionary powers, which allows their biases and prejudices to come [11]
  • By shaping immigration categories so that primarily women are defined as "family members" - formerly "dependents" - on husbands or fathers.[12]
  • By charging high immigration fees, which women are less likely to be able to afford. Canada has a large wage gap between women and men - women earn 74% of what men do for full-year, full-time work. In many other countries, the wage gap is even larger, and women find it harder than men to save the funds to emigrate. A sponsorship application is $75, plus up to $550 per person being sponsored. A principal applicant under the investor, entrepreneur or self-employed class must pay $1050 for him or herself, and up to $550 for other family members. In addition to application fees, the principal applicant in most immigration classes must pay a Right of Permanent Residence Fee of $975 for him or herself and an additional $975 for a spouse.[13] People from countries in which proper documentation cannot be obtained because of civil war, anarchy or persecution must pay almost $1000 per person for DNA testing to prove that they are related by blood to family members they are sponsoring. This not only causes financial hardship, but does not recognize adopted family members and other types of kinship systems, unless the Canadian immigration officer is convinced that a family relationship exists.
  • By introducing a new rule that bars people on social assistance from sponsoring their families to Canada in order to reunite with them, other than under exeptional cricumstances. The majority of those on social assistance are women with children, and they may also be in most need of family support and networks. According to the federal government's own gender analysis, "Research has shown that female sponsors with children are somewhat more likely to default than male sponsors and that most sponsorship breakdowns occur because of economic factors (such as unemployment) beyond the sponsor's control. These conditions are linked to women's labour market experience and their responsibility as primary caregivers."[14]
  • By forcing domestic workers (almost all of whom are women) to live in the homes of their employers, which subjects some to financial, physical and sexual abuse. The majority of other types of temporary workers to Canada are men, and they are not restricted in this way.

What immigrant and refugee women have contributed to Canada

One of the most well-known immigrant women in Canada is Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, who spent many years as a CBC journalist and promoter of Canadian culture and the arts. To list all the immigrant and refugee women who have contributed in a noticeable way to communities, the economy, human rights, and political life would take longer than this fact sheet. Beyond the visible achievements, immigrant and refugee women contribute greatly to the Canadian economy and society every day. They work hard, pay taxes, do volunteer work, and raise families. Yet, some people continue to judge them unfairly and think of immigrants and refugees in terms of stereotypes. Just because barriers are not impossible for some to overcome does not mean that we should continue to allow those barriers to exist.

Stereotypes of immigrant and refugee women

  • Myth: Immigrant women are in Canada to do the 'dirty work' Canadian-born [15]Fact:Immigrant women are often forced to take jobs in manual labour, even though they may have the training and education for other kinds of jobs. This is because Canada has inadequate systems to recognize foreign credentials and experience.
  • Myth: Immigrant and refugee women are all women of colour, or don't speak English or French. Fact: Immigrant and refugee women come from all parts of the world - Asia, Africa, South America, the Caribbean, the United States, Europe and Oceania. Many are racialized women, some are [16]Some immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, the United States and Europe speak English or French as a first language. Some refugee women have come from Eastern Europe, Rwanda, Somalia and other places ravaged by war. Immigrant and refugee women represent a very large number of cultures and personal and political circumstances.
  • Myth: Immigrant and refugee women all have large families. Fact: Some do, some do not. Some are living apart from extended families overseas. Some refugee women have lost all or most of their family members to war or execution.
  • Myth: Immigrant women are "uneducated". Fact: On average, immigrant [17]Those who do not nevertheless have skills and knowledge.
  • Myth: Immigrant women are more feminine, docile, sexually available, obedient, [18] Fact: It is offensive to describe any woman this way.
  • Myth: Immigrant women are not feminist. Fact: Some of Canada's most high-profile feminists are immigrant women, such as former National Action Committee on the Status of Women President Sunera Thobani. 
  • Myth: Immigrant women take jobs away from Canadian-born women. Fact: Canada has a labour shortage in many occupations. If Canada did not benefit from immigrants and refugees, the Canadian population and economy would decline. Many immigrant women and men set up small businesses in Canada, which create jobs.
  • Myth: Immigrant and refugee women get into Canada by manipulating the system. Fact: The system is actually stacked against immigrant and refugee women. Thousands are rejected every year. The media do not report the whole story when it comes to immigrants and refugees.
  • Myth: Immigrants and refugees bring their problems and conflicts with them to Canada. Fact: This has historically been true. The first immigrants, the French and the English, brought their European wars with them and involved Aboriginal peoples. They also brought disease and alcohol. The Huron people were nearly wiped out by the combination of war and disease. The Beothuk First Nation people of Newfoundland were hunted by the newcomers to extinction. The land we now call Canada was literally taken over by people of European origin, who claimed it as their own. They forced the original people to speak English or French and practice Christianity, through outlawing First Nations religious practices and forcing First Nations and Inuit children to be taken away from their families and re-educated in residential schools. The newcomers imposed a European-style political and economic system on everyone who was already living here. Nothing occurring today compares with the genocide and near-genocide of Canada's colonial past, the effects of which are still felt today.[19]

WHY ARE WE DRAGGING UP THE PAST? To ensure that injustices never happen again, and that we gain a better understanding of each other's histories and perspectives.

