The New Brunswick Immigrant Women’s Association joined the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University to bring together a panel event celebrating Women’s History Month this past March.
The panel covered a wide variety of topics, from the economic indicator difference between women in North Africa and the Middle East and women in Canada, to personal stories of experience with intersectional feminism.
The Women’s Day event hosted by the NBIWA last year was the association’s first public action. Natasha Akhtar, one of the New Brunswick Immigrant Association’s councilmembers, said, “We wanted [International Womens’ Day] to be a yearly celebration… we wanted to have our own event highlighting women of colour and immigrant women in Canada.”
Akhtar hopes the event helped members of the community to understand the difficulties of not only being a woman in Canada, but being an immigrant woman and a woman of colour in Canada. “Sharing always helps on both sides, and encourages understanding,” she said.
Jael Duarte, a member of the NBIWA council and one of the panel speakers at March 30’s event, shared her experiences as a member of the advisory forum project that eventually led to the formation of the Immigrant Women’s Association.
The advisory forum was a collaborative project between the New Brunswick Multicultural Council and the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research. It examined gaps in New Brunswick’s services for immigrant women experiencing domestic violence, and sought out immigrant women like Jael Duarte and Natasha Akhtar to consult on what service gaps they had noted in their time since coming to Canada.
“Once we got together we realized that the barriers faced by immigrant women were pervasive,” Akhtar said.
Akhtar said they decided to start this organization because the services that already exist are not enough. “Even if immigrants know about [the services] they don’t know how to navigate them.”
Once the advisory forum project wrapped up its research, members of the council who were still interested in helping fellow immigrant women banded together to form the NBIWA.
“It’s a volunteer service,” Aktar said. “Membership is open to everyone, but all on the council are immigrants.” The association’s council boasts members from over 7 countries, including Nepal, Syria, India, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Pakistan.
Diluckshnie Jayawardena, another NBIWA member, explained why the Womens’ Day panel and NBIWA open house were important to the community. According to her, it’s about sharing experiences and making sure that the obstacles faced by immigrant women, which can be very different than those faced by women who grew up in Canada, are recognized and addressed.
“It is… important for immigrant women to have a welcoming space that is their own, to discuss challenges and empower each other,” Jayawardena said.