Education // 03.16.2015

Young Immigrant Women Community Forum

Article by Abena

Being an immigrant to a new city or town in Canada has major challenges- language barriers difficulties getting jobs due to credentials not being accepted dealing with moral values that are completely on a different spectrum than yours and so on.

On Saturday March 7th  , to align with International Women’s Day on March 8th, a group called the Young Immigrant Women Halifax held a community forum to share their challenges since moving to Nova Scotia, Canada, how they are overcoming barriers to societal inclusion, education, and employment, and to share the benefits they’ve experienced in being part of their group.

The Young Immigrant Women’s leadership Project began two years ago through funding from Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women  and has been delivered through Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia. The group consisted of 15 women between ages 18-25 who have been in Canada for between 2 to ten years. They come from many countries including the African countries of Eritrea, Togo, and Egypt as well as from  Nepal, Palestine, Columbia,  and Uzbekistan.  Many arrived as refugees.

Group members presenting video on personal impact of being Part of Young Immigrant Women Halifax

Group members presenting video on personal impact of being Part of Young Immigrant Women Halifax

The main objectives behind the creation of the  Young Immigrant Women Leadership group were to:

  • Recognize the strengths of young immigrant women
  • Develop group and individual leadership skills to challenge social barriers and build a support system for young immigrant women.

As part of this two year project they participated in 14 Leadership training sessions some of which included;  My Leadership Potential: What is a Leader? ,Communication and Problem-Solving, Cultural Competence, Exploring my Community, and a Pre-Employment Workshop. The young women also had been meeting just about once a week to offer fun and ski-building sessions to other young women in the form of potlucks, self-defense classes, make-up tutorials and African dancing.

Though some of the young women were very soft-spoken and overcoming nervousness of public speaking, others spoke with boldness, confidence and humour.  Whether soft-spoken or outgoing, all spoke about the group with sincerity about their experiences and the importance of the group.

Here are some of the personal benefits of belonging to Young Immigrant Women Halifax  that they shared:

–          It has been a space for women to come in and open up their struggles

–          Have became more comfortable with public speaking

–          Attended a conference in Toronto and met new people

–          Have earned about diverse cultures

–          “ I have gained a family. we’ve built a connection with one another that is unbreakable”

Panel discussion

Zahra and Odette on the panel

Three of the most outstanding challenges brought forward that these young women face were 1) Being responsible for childcare in addition to attending high school; 2) Being responsible for translation and decision-making for parents who spoke no English and had no social systems  and 3) having to provide for the families financially. As Odette Gbeve from Togo shared, many of these girls were expected to hand over the money made from working part-time at fast food restaurants or retail jobs to support household needs.  “If your parents don’t speak English, they don’t work then you are going to take a ot of responsibility even with school attached to it. [Parents will say] ‘Oh you’re making money. You’re the only person working in this family you should support us.’”  She and the others who spoke emphasized the importance of this group in providing understanding – eg no one was judged or asked to repeat themselves if they spoke little English or had a different accent- a sense of community and support and practical tips and advice for life.

Some solutions to some of the challenges spoken of that the young women and community members came up with were:

  • Have buddies in school- a peer in their school around similar age to help understand cultural difference and practical navigation,
  • Make more public funding opportunities for university more accessible and public- many women expressed frustration at receiving little, none, or mis-guidance from guidance counselors in high school about what courses to take to get into specific university programs.
  • Ongoing advise from advisory committee- still trying to acquire sis “we may have the idea but we may not know how to go about it”  Odette expressed
  • Get more mentors to help with employment decisions education social and cultural adaptation

The girls also spoke of a need for more mentors. Several of those present at the meeting offered to help.   A female city counselors who said that they are looking at creating a  multicultural advisory committee for integration within city council and expressed the  importance of having a young immigrant woman representative. The project formally ends at the end of March 2015 but the young women pan to continue their work and hope to see it expand in the next year.

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