Women and immigration timeline

1600s: White, French women of marriageable age who were capable of bearing children were brought to New France (now a part of Quebec) as "les filles ". They were expected to marry men already living in the colony.[20]

1683-1834: Forced immigration of Black slaves mainly to Nova Scotia and Quebec. Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire (including what is now [21]Women slaves worked in fields, did domestic work, were raped, and used as "breeding stock" for new slaves. Their children were often sold to other slave owners, never to be seen again.

1738: Esther Brandeau, a young Jewish woman, arrived from Bayonne, France to Quebec, "dressed as a boy, on the ship the St. Michel. Once apprehended, she was given the "choice" of either converting to "She was deported.[22]

1782-1785 After the American Revolution, United Empire Loyalists were invited to settle in Canada. White Loyalists were given free land, and some brought Black slaves - 1232 in total settling mainly in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and [23] About 3,500 Black Loyalists who had fought for Britain were also promised freedom and land, but once they arrived, many were not given land, or [24]

1830s-1860s: The underground railroad brought Black "illegal immigrants" escaping slavery in the US.  Harriet Tubman, herself an escaped slave who settled in St. Catherines (Ontario), became a central figure in this freedom trail. Black women and men arrived in Canada to find freedom from slavery, but [25]

1845-52: Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine were met with hostility and [26]

Pre-1880: Immigration policies did not refer to women. Canada was primarily a destination for men emigrating to fill the growing labour force. If women [27]

1880s-1914: Canada opened the immigration door to white Americans and [28]Also, by the end of the 19th Century white women were being encouraged to immigrate to Canada as their labour as domestic workers was needed. Women of colour would wait until the 1950s to gain very [29]

1884-1923: Increasing restrictions on Chinese immigrants. During this period, the following laws and regulations were enacted: After Chinese workers had completed their dangerous work on the railway and their cheap labour was no longer needed, a $50 head tax, later raised to $500 was placed on all [30]Considering the amount of money this represented at the time, it was impossible for most men to bring their wives and children to Canada. Some women were separated from their husbands for thirty or forty years. During this same period, white European and American immigrants were given money by the government to come to Canada. Men of Chinese origin were barred by law from hiring white women. People of Chinese origin were barred from buying government land as of 1884, and in 1917 they were barred from working as teachers, lawyers, civil servants, pharmacists, bankers, school trustees, and other occupations. People of Chinese origin had the vote taken away from them in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. A number of anti-Asian riots took place in British Columbia starting in 1887, ranging from vandalism, complete destruction of property, assault and murder. A major riot organized by the Asiatic Exclusion League in Vancouver destroyed Chinatown in 1907. Open daily hostility and riots further discouraged Chinese men from bringing their female relatives and children, for fear of their safety. Between 1885 and 1902, less than 1% of Chinese [31]Measures to restrict Japanese and Sikh immigration were also enacted.

1914-1920: Internment of Ukrainian Canadians and other ethnically-based "enemy aliens" during and after the First World War. Women whose husbands were interned had to financially support families at a time when women's access to adequately-paid labour virtually was non-existent.

1923-1947: The Chinese Immigration Act openly prohibited any individuals of Chinese origin from immigrating to Canada. The Immigration Act of 1919 was also amended to prohibit people of any Asian descent from [32]

1930s-1940s: Employment applications often asked for nationality, racial origin and religious denomination. Bars and clubs could openly exclude anyone who was not white and Christian. Universities discriminated against potential students on the basis of gender, religion and ethnicity. Some hotels and swimming pools did not allow Jewish clients. Swastika clubs and other fascist organizations attempted to establish further segregation, and [33]Only white, Christian citizens from Commonwealth countries were able to gain entry into Canada, and no exception was made for Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi death camps. White, Christian women could only gain access as [34]

1942-49: Japanese Canadians (some immigrants, some not) were stripped of most of their possessions and forcibly interned in camps during and after the [35]This posed special challenges for women raising children and trying to keep their families together and healthy.

1946: Persons of Asian origin who were denied the vote regained it.

1947: First Canadian Citizenship Act comes into force, allowing women to retain Canadian citizenship upon marriage to a non-Canadian.

1960: Although not immigrants, Aboriginal women and men who were Status Indians only got the federal vote and became Canadian citizens in this year.

