International Human Rights Day

International Human Rights Day

Resisting the Backlash Against Women’s Human Rights

by Ela Esra Gunad

December 10th is International Human Rights Day, a day to bring attention to the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that states each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights which belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values. It was sixty-six years ago that this milestone document in the history of human rights, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), was adopted.

Where are we as a global community at today in terms of the rights of women?

Every day, all over the world, women and girls continue to face violence and abuse in their homes, schools, workplaces, online, and on the streets. Globally one in three women has experienced abuse or subjected to gender-based violence in their lives.  Here in Canada, every six days a woman is killed by her intimate partner. Women are facing this violence simply because they are women. There are currently 1,181 missing and murdered  Indigenous women and girls throughout Canada due to the historical and present day systemic and social oppressive forces.

Throughout history and still today, there has been an ongoing battle on women’s bodies during times of conflict and warIn Rwanda, between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped during the three months of Rwandan Genocide in 1994. According to the UN agencies, more than 60,000 women were raped during the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002), more than 40,000 in Liberia (1989-2003), up to 60,000 in the former Yugoslavia (1992-1995), and at least 200,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1998. And, the history repeats itself today from Egypt, Afghanistan, and Iraq to Syria. Even in the absence of conflict or war, being a woman in these regions is being on continual alert of being harmed or killed. It cannot be ignored that during waves of militarization threaten women’s lives all the more.  Women have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, physically abused, harassed, and tortured in ways you may not even want to imagine.

Living free from violence is a human right, yet millions of women and girls face this violence both in times of peace and in war, at the hands of the state, in the home, and in the community. A vast number of women experience forced migration and have to leave their homelands in order to escape gendered systemic violence including gender oppression, gender persecution, political persecution, femicide, war, economic violence, land theft, and the impacts of colonization and globalization. We know through our support and advocacy work at Battered Women’s Support Services, migrant women have always faced structural barriers and there are many inequalities that migrant women face within Canada’s economic, social, legal, and political systems. It is crucial to understand that human rights are linked to each other and these inequalities often deny the basic rights of migrant women and their families. Freedom of movement and residence within any country is a human right, yet migrant women’s lives continue to be threatened by unsafe alternatives that force them to flee their countries, and once they make it into Canada the immigration process makes them even more vulnerable to further violence by the state, by employers, and within their relationships.


Violence is one of the most common causes of homelessness for women and children. Our work on homelessness and violence against women shows that women leave their homes because of physical and/or sexual violence. On any given day in Canada, over 8,200 women and children are living in emergency shelters and transition houses to escape violent partners. Every woman and her children are entitled to safe, affordable, and adequate housing, yet many women face homelessness and/or further violence as a result of that. BWSS works very hard to get women into social housing and we know the demand supersedes the available resources.  One women’s shelter reported turning away eight to ten women per day at both of the shelters it operates. At BWSS we know many women with children will do almost anything to avoid sleeping on the streets out of fear of losing their children. With no place to go and not wanting to lose their children, many women stay in the abusive relationship.

This reality will not change until we each own our role in ending violence and do what is in our power to advocate and act ( activism ) to end gender-based violence. Women around the globe are rising against the pandemic of gender based violence, standing in their power, mobilizing and organizing to end all forms of violence against women and girls. From Indigenous women warriors’ who took to social media with #IAmNotNext campaign to women survivors who are standing in their power and coming forward with #WhyIStayed, #WhyILeft, and #WhyIChooseNowtoTellMyStory hashtags; from women of the Arab Spring who carried their voices far and wide on the winds of revolution to women in Nigeria who started #BringBackOurGirls campaign to demand the return of hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian girls.

As it has been said, ending violence against women and girls remains one of the most crucial social issue to be obtained, since it weakens all other efforts towards a future just society. To come to grips with today’s most prevalent human rights violations in world, we have to work together towards a world in which women are safe and free everywhere from their very own intimate environments to the wider world at all times.

In the past 35 years, BWSS has been working on this frontline to end violence against women and making a positive change in the lives of girls, women, families, and communities.

On this International Human Rights Day, we ask you to take an effective action to stop violence against women. We need you to create a future free from violence for all.

