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.


BWSS Support Group | Re-writing Our Stories: Women’s Stories

Battered Women's Support Services Support Group

Download the full brochure here.

In Re-writing Our Stories: Women’s Stories, women will be invited to explore their stories and reexamine the stories that they have been told about themselves, their gender, their social location, relationships, cultural beliefs and so forth.

This Support Group Will:

  • Create a safe space for women to explore and make meaning of what matters to them
  • Foster curiosity and appreciation of women’s resistance
  • Empower women to re-write their own stories

This group will be structured based on three components:

  • Breathing and grounding body exercises
  • Narrative conversations
  • Simple writing exercises (writing skills are not necessary and support will be provided)


10 Weeks starting September 12, 2013

For registration and information call the Crisis & Intake Line at 604.687.1867


Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver (for confidentiality purposes please call us to obtain the address)
Assistance with bus tickets is available.

Intrinsic to women’s empowerment, Support Groups at BWSS are made possible with the financial contributions from people like you. Make a donation here.

For more information about BWSS Support Groups, please visit here.

Without Warning

I have a story to tell and it is not so nice
It’s about when I fell and it was not on ice
It is about a man whom I loved very dear
But as the year went on, he instilled in me a fear
In the beginning he was kind and easy to love
Quite refined and gentle as a dove
Then without warning, I was totally unaware
He punched my face and pulled my hair
He struck me again and again, until I hit the ground
There was no one to help me, not a soul around
This violence went on for many years
I sat there in silence and shed plenty of tears
It did not matter how hard I tried
I always had bruises that I could not hide
I was afraid to move, afraid to talk
Tired of all the people who liked to gawk
All of the guilt and all of the shame
Yet I wasn’t the one inflicting the pain
When I heard the doctor, I thought it was a lie
The doctor stated, “The man is going to die”
I would pray to God that this nightmare would end
I never had no one to trust, not one friend
Then one day God said, “No more”
He took him to Heaven and picked me up off the floor
– Rhonda Vermette

Ending Violence – Survivor Stories

Do I know when it began, oh yes I certainly do!!

By Theresa Duggan

I was a child of nine. I was sexually abused for three years, till I was twelve, when I made a serious suicide attempt. I was never the same. The innocence of childhood had been robbed from me. I was scared and then tortured by my memories. Was it really my fault, I knew it wasn’t right, why didn’t I leave and never come back. But I did, I kept coming back for three years.

The guilt, the shame, I covered up with drugs and alcohol and that carried me into my late twenties. At that time I took up a relationship with someone who I thought would protect me, I thought no would touch me with him around. He was a biker and what I didn’t realize was that I would become the one who feared and needed protection from him. He isolated me from my family and friends, verbally assaulted me, and beat me. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with his child that I drew the line. No more abuse that could possibly hurt my child. I kicked him out and went into hiding until after the baby was born. In the end I got sole custody and no access granted to me after a year and a half in the court system. I got permission to leave the province and left immediately.

I remained in hiding for sixteen years, and then my daughter found her father on Facebook. I needed to talk to someone experienced with this type of situation. I called Battered Women’s Support Services for support and guidance; I was placed on a waiting list.

I have been seeing a trauma worker for almost two years. I have been brutality honest with myself and my worker. This is new to me; my shame and guilt have always silenced me, now I can’t shut up. I am not someone who needs crisis management, I need to have a long term counselor who I have built trust with, who I am confident in, who respects me whose opinion I value.

My quality of life has changed, my own self-respect, my self awareness, feeling like I’m not alone, a feeling of belonging. All these things I have gained through BWSS. For someone like me, with the history I have there is no quick fix, I have needed slow, consistent support.  This has really worked for me. Just this May I was the recipient of the COAST 2010 Courage to come back award in Mental Health. This award is given to a British Columbian who has overcome extraordinary challenges and adversity and who has given back to their communities.