1952, 1967: New immigration regulations rid Canada of openly racist policies,[36] but racist structural barriers persisted.

1976-78: A new Immigration Act was passed in 1976. This document governed [37]More regulations were passed in 1978 dealing with the sponsorship of "dependents". This is the basis for the regulations that still have a negative effect on [38]

1981: The Foreign Domestic Movement Program came into effect. It allowed women to immigrate to Canada if they could first find employment as a domestic worker. These women were not granted citizenship and were forced to follow [39]

1992: The Live-In Caregiver Program replaced the Foreign Domestic Movement Program. This increased the training requirements needed to apply, and kept all of [40]

2002: The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was passed. This replaced Immigration Act and governs all immigration to Canada.[41] Unfortunately, it was influenced by the fear of terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001. The Act makes it harder for immigrant women to gain access to Canada. However, the Act requires that a yearly report be presented [42]

Refugee Women

It is a myth that Canada accepts a large number of refugees. For every 443 Canadians born, 1 refugee is admitted. This ratio lags behind countries such as Jordan that admits 1 refugee for every 3 native born Jordanians, and Lebanon that admits one [43]An immigration analyst states that Canada particularly discriminates against female refugees by preferring to provide them with aid in camps near their home country while admitting more male refugees into this [44]This can be very dangerous for women. Women and girls are vulnerable to sexual exploitation in camps, including by humanitarian workers. Some men offer their wives, daughters, and sisters to the aid workers in order to receive any type of assistance for their families. Some single mothers will offer themselves to the workers in order to receive enough food to feed their children. These young girls are primarily between the ages of 13 and 18 and often face pregnancies, abortions, exposure to STDs [45]Women can be attacked while collecting water or firewood around refugee camps. These women are trying to mobilize themselves in an effort to [46]

The legacy women refugees live with

Women refugees can come to Canada for similar reasons as men: fleeing political persecution or war in their own countries. In addition, some women may have been the victims of sexual torture and must now face that trauma and fear as well as the confusion [47]In the past, Canada did not recognize that women could be targets of gender-specific forms of persecution, such as rape, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced marriage or mutilation. For example, in a case that was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeals, a a Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) judge ruled against a woman from China because the judge said China's one child policy which requires women to abort any further pregnancies is not a matter of persecution of women or "economic logic".[48]

The Government of Canada established [49]and the IRB issued guidelines in 1993 recognizing gender as a ground of [50]However, an analysis of how the guidelines have worked show that they leave room for improvement, both in terms of overseas women refugees' [51]Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) adjudicators have a great deal of individual discretion, and the gender persecution guidelines are simply guidelines, not laws or regulations.

Have perceptions of refugees and visa applicants changed since September 11th 2001?

  • Heightened security and racist assumptions have been directed at refugees. They are increasingly viewed as threats to national and international security,[52] when most just want to build a good, safe life in a country in which bombs will not drop on their heads, and without fear of torture and death for their political or religious beliefs. Women who wear the hijab (head covering), and women with Muslim or Arab-sounding names, whether or not they are immigrants or refugees, are particularly visible targets.
  • The Safe Third Country Legislation taking effect in Spring 2003 links Canada's refugee hearing processes to those of the United States. It discriminates against female refugees because the United States does not recognize gender as a form of persecution to the same degree as Canada.[53] The Safe Third Country Agreement comes up for review one year after the law takes effect, and will include a review of gender issues. It is important to become involved in ensuring that refugee policies do not discriminate against women.
  • Both the Canadian Breast Cancer Network and the DisAbled Women's Network (DAWN) report that women delegates to conferences in Canada from places such as Kenya were denied entry into Canada in 1999, 2002 and 2003. In one of the incidents, only the male delegates received visas.[54] This has always been a problem: Women and men, usually people of colour, wishing to travel to Canada to visit family or participate in conferences may be denied entry because Canadian officers overseas are afraid they may try to stay in Canada. As well, since September 11, 2001, increased security concerns may be resulting in a higher number of people being denied visas.

