Gender Priorities

Key Issues Affecting Newcomer Women and Girls 

The CCR has identified several priority issues for advocacy related to gender. These issues are grouped under three broad categories: policy, enforcement and settlement.

Policy issues

  • Spousal sponsorship and sponsorship breakdown – Spousal sponsorship can be a vehicle for abuse, because sponsors hold all the power in the relationship. A withdrawal of sponsorship leaves the partner without status and at risk of deportation.
  • Parental consent – Women who have been accepted as refugees or permanent residents in Canada and who are seeking family reunification with their children overseas are required to produce a signed consent  from the father, or a custody order if the parents have separated. There is no policy to make exceptions in cases of domestic violence, even where the abuse was established in the refugee claim process. As a result,  women may need to expose themselves to the risk of further violence in order to request the consent. The children are also negatively affected due to delays and barriers in family reunification – in some cases while waiting they are themselves at risk of parental abuse.
  • Refugee claim process: “principal claimant” – When two or more members of a family make refugee claims at the same time, their claims are considered together and one person is identified as the “principal claimant”. In the case of a mixed-gender couple, the individuals themselves, their counsel and decision-makers often default to considering the husband the “principal claimant”. Although under law all claims must be individually assessed, the fact that one family member is identified as the “principal claimant” contributes to less attention being paid to listening to the experiences of women and girls.
  • Migrant workers and human trafficking – Closed work permits that tie migrant workers’ status in Canada to a single employer, and the lack of oversight of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program create opportunities for exploitation and trafficking. Caregivers are a highly gendered group that are usually isolated at their employer’s residence, and often excluded from employment standards provisions. Other female migrant workers are also vulnerable to abuse in the workplace or by Canadian partners due to their precarious immigration status.
  • Lack of adequate gender impact analysis – the gender impact analysis carried out by the federal government in some cases lacks substance. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) should apply a gender lens rigorously to all policies and protocols.

Enforcement issues – CBSA and IRCC

  • Arrest and deportation of women reported by abusive partner – Abusers sometimes report their partner to the CBSA as a way of punishing them. The CBSA’s mandate is to enforce immigration laws, but arresting and deporting women at the request of their abuser makes the CBSA complicit in the abuse.
  • Deportation of women before custody issues are resolved – Women are sometimes deported from Canada with no coordination around custody issues, and in disregard for the principles of the Best Interests of the Child.
  • Investigations of misrepresentation – In the wake of the welcome repeal of Conditional Permanent Residence, IRCC investigations for misrepresentation in immigration proceedings have been increasing, and seem to be triggered by complaints from sponsoring partners. By launching these investigations without adequate attention to potential issues of spousal abuse, IRCC is complicit in abuse by the sponsor.

Settlement issues

  • Gender sensitivity in settlement organizations – There are best practices on awareness of gender issues in settlement agencies, but these tools need to be improved on and generalized throughout the sector. This relates not only to gender sensitivity, but also to an understanding of how gendered power dynamics impact women’s integration.
  • Woman-centred settlement programming – there is a lack of programming focused on the needs of refugee women.
  • Transphobia – settlement agencies need to look at transphobia within their organizations and structures, and develop strategies (including training) to counter this.
  • Trauma-informed approach in settlement work – There is a lack of training, support and resources for settlement workers to recognize trauma and provide the necessary support. People who are experiencing trauma or abuse, including women survivors of gender-based violence, often slip through the cracks and do not receive the services they need as a result.

Key refugee and immigration issues for women and girls

There have been many recent changes in immigration and refugee policies in Canada. How might these changes affect women and girls?

Reformed refugee determination system

Significant changes have been made recently to Canada’s refugee determination system, mostly taking effect on 15 December 2012. Key features are:

  • Very short timelines for filing forms and for the refugee hearing – many women will find they don’t have enough time to prepare for the refugee hearing. It takes time and trust to be ready to speak about traumatic experiences, especially sexual violence. Documentation of human rights abuses against women is not always readily available. It is also more difficult to meet short timelines if you are juggling childcare.
  • Barriers to legal representation – more claimants will be left unrepresented in the new system. Negotiating the refugee process without a lawyer is particularly difficult for women who have had limited access to education or relevant professional experience.
  • Designated countries of origin – some countries have been designated “safe” and claimants from these countries have even shorter timelines, no right of appeal and virtually no access to health care. Women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution will be among the worst affected by these discriminatory rules, since women’s rights are routinely violated in many countries that may appear generally “safe”.
  • Implementation of the appeal – more than ten years after Parliament passed a law giving refused refugee claimants a full appeal on the merits, this provision has finally been implemented! Unfortunately, many categories of claimants are denied this right. This means that, in some cases, a woman fleeing gender-based violence or persecution based on her sexual orientation will have her fate determined by a single decision-maker, with no opportunity for a second look to ensure a mistake was not made.
  • One-year bar on Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) after a refugee claim has been refused – sometimes women’s grounds for fearing persecution are not properly heard when they make a claim together with their husband (who is often considered the “principal applicant”). The same applies to girls arriving with their families. The PRRA used to be an opportunity for women and girls to bring forward new evidence of risks they face, but now they can be deported without access to the PRRA.
  • Bar on refugee claimants making an application on humanitarian grounds (H&C) –in the past many women, including many who had suffered gender violence, were accepted under H&C after being refused in the refugee claim process. The new rules mean that most women will be deported before an H&C application can be reviewed.
  • Mandatory detention for designated “irregular arrivals” – some mothers detained long-term under these new provisions will face the painful choice of keeping their children incarcerated with them in detention or handing them over to a child welfare agency.