Use your power today to end violence against women by:


Read more about our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign:

International Day to End Violence Against Women in Canada

Culture Shifts Recognized as Women’s Group Commemorates 35 years of Work to End Violence Against Women

Women’s Leadership for One Future Without Violence

The Dynamics of Power and Control After Separation in Relation to the Family Law Processes

16 Steps for Discovery and Empowerment 

Decolonizing and Healing Through Ceremonies

The Power of Support Groups at BWSS

Volunteering on BWSS Crisis and Intake Line

Wildflower Women of Turtle Island Drum Group

A Space for Every Woman to Grow

If you could do something to end violence against girls and women, wouldn’t you?


Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Women

The Violence Stops Here – Continued Commitment To Supporting Immigrant and Refugee Women


Women from around the world leave violence in their home countries to come to Canada. Arriving in Canada they often face discrimination and isolation, afraid to report violence usually in fear of further victimization and/or deportation. This fear of deportation, even though they may have the right to remain in Canada, often comes from their abusive partner who may keep them uninformed of their full rights as a form of control. Many women new to Canada are at a higher risk for violence due to economic and language barriers.

Immigrant and refugee women as well as women with precarious immigration status who are experiencing abuse in their relationships can fall through the cracks of social safety nets as many social service providers find they are unable to include, Refugee or non-status women that experience violence, in their mandate.


For the past 36 years, Battered Women’s Support Services has developed innovative programs, entered into partnerships, created resources and publications to become an organization that is truly responsive to the unique and diverse needs of women new to Canada. We work with immigrant and refugee women and women with precarious immigration status dealing with violence in their intimate relationships assisting them in navigating the legal system while providing crisis intervention and related supports.

In January 2015 alone, 337 women accessed services at Battered Women’s Support Services: victim services, support groups, legal advocacy, employment program, and counselling. 42% self-identified as immigrant and 2% identified as refugee, furthermore, some women were unsure of their immigration status.


Language Specific Support

Our range of services in over 20 languages to women new to Canada including Crisis Support, Counselling – Long term and Stopping the Violence Counselling, Victim Services, Legal Advocacy, Advancing Women’s Awareness Regarding Employment (AWARE) Program, Latin American Women’s Program. Battered Womens Support Services offers language specific programming and can provide services in 29 languages. Language service programs are: Latin American support groups, AWARE Farsi speaking group, and counselling services provided in Spanish.

BWSS Specialized Support for Immigrant Women

Battered Women’s Support Services has embarked on several initiatives to facilitate change in our communities and to end violence against women as well publications and resources for women, services providers and the public.


Conditional Permanent Residence: The Dangers of Making Immigration Status Conditional on Living with a Spouse

Changes in Immigration guidelines continue to have a negative impact on the lives of immigrant women and their children. Specifically, in October 2012 Canada’s federal government amended immigration regulations by introducing the status of “conditional permanent residence” for spouses. This amended means that as a condition of their permanent residence status, some spouses “must co-habit continuously in a conjugal relationship” for two years after they receive their permanent residence. What is problematic with Conditional Permanent Residence is sponsored spouses in abusive relationships are predominantly women of colour, an already disadvantaged group. This amendment puts already vulnerable women at greater risk of abuse by creating additional barriers, on already existing barriers, to leave an abusive spouse.

Gender Persecution and Law Reform

Understanding the Role of Gender Persecution in the Life and Death of Lucia Vega Jimenez

For several years, Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) has been raising the alarm about the relationship between gender violence and precarious immigration for women, in general, and specifically from Mexico. The devastating situation for Lucia Vega Jimenez, a Mexican woman, who strangled herself, December 2013, while in custody at Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) at Vancouver International Airport awaiting deportation to Mexico. During the inquest BWSS applied, was denied participant status into the inquest, however after issues of gender violence were illuminated, BWSS applied to the Coroner again and appeared as a witness Monday, October 6, 2014.


Gender Persecution and Refugee Law Reform in Canada

For women who have experienced violence, an interview can happen within 20 days after they have arrived in Canada or filed a refugee claim in Canada is too soon for them to be prepared to discuss the basis of their claim with an official of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB). No matter how friendly or well-trained officials from the IRB are in asking questions of claimants, trust is something that takes time to build. The challenge is that there will be many women who slip through the cracks, who do not have access to counsel making these types of requests on their behalf. If the norm is to have the hearing within 60 or 90 days without any type of written statement, there is grave concern that for many claimants this will mean decisions are made on their cases without an opportunity for them to fully present the facts of their case.