The global trafficking of women

Trafficking in women "is the exploitation of a woman, in particular for her labour or services, with or without pay and with or without her consent, by a person or group of persons with whom she is in an unequal power relationship. Trafficking in women, which can take the form of abduction, the use of force, fraud, deception or violence, results in cross-border movement of people between countries differentiated by economic inequality. Among the consequences of such trafficking are the immigration, both legal or illegal, of women to Canada, and the violation of their fundamental " [55]  Women have been brought to Canada by criminals posing as employers, had their passports taken away, beaten, raped and made to work as prostitutes. However, other women are so desperate to leave conditions characterized by poverty - where they have no work, no food, and little hope for the improvement of their conditions - that they migrate to Canada voluntarily as mail-order brides or domestic workers hoping to find a better life, but where they may experience sexual and [56]

Same sex immigration policies

While the government of Canada claims to recognize same sex partners in the immigration application and refugee determination processes, the reality can be different. Since no marriage certificate can be presented upon application from most countries (except the Netherlands and Belgium), couples may not apply as spouses. They can each apply independently, or [57] This then leaves the interpretation of the relationship up to an [58]

Real citizenship

Although on paper, immigrant women can become full citizens in Canada, one immigration analyst says that in [59] Access to citizenship means more than a passport, it means the right and ability to participate fully in a democratic society. Yet, this right is impeded by inadequate access to language training and racism which "outsiders" or "foreigners".[60]


Sponsored immigrant and refugee women, mail-order brides, and domestic live-in caregivers are especially vulnerable to abusive relationships. Dependent upon their partners and employers for immigration status and economic support, these women face threats of withdrawn work contracts, difficult access to legal help due to economic and language barriers, communication and cultural roadblocks, and [61]Many women immigrant, refugee and domestic worker organizations have taken action on this issue.


Often the first barrier immigrant women face in immigrating to Canada is finding a place to live. Landlords frequently discriminate against immigrant women on the basis of their gender, national origin, race, the presence of children, and their employment and income status. This can result in the racial segregation of [62]


  • Immigrant women are less likely to have paid employment than immigrant men and non-immigrant women. This is even true for immigrant women with university degrees.[63] In order to understand the reasons for this pattern it is helpful to look at some of the hurdles that face immigrant and refugee women when they try to enter the Canadian paid-labour force.

  • Racism among employers against racialized women and men and people who have certain accents in English or French mean that some immigrant and refugee women have little choice but to take on manual labour, regardless of their level of education.[64]

  • They are often forced to start from scratch, taking jobs they are overqualified for, often because their credentials and work experience are not recognized.[65]

  • As dependent immigrants it can be difficult for them to find work.[66]

  • Language training in English or French, for immigrants who do not already have fluency in Canada's official languages, is not always readily available or accessible to women as dependent immigrants.[67]

  • Immigrant women tend to work in 'traditional' women's sectors, taking clerical, sales, and service jobs. Yet, they perform more manual labour than Canadian born women do.[68]

  • Immigrant women also, regardless of education, earn less than Canadian-born women.[69]

Language training

More immigrant women (9%) than [70]This can be very isolating, and even dangerous. This means that one in ten immigrant women (and one in twenty immigrant men) cannot read Canadian medication labels, food labels (which can lead to allergy risks for themselves and their children), or understand their or their children's doctors, teachers, or seek help from police, lawyers or social workers. It also limits immigrant women's participation in politics and societal decision-making. Sometimes people yell at an immigrant woman, thinking that if they talk louder, she will understand. She is not deaf. Sometimes people assume she is stupid, and insult her, or act impatiently. She may be brilliant, and frustrated that she has difficulty communicating with many other Canadians. Immigrant women who do not speak English or French must often use their children as interpreters, which is unsatisfactory, especially if the children are young, and cannot understand things such as tax forms, or where personal issues are being discussed, such as at the gynecologist's office, or abuse counseling. Language training and the availability of trained and confidential female interpreters are essential for those immigrant women who have difficulty in Canada's official languages.

However, only immigrants who are not yet Canadian citizens can access the federal Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC). LINC is free, child care is provided, and transportation costs are covered. For many reasons, not all immigrant and refugee women are able to access this program:

  • There are many immigrant women in Canada who are Canadian citizens, but for whatever reason were not able to access language training, or enough language training, in the past. They could use language training to become full participants in a democratic society, but face barriers in terms of fees.
  • Even among newcomers, within families, priority for language training is often given to men. Women may be trying to support the family through low-wage work while the men upgrade their language and job skills. Even if the man is earning a wage, to forego the woman's wage so she can attend language training classes may be a difficult decision for families to make. There used to be training allowances associated with federal language training programs, but these no longer exist, so families are forced into difficult choices with women usually losing.
  • In highly patriarchal families, women furthering their learning of English or French may not be deemed to be of value, therefore incentives are needed to ensure women get all the language training they need.

Domestic workers

Women may apply to work in Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program. This program provides well-off Canadian families with nannies mainly from the Philippines and the Caribbean. Many of these caregivers also do other domestic work in the house. The women come to Canada usually because there are few jobs in their home country, and they need to support their families. Most are hoping to eventually become Canadian citizens.

Why does this program discriminate against women?

  • By requiring a certain level of education and training the program does not make room for women who, by nature of the society from which they came, have not had much access to formal education.

  • By making this the only program/class that fully recognizes the skills associated with domestic and caring work, immigration policy makes it difficult for women with these skills to immigrate under the Skilled Worker Class.

