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June 20, 2004 

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Challenges faced by immigrant women: Canada

Women who migrate from Bangladesh to Canada face enormous challenges, most of them are not aware these challenges. The process of immigration for both men and women from developing countries is more often than not a very difficult and traumatic experience, which involves leaving behind familial support and moving great distances to unknown foreign lands. Also many see this process as exciting and also an opportunity which comes once in a life time.

One of the most vivid manifestations of change in recent decades has been in the origins of immigrants to Canada. Canada accepts immigrants from every part of the globe, with the most important flows coming from countries in South, East and Southeast Asia. In 2000, only 18.9 percent of immigrants have come from the UK and Europe and 53 percent from Asia. An additional 18 percent of immigrants came from Africa and the Middle East, 7.5 percent from South and Central America and the Caribbean, and 2.6 percent from the United States.

This article will show some of the most important challenges that immigrant women face in Canada.

Language is one of the most challenging barriers. As an immigrant woman who cannot speak the language it is very natural for her to feel alone. Most women cannot speak the language. Most of the educational institutions in Bangladesh still teach in Bengali, very few institutions teach in English. So though a women might have a Master degree that does not mean that she will speak and understand English.

Communication Skill
Though many women may be able to communicate in English, but even then there is a communication gap. Sometimes the jargons used are not familiar to many of us. Also there the accent problem, there are many words that we pronounce in one way, and people here pronounce it in another way.

Adoption Of A New Culture
New immigrants come to Canada and settle into a new culture. In the process of settling into a new environment, they encounter new problems and conflicts between their original culture and the new culture, creating a culture clash. The conflict involves not only the internal family structure and the external social structure but also the way of preserving their own culture. When two cultures are in many ways different it is very difficult to adopt a totally different culture. Also we see conflict among the older and younger generation. It is much easier for a child to adopt a new culture than.

Equality among spouses
Family violence may also occur because of the strains associated with difficult changes and experiences relating to adaptation to the new society. The changing power dynamics between husbands and wives which emerge with departures from traditional male dominant patterns because of exposure to gender equality ideals and practices in Canadian society may lead to male violence against women. The stresses and possibly the disappointments encountered in finding stable employment and achieving other status and mobility aspirations can engender family violence. The observation that "the problem shows up after the immigrant has been in Canada for awhile" is another indication that the occurrence of justice-related problems may follow patterns which are connected to the process of settlement, adjustment and integration. Different problems appear to manifest themselves with increasing time, as the individual encounters stresses associated with new adaptation problems.

Support for Victims of Family Violence
Like any other society women are also being abused in Canada. Domestic violence is a problem which is seen not only in the immigrant class but all class and ethnic backgrounds. When an immigrant woman goes through an abusive situation, it is much more difficult if she would have been in her original country. Generally immigrant women have lack of knowledge about the resources which are available, and language barrier is one of the biggest obstacle to escape the abuse. Taking action may result in the women being totally isolated from the community, the only source of support available because of barriers to accessing the existing helping agencies.

Women need adequate information about the law. Immigrant women, particularly those who are sponsored by their husbands, may fear that they will be deported if they leave an abusive family situation and thus they may be reluctant to seek the help of an agency to deal with their problems. In addition to these fears, many immigrants fear the justice system, in part because of negative experiences with authorities in their countries of origin. Because of the cultural, linguistic, and psychological barriers to accessing the justice system, access might most effectively be accomplished through existing ethno cultural women's organizations, possibly with main stream public legal information organizations providing technical and professional support.

Though immigration women in Canada face many challenges, but there are also many resource centers that provide help and support in these cases.

Author: Advocate Farzana Chowdhury, Bindu, currently living in Toronto, Canada.

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