Community Forum on Responding to Changes to Immigration Policy

There is an understanding that violence is significantly felt by women with precarious immigration status and that there is a need to prevent this violence from occurring by challenging and shifting unjust practices in Vancouver. Although more work remains to be done, the forum in Vancouver was an inspiring example of how service providers, immigrant women and Indigenous leaders can work together to support women whose full humanity remains unrecognized in Canada.


Resources For Service Providers

Empowering Non-Status, Refugee and Immigrant Women (NSRIW) Who Experience Violence

A manual that takes a woman-centred approach to managing the spectrum of needs for women new to Canada from settlement to empowerment. Though not meant to be conclusive, it is written as an exploration of ideas illuminating, present recurring issues, and critique existing practices.

Resource Manual for Lawyers Working With Battered Immigrant Women

The lawyers’ toolkit provides lawyers with practical tools which will foster effective communication with and legal representation of battered Immigrant women. The toolkit emphasizes the importance of placing women within a larger social context by providing a broad analysis of the various social and psychological factors impacting Immigrant women’s lives. More importantly, this resource offers practical tools and strategies for lawyers.


Engaging Immigrant Women in the Legal System-Community Engagement Report

Integral to BWSS Engaging Immigrant Women in the Legal System Project is the involvement of and input from our communities. Immigrant women who are also community workers and/or women support workers in their own communities carry a wealth of knowledge gained from their own experience, and from working directly with immigrant women, that they willingly agreed to share with us. BWSS held three separate discussions with workers from the Persian, Latin American and South Asian communities. During these sessions, women spoke about their communities and how culture affects immigrant women’s lives in every aspect. The cultural context in which immigrant women live is unique to each community; however, similar themes of women’s oppression, manifested through cultural norms, values, histories and beliefs, emerged during each discussion. Each discussion revealed the distance between these identified communities and the Canadian legal system.

Women, Violence and BC’s New Family Law: Applying a Feminist Lens



Resources For Women

Resource Manual for Immigrant Women Working With a Lawyer

The Toolkit for Immigrant Women Working with a Lawyer provides practical tips and tools for Immigrant women working with lawyers. The toolkit is framed in the cultural background of Immigrant women; it is designed to be accessible and informative. Currently the toolkit will be translated into Farsi, Spanish and Punjabi.

For Immigrant Women: Online Publications & Resources for Immigrant Women
This is a list of legal publications and resources that are available online through external websites; they are helpful for immigrant women who are negotiating the legal system in BC.


Additional Resources and Information

Proposal for Conditional Permanent Residence Would Increase Violence against Women

Lucia Vega Jimenez – and the Many Women with Precarious Immigration Status

Understanding the Role of Gender Persecution in the Life and Death of Lucia Vega Jimenez

When Battered Women Are Arrested: A Growing Problem

In recent years, Battered Women’s Support Services has become increasingly alarmed by the growing number of women accessing our services who have been arrested for allegedly perpetrating domestic violence against their partners. In our experience these arrests are occurring despite the fact that in all cases women were in relationships where they were being abused.

Women’s Worlds 2011–Breaking the Cycles of Violence against Women





Grupo de apoyo para mujeres en Español

Grupo de apoyo para mujeres en Español
Este grupo ofrecerá:

  • Un espacio seguro para que las participantes compartan sus experiencias y obtengan apoyo.
  • Orientación para que las participantes desarrollen su autoestima y empoderamiento.
  • Conversaciones sobre relaciones sanas y sobre como el abuso nos afecta a nosotras, a nuestras familias y a nuestra comunidad.

¡Y mucho mas!

Todos los lunes, empezando el lunes 17 de Febrero de 2014
10 am a 12 pm

PARA MAS INFORMACION y obtener nuestra dirección confidencial favor de llamar a Daniela al:604.687.1868 ext. 316 o por email:[email protected]

Este grupo es para mujeres que sufren o que han sufrido en el pasado de abuso emocional, físico sexual o económico.
Se proveera un refrigerio y ayuda para transporte.