  • By forcing women to live with their employers, and by making it difficult for them to change employers women are often caught in abusive situations.

As live-in domestic workers women are classified as temporary workers. They are not Canadian citizens, and even though they are covered under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they lack the money, knowledge of the system, and access to public services in order to defend what rights they have.

This program specifically deals with an overwhelmingly female-dominated area, and no similar restrictive and patronizing program exists for areas dominated by male migrant workers.

Employment standards are negotiated by the woman and her employer, often resulting in exploitative situations. Because of isolation in the home and fear of losing their employment, some domestic workers' wages are short-changed, charged additional "fees", and their long hours of overtime can go unpaid. Theoretically, domestic workers can leave abusive employers without penalty, but sexual harassment, pay and working conditions under provincial standards can be hard to prove. Some employers lie to domestic workers about their rights, and often the employers are the only people domestic workers know in Canada. Domestic workers take the chance of complaining about the situation and leaving, but they must find another employer and work for at least 24 months out of 36, otherwise they are not eligible to become Canadian citizens. Many do not take this chance. Finding other employment also involves bureaucracy as a domestic workers' association points out: ".you must first apply for a new Employment Authorization allowing you to work for the new employer. You cannot work for the new employer until you have received a new "[71] A person working under the Live-in Caregiver Program is barred from taking on any work other than the approved full-time employment - she cannot work part-time, even babysitting, for someone else.

Some feminist immigration analysts recommend that the LCP be abolished  and "the immigration criteria for the independent class be amended. We propose that [immigration laws] include "live-in caregiver" among those occupations in demand in Canada, and give greater "[72]

What are the major health risks for immigrant women?

Emotional and mental health risks are more of a concern for immigrant women than are traditional risks such as [73]New immigrant women are likely to experience stress in relation to economic circumstances, the negative attitudes of some Canadians towards [74]For refugees these circumstances can increase the post-traumatic stress [75]

Risks: Exposure to violence, lack of or reduced autonomy, lack of recognition of foreign credentials and experience, cultural and systematic barriers to care, poverty, underemployment, language, the burden of multiple roles within the family, social isolation, loss of pre-existing social support [76]

The accessibility of health care services: Some immigrant and refugee women experience language and cultural barriers which prevent them from fully using health services. Misunderstandings in the area of health (for example, when and how often to take prescription drugs, what course of therapy to follow) can result in serious harm to women and their children. In addition, modern medicine [77]A study found that Canadian mental health providers were consistently unable to diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in immigrant and refugee women who had experienced war, rape, torture, persecution, natural disasters and other traumas, and that often no programs existed to help [78]Studies about home care in Canada show that immigrant women are often burdened with greater unpaid responsibilities for care of ill, disabled or elderly relatives than non-immigrant women because of language and [79]

Pressures on young immigrant women: The experiences of young immigrant women vary but can include culture shock, peer pressure, a lack of information focusing on their needs, heavy family responsibilities including translation and interpretation for parents,  inter-generational conflicts with parents who have different cultural expectations of them, a loss of status after immigration, discrimination, underemployment, and [80]

Culture shock

It can be very intimidating to be completely surrounded by people who dress differently, speak a different language, practice a different religion, and have different ideas, beliefs and ways of doing things. Immigrant and refugee women are not tourists here. They can't just "go home" to something more familiar. Refugee women are in Canada usually because they fear persecution and death in their country of origin. Immigrant women have paid dearly for the opportunity to come to Canada and start a new life. Immigrant and refugee women may feel torn about where to draw the line between fitting into Canadian society at large and into their own ethnic community in Canada, and preserving their original way of life. It is stressful to leave everything you know behind, and most of your family and friends, to go to a strange place where you are often treated badly and are bombarded with new expectations.

Settlement services

"The current patchwork of services is a nightmare for immigrants and refugees who attempt to access them."[81] Dr. Jo-Anne Lee conducted intensive research on immigration settlement services and concluded that it is a "separate, parallel, and marginalized sector of publicly-funded social services". Women form 80% of the labour force in these agencies, 75% are immigrants and 70% are racial minorities. Most of these workers work in low-paid insecure jobs, and are expected to volunteer their time during periods in which funding has not yet been [82]

What you can do:

  • Confront racist stereotypes in the people around you, the workplace, the media, your faith or social groups, and anywhere you find them.
  • Contact a local immigrant/refugee women's organization and invite them to speak about their experiences of immigrating to Canada.  Work with them on the priorities they have set out. Ask how you can support them.
  • Support organizations like INTERCEDE and the West Coast Domestic Workers Association which advocate for fair treatment for foreign domestic workers.
  • Write/phone/e-mail the federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to demand fairness to women in immigration and refugee policy. To find out who the current minister is and get her or his contact information, try , or the House of Commons Information Line: (613) 992-4793
  • Contact your provincial/territorial representatives to ask for training for all government and frontline workers in health (doctors, nurses, paramedics, etc.), education (teachers, principals, etc.), social services on the realities and gender differences for immigrant and refugee women and girls, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Check with your local immigrant settlement agencies about the availability of interpreters in your community who can help women who have difficulty in English or French. Advocate for trained, confidential, female interpreters for your local health, educational and social services.
  • Your faith group or workplace can sponsor refugee women and their children to come to Canada.
  • Treat immigrant and refugee women with friendliness and respect.


