It is a cliché that it is hard to be a woman or a female-presenting person nowadays. In Canada, it’s only just over 100 years that women have been recognized as “persons” under the law. For trans women and non-binary people, that struggle is just beginning. Immigrant women often struggle to access reliable, trustworthy settlement information and support. In Calgary, Alberta, the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA) alleviate this struggle.
CIWA recognizes many difficulties in being an immigrant and fills the gaps in information to ensure the tools presented to newcomers are helpful. Founded in 1982, the organization offers various services to newcomer women and girls in Canada, especially helping them understand Canadian culture’s subtleties, whether social, business, or economic. CIWA’s services range from language and literacy programs to entrepreneurship training.
Fatima Narvaez, CIWA’s communications manager, highlights the targeted and wraparound programs offered by CIWA as “helping alleviate the challenges as well as shorten the settlement transition period for many women and families.”
Located in downtown Calgary, just steps from the Bow River, CIWA’s office hosts the CIWA Business Centre, where newcomers can access the internet, make photocopies, take passport photos, and many other services vital to settling in a new country.
CIWA’s website notes that the association serves women from over 140 countries, with 45 per cent having a Bachelor’s degree. CIWA assists these foreign-trained professionals with credential evaluation and upgrades where necessary. At the other end of the spectrum, over 30 per cent of women [who come to CIWA] have less than 12 years of education. In these cases, CIWA offers intensive training and education, with local partners like Bow Valley College to provide Early Childhood Education programs.
CIWA also delivers programs for women who may be experiencing domestic abuse. The Champions for Victims of Family Violence, and the Family Conflict Prevention programs offer resources to women whose domestic situations are complicated or outright dangerous, including a series of short videos outlining available services.
Arriving in a new country can be an alienating experience for many women who are often left to care for children while their partner is out trying to secure a job. CIWA reduces this isolation and alienation to make newcomer women feel safe and secure in their new environment. “I was fortunate to attend some workshops and networking events organized by CIWA,” says Lem in a Facebook comment. “I came off feeling enriched with valuable information and confident with the quality of connections I was able to make.”
In a video testimony, Gloria offers a moving tribute to the importance of the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association: “When I first moved to Canada, my life changed. I was stuck in a part-time job on a minimum wage.” After receiving a large tax debt, Gloria says, “I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. I felt hopeless…I was referred to CIWA where I met my counsellor. She supported me, gave me resources…(and) hope to continue my journey.” These testimonies embody CIWA’s mandate to empower immigrant women and girls to be strong and independent in their new country, give them the skills and resources to build a life, and ultimately help build the country.
Fatima Narvaez reveals that moving forward, CIWA “will be working on developing partnerships nationwide to help bridge the gap for gender-specific and culturally sensitive services.” This National Visibility mandate will be CIWA’s priority over the next five years.