BWSS LatinWomen Poster_Spanish JAN-17-2014_F2You can download the poster here.

To learn more about BWSS support groups, please visit this page.

Intrinsic to women’s empowerment, support groups at BWSS are made possible with the financial contributions from people like you.


Latin American Women’s Support Group

Latin American Women’s Support Group

This group will offer:

  • A space for the participants to share their experiences and find support.
  • Guidance for participants to develop their self-esteem towards independence and empowerment.
  • Conversations about healthy relationships and information about how abuse affects us, our families and communities.

And much more!
Every Monday, starting on February 17th, 2014
10 am to 12 pm

FOR MORE INFORMATION please contact Daniela at 604.687.1868 ext. 316 or by email [email protected]

This group is for Spanish speaking women who are experiencing or have experienced emotional, physical, sexual and/or financial abuse in their relationships.

Snacks and assistance with bus tickets will be available.BWSS LatinWomen Poster_English  JAN-17-2014_FYou can download the poster here.

To learn more about BWSS support groups, please visit this page.

Intrinsic to women’s empowerment, support groups at BWSS are made possible with the financial contributions from people like you.


Community Forum on Responding to Changes to Immigration Policy: Supporting Non-Status, Refugee and Immigrant Women Survivors of Gender Violence

by Rosa Elena Arteaga, BWSS Manager of Direct Services and Clinical Practices

On November 15th 2013, Battered Women’s Support Services hosted a Community Forum on Responding to Changes to Immigration Policy, in partnership with The Migrant Mothers Project and YWCA Metro Vancouver. Over 50 front-line workers, counsellors, settlement workers, and community activists came together to learn and share knowledge. We reinforced our commitment to continue our collaboration and to increase our networks so we can affect change and attend to the inequalities that migrant women face within Canada’s economic, social, legal and political systems. Inequalities that, more than often, deny basic rights to migrant women and their families.

community forum Panelists Andrea Vollans, Legal Educator YWCA,  Metro Vancouver, Rupaleem Bhuyan, Assistant Professor Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, Darla Tomeldan, Legal Advocate, West Coast Domestic Workers Association, Ai Li Lim, Executive Director and Staff Lawyer, West Coast Domestic Workers Association and Rosa Elena Arteaga, Manager of Direct Service and Clinical Practice, Battered Women’s Support Services discussed:

  • The many barriers that women and children with precarious immigration status face in Canada and how we can find safety and support for them
  • To learn how recent changes to immigration policy are impacting women and children
  • The growing number of mothers without legal status, many of whom have been victims of violence
  • How women’s and community organizations across the province are supporting migrant mothers by addressing the systemic oppression that women face

community forum

We were very excited to collaborate with the Migrant Mother’s Project, participatory action research project working with community based organizations in Toronto, Ontario to improve the lives of migrant women and their children. The Migrant Mothers Project explores how women with precarious immigration status in Canada seek safety and support from abuse for themselves and their children at times when accessing services is vital to their well-being.

With the aim of understanding women’s migration and gendered violence, first of all, we have to acknowledge that there is a war against girls and women all over the world. From the moment a woman is born and her gender is defined as female, she will be oppressed and discriminated against. Migrant women flee from their countries for many reasons and one of the main reasons is the dismantling of their land. “Women play a significant role in agriculture, the world over. About 70% of the agricultural workers, 80% of food producers, and 10% of those who process basic foodstuffs are women and they also undertake 60 to 90% of the rural marketing; thus making up more than two-third of the workforce in agricultural production.*” Colonization, globalization and the domination of natural resources have taken away women’s land ownership, access to and control over their own land.

Furthermore, force migration is prompted by women’s experiences of gender violence and a broad spectrum of violence that girls and women face through their lives, which includes gender oppression, gender persecution, political persecution, femicide, war, economic violence and the impacts of colonization and globalization.

Women are continually forced to leave their land and migrate to a foreign country where they will be discriminated against based on their social location. Racialized and marginalized migrant women face the most oppressive and unsafe alternatives to flee from their countries and they, are not just simply allowed to enter Canada, they are screened and chosen based on the immigration laws and the policies implemented by the current governmental administration.