The National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada bridges gaps between different women's groups, lobbies the government on issues related to immigrant and visible minority women, and looks to heighten awareness of the issues that differentially affect immigrant women. 219 Argyle Avenue, Suite 225, Ottawa, Ontario, K2P 2H4. Tel: (613) 232-0689 Fax: (613) 232-0988  Web:

The West Coast Domestic Workers Association works to provide information to domestic workers regarding work days, income, immigration and workplace rights. 119 West Pender Street, Suite 304, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6B 1S5.  Phone: (604) 669-4482  Fax: (604) 669-6456  E-mail: Web:

INTERCEDE  (Toronto Organization for Domestic Workers' Rights) Phone: (416) 483-4554  Fax: (416) 483-9781

The Canadian Council for Refugees works on the issues of protection and immigration and settlement while maintaining a gender and anti-racist focus. 6839 Drolet,  #302, Montréal, Québec, H2S 2T1.  Phone: (514) 277-7223  Fax: (514) 277-1447  E-mail:  Web:

Education Wife Assault has a number of publications dealing with the abuse of immigrant and refugee women, including training manuals for service providers, and a a great resource called Challenging the Myths and Claiming Power Together: A handbook to set up and assess support groups for and with immigrant and refugee women. 427 Bloor Street West, Box 7, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1X7. Phone: (416) 968-3422 Fax: (416) 968-2026 E-mail: Web:

Metropolis is "an international forum for.research and public policy. about .cultural diversity and the challenges of immigrant integration in cities in Canada and around the world." You can access many research reports about immigration on its web site ( and a Gender and Identity research network (

Citizenship and Immigration Canada is the federal government department responsible for immigration policy. Web:


This fact sheet was funded by Status of Women Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, but the views expressed within do not necessarily represent those of the Government of Canada or any individual department. 

WE ARE INTERESTED IN WHAT YOU THINK: Have you found this fact sheet useful? How and why? How can it be improved?
To give your feedback or order more copies, please contact the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW) at 151 Slater Street, Suite 408, Ottawa, Ontario, K1P 5H3 Canada. Phone: (613) 563-0681 Fax: (613) 563-0682


[1] National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada: Accessed on March 14, 2003

[2] Statistics Canada, Women in Canada 2000: A Gender-based Statistical Report (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 2000) p.189.

[3] Citizenship and Immigration Canada:  Accessed on March 14, 2003.

[4] Citizenship and Immigration Canada: www/  Accessed on March 14, 2003.

[5] Citizenship and Immigration Canada:  Accessed on March 14, 2003.

[6] Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Accessed on March 14, 2003.

[7] Citizenship and Immigration Canada: Accessed on March 14, 2003.

[8] Andrée Côté, Michèle Kerisit, and Marie-Louise Côté, Sponsorship. For Better or For Worse: The Impact of Sponsorship on the Equality Rights of Immigrant Women (Ottawa: Status of Women Canada, 2001) 

[9] Jennifer Hyndman, "Gender and Canadian Immigration Policy: A Current Snapshot," Canadian Woman Studies 19(2) 1999: p.7.

[10] Ibid., p.9.

[11] Sunera Thobani, "Sponsoring Immigrant Women's Inequalities," Canadian Woman Studies 19(2) 1999: p.11.

[12] Ibid.,  pp.12.

[13]  Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Factsheet 18: Fees (Ottawa, CIC, 2002) Accessed May 16, 2003.

[14]  Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Bill C-11. Immigration And Refugee Protection Act: Gender-Based Analysis Chart (Ottawa: CIC, c. 2002)  Accessed May 16, 2003

[15] Audrey Macklin, "Women as Migrant: Members in National and Global Communities," Canadian Woman Studies 19(2) 1999: p.24.

[16] Statistics Canada, Women in Canada 2000: A gender-based Statistical Report (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 2000) p. 196.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Macklin, p. 24.

[19] For a full and detailed account of these events and effects, see the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

[20] Canadian Museum of Civilization, "Les Filles De Roy" Available at Accessed on April 4 2003.

