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Violence Against Immigrant Women

Domestic violence occurs in every community at similar rates. However, violence against immigrant women may look different because of the unique circumstances they are living in. Immigrant women also face more barriers to accessing support.

Who are Immigrant Women in Ontario?

Immigrant women are women who were born outside of Canada, and migrated here. The term “immigrant women” includes women who migrated many years ago, women who recently arrived, women who have become Canadian citizens, women who are permanent residents, and women who are being sponsored and are in the process of obtaining permanent residency. 28.5% of Ontario’s population is made up of immigrants.

How is Violence Against Immigrant Women Distinct?

This section will cover the specific experiences of violence that immigrant women may face. Please add this information to what you learned in the sections on violence against women, the types of violence and the warning signs of domestic violence.

Violence against immigrant women is distinct in the following ways:

  • The violence may include threatening to withdraw sponsorship
  • She may be highly dependent on the abuser and isolated from others – especially if she has no friends, family or social or professional networks established in Canada
  • She may be abused by someone other than her partner or in addition to her partner – such as a family member, a member of the community, someone who assisted her in immigrating to Ontario, a job recruiter or an employer
  • If she is has migrated into a specific community that is tightly bound and isolated from outside contacts, this may impact her ability to access support or intervention. This is especially true if community members support the abuser or minimize or justify his violence. Remember: many small communities may support an abuser and fail to support the woman being abused. This is not unique to newcomer communities.
  • In addition to living with domestic violence, immigrant women across Ontario may face discrimination on the basis of their immigration status. They also may face discrimination or profiling based on race, ethnicity, faith, language, ability, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and class

What Barriers Can Prevent Immigrant Women from Accessing Support?

Gaps in social services can prevent immigrant women from accessing support for domestic violence.

For example:

  • She may not call the police in an emergency because police may share her status with Canadian Border Services
  • She may not meet narrow qualifications to be eligible to access support services
  • She may face language barriers and there may not be language interpreters available when she tries to access services
  • She may not have access to information about Canadian law
  • She may not be able to afford the cost of transportation to services she requires
  • She may encounter shelters that are full or that do not accommodate her and her children and do not respect her cultural beliefs and practices
  • She may not be able to afford to pay rent and live on her own
  • She has to wait for 3 months before she can get health care coverage through OHIP
  • With guidelines within the immigration system related to sponsorship and Conditional Permanent Residence, she may feel that even if she is being abused, she must stay with her partner for 2 years, Note: This policy is being revoked, but the date that it will no longer be law has not yet been announced.

What Legislation and Policies Impact Immigrant Women Living With Violence?

Federal and Provincial legislation impact immigrant women living with violence and immigrant communities as a whole:

Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015: Bill C-51 gives increased power to Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and increased opportunities for suspicion of terrorism to result in arrest. The Bill also impacts the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in the case of security certificates that allow Canada to detain and deport permanent residents who are considered to be a security threat, without the need to disclose evidence.

Bill S-7, Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act: This act impacts the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act, and the Criminal Code with a wide number of amendments, including on polygamy and consent to marriage. The language and focus of the act has been widely critiqued, including by OCASI, to perpetuate Islamophobia and xenophobia.

OHIP waiting period: In Ontario, newcomers are not able to access health care for the first 3 months after arrival. This applies to economic and family class immigrants as well as Live-in Caregivers. Individuals who have refugee status on arrival, are in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program or have a full time work permit have access to OHIP without the 3 month wait.

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