Violence Against Women (VAW) affects everyone including immigrant and refugee women, children, families and communities. It is not limited to any one community – it crosses all socio-economic backgrounds, races and ethnicities, cultures, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and occupations.
What do we mean by women?
We mean people who self-identify as women. This is an inclusive definition – so we are saying that being and identifying as a woman is a unique experience!
There is a lot of diversity within the definition of women – on this website, we are talking about the great diversity amongst immigrant, refugee and non-status women.
It is important to note that we include women with trans experience here – immigrant, refugee and non-status trans women are women!
Violence Against Women (VAW) is a term used to describe abuse or violence that women experience, and the term sometimes focuses on when it happens in a domestic setting (in the home) or in a relationship. It can be physical, sexual, financial, emotional, psychological or another form.
Here are a few definitions of Violence Against Women:
"Violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” – United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 1993
“Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour used by one person to gain power and control over another person with whom he/she has or has had an intimate relationship. The behaviour may include physical violence, sexual, emotional, and psychological intimidation, verbal abuse, stalking, and using electronic devices to harass and control.” – Ontario Women’s Directorate
Why do we need to talk about VAW?
It’s a global problem: 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical violence and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence (World Health Organization)
- It’s a problem in Canada: every 6 days, at least one woman is killed by her partner (Canadian Women’s Foundation)
- Most people know about it: 67% of Canadians know at least one woman who has been physically or sexually assaulted (Canadian Women’s Foundation)
- Many people would not intervene: 55.8% of people in Ontario would intervene if they saw a woman with bruises or injuries and suspected the partner was the cause (Interval House)
- Most people do not report it: Out of every 1000 sexual assaults in Canada, only 33 are reported to police and 3 lead to conviction (YWCA Canada)
Immigrant and refugee women experience violence/abuse in Ontario, and their experiences of violence or abuse are distinct given their identities. What do we mean by “distinct”?
- Immigrant and refugee women may be more socially isolated and unable to get help or support due to lack of knowledge and access to resources.
- Given some immigrant and refugee women’s previous experience with authorities such as the police, they may not feel comfortable to report violence or abuse.
- Non-status women are more vulnerable, given the precarious nature of their status in Canada (e.g. constant fear of deportation), the limited number of organizations who are able to support them (e.g. few organizations are funded to support individuals who do not have status), their reluctance to report violence, and their social isolation.
- Abusive partners could withhold immigration documents and threaten to separate the woman from any children they have in common.
- Immigrant and refugee transwomen face multiple barriers and sometimes are denied services because of their identities and xenophobic attitudes.
Violence Against immigrant and refugee Women is part of larger systemic problems: sexism and misogyny, racism and anti-migrant views. The root is unequal relationships between groups of people in society – where some people or groups are considered more valuable than others. Immigrant and refugee women experiencing violence in Ontario face these systemic problems and maybe others including and not limited to poverty, Islamophobia, ableism, homophobia etc.