[21]  Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, Slavery (Halifax : BCCNS, nd) Information taken primarily from From Slavery to the Ghetto the Story of the Negro in the Maritimes, Wedderburn, H.A.J., pg. 1 and  Beneath the Clouds of the Promised Land-The Survival of Nova Scotia's Blacks Vol. 1 1600 -1800, Pachai Bridglal pgs. 33. Accessed May 16, 2003.
[22] Richard Menkis, Historical Perspectives: Chapter 3. Antisemitism in the Evolving Nation: From New France to Accessed May 16, 2003.
[23] Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, Slavery (Halifax : BCCNS, nd) Information taken primarily from From Slavery to the Ghetto the Story of the Negro in the Maritimes, Wedderburn, H.A.J., p. 1 and  Beneath the Clouds of the Promised Land-The Survival of Nova Scotia's Blacks Vol. 1 1600 -1800, Pachai Bridglal pgs. 33. Accessed May 16, 2003.
[24]  Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, Black Migration: Important dates in the establishment of Black communities in the Maritimes  (Halifax: BCCNS, nd) Accessed May 16, 2003.
[25]  Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia, Underground Railroad: Freedom Trail to Canada (Halifax: BCCNS, nd) Accessed May 16, 2003.

[26] Cecil Houston and William Smyth, Irish Emigration and Canadian Settlement: Patterns, Links and Letters (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990)

[27] Andrée Coté, Michele Kerisit, and Marie-Louise Coté, Sponsorship. For Better or For Worse: The Impact of Sponsorship on the Equality Rights of Immigrant Women (Ottawa: Status of Women Canada, 2001) p.19.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid, p. 3.

[30] Ibid, p.19.

[31]  This information was taken from Across the Generations: A History of the Chinese in Canada, which is based on the following sources: Chan K., Siao S., Tang Karen and Wei Helen. Chinese Language and Activities. Series D(Vol. 1-6); 1984, Toronto; Chong, Denise. The Concubine's Children. 1994, Toronto; Huffman, Ivy and Kwong, Julia. The Dream of Gold Mountain. 1982, Toronto; Lai, David. The Forbidden City Within Victoria. 1990, Victoria; Rotoff, B. Anatomy of a Neighbourhood: Chinatown District Study. 1990, Toronto; Roy, Patricia E., and Tan, Jin. The Chinese in Canada. 1989, Toronto; Ujimoto, V. and Hirabayashi, G. Asian Canadians: Regional Perspectives. 1993, Vancouver.  Accessed May 16, 2003.

[32] Côté et al, p.20.

[33] Richard Menkis, Historical Perspectives: Chapter 3: Antisemitism in the Evolving Nation: From New France to 1950  Accessed May 16, 2003.

[34] Côté et al, p.21.

[35]  Linda Di Biase, "Japanese Canadian Internment", University of Washington Libraries.  Accessed May 16, 2003

[36] Côté et al, p.23.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Louise Langevin and Marie-Claire Belleau, Trafficking in Women in Canada: A Critical Analysis of the Legal Framework Governing Immigrant Live-In Caregivers and Mail Order Brides (Ottawa: Status of Women Canada, 2000) Available at

[40] Ibid.

[41] Citizenship and Immigration Canada, "Immigration and Refugee Protection Act." Available at Accessed on April 3, 2003.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Canadian Council of Refugees:  Accessed on March 21, 2003. However, the federal government argues that "The comparison of the Canadian acceptance of refugee claims with Jordan and Lebanon is problematic. A refugee 'admitted' (determined to be a refugee by the IRB, or designated as a government assisted refugee) to Canada is given the full rights of a permanent resident and it is expected that they will become Canadian citizens. This is significantly different from the situation of refugees given temporary refuge across a border and then repatriated, or internationally displaced persons with no status."  - from a CIC e-mail response to CRIAW Research Coordinator Marika Morris about this fact sheet, June 12, 2003.

[44] Jennifer Hyndman, "Gender and Canadian Immigration Policy: A Current Snapshot," Canadian Woman Studies 19(2) 1999: p. 8.

[45] Asmita Naik, "Protecting Children from the Protectors: Lessons from West Africa," Forced Migration Review (15) 2002.

[46] United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Engaging Men to Help Fight Violence Against Refugee Women": Accessed on March 18 2003.

[47] Sabina Acosta, "Responding to the Needs of Women Who Survive Torture: From Silent Torment to Speaking Out" (Toronto: Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture) Accessed on March 14 2003.

[48] Gregory A. Kelson, "Gender-Based Persecution and Political Asylum: The International Debate for Equality Begins", Texas Journal of Women and the Law (6) 1997: pp. 181-213.

[49] Citizenship and Immigration Canada. "Canada's Program for Women at Risk." Available at  Accessed on April 3, 2003.

[50] Immigration and Refugee Board: Accessed on February 14 2003.

