Positive Women’s Network recognizes the challenges that migrant women face starting life in Canada. Financial security, housing security, health care, family, and social networks are greatly impacted by relocation.

The Ideal

In ideal circumstances, migrant women would have the resources they need: comfort speaking the language where they settle; secure and safe housing; freedom from violence; financial security; an understanding of health care and social support services; a supportive cultural community for those who wish for it.

But we know this isn’t always the case. Systemic barriers and racism are stressors that affect settlement, access to health care and social services, and ultimately, women’s choices.

Some challenging realities

  • Women who have experienced oppression in their countries of origin may not know they have basic human rights in Canada. If they don’t know they have rights, they don’t know they can speak up about discrimination.
  • Women migrating from places of war and upheaval may arrive with systemic trauma and post-traumatic stress.
  • The immigration system can determine whether women leave children and other family members behind.
  • Having to deal with the guilt and shame of who gets to come with them and who they have left behind
  • Women who test HIV positive during the immigration process must disclose to their Canadian sponsor within 60 days, or the government will disclose to sponsor on their behalf, potentially increasing risk of abuse or violence. The alternative is to withdraw application.
  • Lack of financial security and stability can affect women’s overall options.
  • Not having access to take English language skills, having limited childcare resources, limited money to access resources in the community, does not know how to take the sky train or buses, open a bank account, does not know how to use a computer or the phones (pressing this and that /not getting a person to talk to
  • Needing extra advocacy, support and assistance to access social services and filling out applications for social assistance, BC Housing,
  • Facing alienation, isolation and loneliness from their communities’ members who may not welcome them because are fearful of women living with HIV because they do not have accurate information about HIV.
  • Unfamiliarity with the Canadian way of life, laws, rights, customs, institutions,
  • Having to deal with rigid systems who do not want to understand the specific needs and the multi-barriers that new immigrants and refugees encounter each step of their way to enter the Canadian life.
  • Women may be dependent on a partner or sponsor who threatens or limits their access to resources.
  • Documented and undocumented women may be forced to work under abusive circumstances and have little or no recourse.
  • Parents without legal status can have the added concerns of childcare, health care, and education for their kids.
  • Intergenerational conflict can be part of adjusting to life in a new country, as children may take more easily to the local language and customs than their parents.

Potential Health Care Issues

The health care system can be difficult to access, with few to no supports available to help migrant populations navigate it. This can result in delayed diagnosis, care, and treatment of illness. Health care access is dependent on government policy, which can change year to year. A new language can make forms and medical information difficult to understand, which affects migrant women’s and their family’s health.

For women with HIV, stigma and discrimination (or the fear of it) can be limiting. Women may not want to seek care or disclose their status for fear of losing support from communities they have or wish to establish in Canada.

Social Connections and Support

Relocation means loss of social networks, identity, and familiar schedules. Lacking resources, women can be made more vulnerable to abuse and violence in intimate relationships or work environments. They may not be able to seek health care or social support if they have no childcare funds or trusted caregivers.

Women who have experienced trauma or experience ongoing violence or trauma in their lives may need culturally sensitive mental health care and support. Depending on their connections, they may or may not know which services are available and who to trust.

Positive Women’s Network is committed to providing services that are sensitive to migrant women’s individual circumstances. We listen to their needs, explain options for care and support services, and respect their decisions. We also recognize the incredible resilience of women establishing new lives—they are capable, strong, and spirited.