A Journey to Freedom: Supporting Refugee Women Who Are Dealing with Violence
By Rosa Elena Arteaga, Manager, Direct Services & Programs

At BWSS we have been supporting a number of refugee women who have experienced violence and who are going through their refugee process. During the last twelve months a high percentage of the women who accessed our services and who were going through their refugee process had their claims accepted.

It has been a long journey for the women to reach an official answer that acknowledges that they have the right to protection and freedom from abuse. Each woman has a journey that stems from their strength to escape from their abusive partners, from their country of origin, to the strength to come to an unknown country with the only hope to finally become free from violence. However, at their arrival, they had to face a system that does not understand violence against women and its effects as well as a system that does not understand the migration of abuse across the lifecycle, which follows girls and women through infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and as elders.

What did it take for the women to succeed with their claim for freedom? For some of them, it took the support from a family member, a friend, or a neighbour who helped them to escape to Canada. In Canada, it took the support of an anti-violence women’s organization, BWSS, which assisted them to access the right lawyer, the right interpreter, and the right counsellor. BWSS team supported each by identifying and understanding the range of needs from forced migration, sexual violence, and intimate violence to the spectrum of cultural needs. It took an approach which identifies the strength, barriers, needs and support needed from settlement to empowerment.

It took the consistency and commitment of the BWSS team to support each woman’s journey through its programming such as legal advocacy, Stopping The Violence counselling, language specific support groups, and employment program. For the majority of the women their refugee process took more than a year and during that year they were consistently accessing BWSS programs. In addition, it took the willingness of their immigration lawyers to learn and understand about the impacts of abuse. The lawyers became aware that women’s lost of memory, lack of trust, and their overwhelming fear does not relate to their intellectual capacity, cultural background or the veracity of their story, rather it relates to the impact of the violence that they have experienced though their whole life.

Finally, it took the women’s strength and resilience to escape from violence, to expose themselves to strangers and tell their stories, their consistency in contacting their friends, neighbours, family, women’s organizations in their countries of origin so they could gather evidence and expose that gender violence is a social issue and that women’s right to protection is not merely granted.

After a long and painful journey each woman has identified her unique strength, her value, her success and her right to live free from violence. We at BWSS stand and work in solidarity with all women who are on a journey to freedom.