[51]  Kelson, 1997; and Stephanie Kaye Pell, "Adjudication of Gender Persecution Cases Under the Canada Guidelines: The United States has no Reason to Fear an Onslaught of Asylum Claims", North Carolina Journal of International Law And Commercial Regulations (20) 1995: pp. 655-84.

[52] See endnote #23.

[53] Ibid.

[54] E-mails messages from Barbara Anello, DisAbled Women's Network on June 13, 2003 and Jackie Manthorne, Canadian Breast Cancer Network, on June 14, 2003, on PAR-L, Canadian feminist electronic list-serv.

[55] Louise Langevin and Marie-Claire Belleau, Trafficking in Women in Canada: A Critical Analysis of the Legal Framework Governing Immigrant Live-In Caregivers and Mail Order Brides (Ottawa: Status of Women Canada, 2000) Available at

[56] Ibid.

[57] SOS Canada: Accessed on March 14, 2003.

[58] Smith-Hughes Barristers & Solicitors: Accessed on March 14, 2003.

[59] Rachel Salazar Parrenas, "Transgressing the Nation-State: The Partial Citizenship and 'Imagined (Global) Community' of Migrant Filipina Domestic Workers," Signs 26(4) 2001: p. 1130.

[60] Mary-Jo Nadeau, "Who is Canadian Now?: Feminism and the Politics of Nationalism After September 11," Atlantis 27 (1) 2002: p. 19.

[61] Susan McDonald, "Not in the Numbers: Domestic Violence and Immigrant Women," Canadian Woman Studies 19(2): pp.163-164.

[62] Sylvia Novac, "Immigrant Enclaves and Residential Segregation: Voices of Racialized Refugee and Immigrant Women," Canadian Woman Studies 19(2) 1999: pp.88-91.

[63] Statistics Canada, Women in Canada 2000: A Gender-based Statistical Report. (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 2000) pp. 201-202.

[64] Shahrzad Mojab, "De-Skilling Immigrant Women," Canadian Woman Studies 19 (2) 1999: p. 123.

[65] Ibid., p.125.

[66] Statistics Canada, Women in Canada 2000: A Gender-based Statistical Report. (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 2000) p. 198.

[67] Sedef Arat-Koc, "Gender and Race in 'Non-Discriminatory' Immigration Policies in Canada," in Enakshi Due and Angela Robertson, eds.  Scratching the Surface. (Toronto: Women's Press, 1999)  p.214.

[68] Statistics Canada, Women in Canada 2000: A Gender-based Statistical Report. (Ottawa: Minister of Industry, 2000) pp. 201-202.

[69] Ibid., pp. 204-205.

[70] Statistics Canada, 2000, p. 196.

[71]  West Coast Domestic Workers Association, "Working and Staying in Canada: What live-in caregivers and domestic workers need to know about their rights",  Accessed on June 30, 2003.

[72]  Louise Langevin and Marie-Claire Belleau, Trafficking in Women in Canada: A Critical Analysis of the Legal Framework Governing Immigrant Live-In Caregivers and Mail Order Brides (Ottawa: Status of Women Canada, 2000) Available at

[73] Health Canada, Immigrant Women and Substance Use (Ottawa, 1999) pp. 9-10.

[74] Status of Women Canada, Mental Health Promotion Among Newcomer Female Youth, Policy Research (Ottawa, 1996) p.12.

[75] Immigrant, Refugee and Visible Minority Women of Saskatchewan, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

The Lived Experience of Immigrant, Refugee and Visible Minority Women (Regina, SK: Prairie Centre of Excellence for Women's Health, c. 2001)

[76] Health Canada, Immigration and Health, Working Paper 01-05 (Ottawa, 2001) p. 13.

[77] Mary Ann Mulvihill, Louise Mailloux and Wendy Atkin,  Advancing Policy and Research Responses to Immigrant and Refugee Women's Health in Canada (Ottawa: Centers of Excellence for Women's Health Program, Health Canada, c. 1999)

[78] Immigrant, Refugee and Visible Minority Women of Saskatchewan, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:

The Lived Experience of Immigrant, Refugee and Visible Minority Women (Regina, SK: Prairie Centre of Excellence for Women's Health, c. 2001)

[79]  Marika Morris, Gender-Sensitive Home and Community Care and Caregiving Research: A Synthesis Paper (Ottawa: Health Canada Women's Health Bureau, 2001) pp. 27-30.

[80] Health Canada, Immigrant Women and Substance Use (Ottawa, 1999) p. 11.

[81]  Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI),  " Settlement Programs"

[82]  Jo-Anne Lee, "Immigrant Women Workers in the Immigrant Settlement Sector", Canadian Woman Studies 19(2) 1999: 97-10