Once a migrant woman makes it into Canada, she might have been trafficked-or she might have come as a refugee claimant, through sponsorship, on visitor’s visa, under temporary work permit or undocumented, among other alternatives.  Her immigration status will play a huge role on the level of barriers and oppression that she will face as well as the services available to her. Many migrant girls and women will continue experiencing all forms of violence such as physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse from intimate partners, family members or extended family. The process of migration and a precarious immigration status makes girls and women more vulnerable to experience further violence, by the state, by employers, and within their relationships.

With this in mind, we, at Battered Women Support Services support migrant women with precarious immigration status, non-status, refugee claimants and permanent residents who have or are experiencing violence. We are strongly committed to understanding and recognizing that migrant women don’t “just come” to Canada, migrant women flee from their countries under extreme circumstances and with an immense need for support to overcome the impacts of gendered violence, the impact of migration and the complex process of adaptation.  We have taken many steps to ensure that we provide the appropriate support but also that we affect systemic change.

 Rosa Elena Arteaga

We provide support to all migrant girls and women who access our services. Through our feminist, intersectional and decolonizing approach, we recognize that migrant women deal with shared “cultural” as well as individual and unique experiences. This acknowledgment of the collective and individual needs requires caring and compassionate assistance and support. In our work supporting migrant women, we walk along side each woman with an understanding that migrant women face huge social isolation and many structural barriers related to their precarious status and social location.

Our specialized services include but are not limited to:

  1.  Assistance navigating the legal system,
  2.  Including education and information about the Canadian legal system,
  3.  Assistance to access legal support including referrals to lawyers from our selected list of lawyers,
  4. Accompaniment and support in order to attend refugee hearings,
  5. Assistance to access basic supports such as food/clothing/furniture, health services, shelters and transition houses, advocacy and support to obtain social assistance, education,
  6. Information and support about child protection and parenting,
  7. Language specific counselling and support groups, assistance and
  8. Advocacy to apply for social housing.

In our experience, migrant women have always faced structural barriers and we have taken action to address those barriers at systemic and individual level. In 2011, we responded to the Balanced Refugee Reform Act (Bill C-11) and exposed the impacts that those changes were going to have on refugee women. In Gender Persecution and Refugee Law in Canada written by Lobat Sadrehashemi, we expressed our concern about making more difficult for women fleeing gender-related persecution to be able to make their stories understood by decision-makers at the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB). We think that there will be many women who slip through the cracks, who do not have access to legal counsel. The current changes on the immigration policies have only increased the structural barriers. These barriers are putting migrant women at risk and depending on an immigration status; they are limited in their ability to access basic services such as health services, income assistance, legal support, and safe shelter. Furthermore, it will limit their right to protection because many migrant women would not call the police and expose the violence they are experiencing for fear of deportation.

We strongly believe that continued access to a full range of programs such as services offered by Battered Women’s Support Services and a strong collaboration among service providers, at municipal, provincial, national and international level, is vital to migrant women’s capacity to overcome the impact of gendered violence, forced migration and adaptation.


Last year, Battered Women’s Support Services responded to over 10,000 crisis calls from women and girls to get help and end violence. We could not provide this essential support without your contribution.


Farsi Speaking Women Focus Group

What you think matters to us

Are you a Farsi-speaking woman? Do you want to help other women in your own community? Are you willing to share your thoughts and opinions with us or to educate and train yourself on the following topics?

  • Intimate relationship concerns
  • Canadian Legal system (Family Law, Criminal Law)
  • Available community resources

If so, please contact Marjaneh to register for our focus group meeting at 604-687-1867 ext: 323 E: [email protected]

This focus group is made to address the needs of Farsi-speaking women. Your input, comments, and your knowledge are extremely important to us. By taking part in this meeting and informing us about your learning needs and your main areas of concerns, we would be able to design and provide a series of specialized workshops for immigrant Farsi-Speaking women. Please keep posted!







10AM – 12PM

To read our resources in Farsi, please visit below links:

Farsi Toolkit for Women working with Lawyers

Persian Version of “When Battered Women Are Arrested”

To download the poster, please visit here.

To download the poster, please visit here.