Cuts to refugee health care

Cuts made in June 2012 by the federal government to its Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program have left many refugees, refugee claimants and certain other non-citizens without coverage for essential health care services. Some people are without any coverage at all.

  • The cuts leave some pregnant women facing huge bills for prenatal and postnatal care, as well as deep anxiety about giving birth without access to medical care.

Resettlement and refugee family reunification – long delays

In many regions, particularly in Africa, processing is extremely slow for resettlement to Canada or for reunification with family members who are refugees in Canada.

  • Women and girls are forced to wait in precarious situations, where they are vulnerable to sexual assault, due to very long processing times.
  • Mothers in Canada separated from their children overseas experience extreme anguish during the long wait for reunification. Requests for DNA testing prolong the delays and impose a huge financial burden on recently arrived refugee women.

Conditional Permanent Residence

In October 2012, the federal government introduced “conditional” permanent residence for some sponsored spouses and partners for a period of two years. If they don’t remain with their sponsor throughout this period, their permanent residence could be revoked, and they could be deported.

  • Conditional permanent residence exposes women to increased power imbalance in the relationship and heightened risk of domestic violence.
  • There is an exception for sponsored partners in situations of abuse or neglect, but there are multiple barriers to accessing this exception.

Migrant workers in Canada

Canada has in recent years shifted dramatically towards temporary migration. At the end of 2012, there were over 300,000 Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada, an increase of 70% over the past five years.

  • Workers in “low-skilled” streams of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, who include many women, are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including trafficking.
  • While the Canadian Experience Class offers a pathway to permanent status for some workers, statistics show that the class is less accessible to women.
  • By requiring workers to live with their employers, the Live-in Caregiver Program leaves women isolated and vulnerable to physical, psychological and sexual abuse.


Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to trafficking in persons, and new barriers to access to status in Canada only increase risks.

  • Despite the many recent changes in legislation, there have been no amendments to assure protection for trafficked women and girls. The existing mechanism of Temporary Residence Permits is not fully effective.

March 2013


There have been many recent changes in immigration and refugee policies in Canada. How might these changes affect women and girls?


Proposal for Conditional Permanent Residence: A step backwards (one-pager)

In March 2011, the federal government published in the Canada Gazette a proposal to introduce a conditional permanent residence period of two years or more for sponsored spouses and partners who have been in a relationship of two years or less with their sponsors. According to the proposal, if the sponsored spouse or partner does not remain in a bona fide relationship with their sponsor during the conditional period, their permanent residence could be revoked, and they would be deported. 1 page, 2011.

Statement on Proposed “Conditional Permanent Residence” for sponsored spouses

We the undersigned oppose the proposal to introduce a “conditional” permanent residence period of two years or more for sponsored spouses and partners who have been in a relationship of two years or less with their sponsors. The proposed change, published in the Canada Gazette, 26 March 2011, states that if the sponsored spouse/partner does not remain in a bona fide relationship with their sponsor during the conditional period, their permanent residence could be revoked.

We believe that introducing “conditional permanent residence” would represent a major step backwards in Canadian immigration policy, would increase inequalities in relationships between spouses, and would put women in particular at heightened risk of violence.

These are some of the main concerns associated with the proposal:

  • Making permanent residency for the sponsored partner conditional puts all the power into the hands of the sponsor, who can use the precarity of the partner’s status as a tool for manipulation – at any time, the sponsor can declare the spouse fraudulent. This can be a constant threat and source of fear for the sponsored person, who faces the risk of being deported.
  • This power imbalance affects all sponsored partners, regardless of the “genuineness” of relationship, and reinforces unequal gendered power dynamics.
  • Making permanent residency conditional on staying in the marriage for two years traps women in abusive relationships for fear of losing their status.
  • Children will also be hurt, for example when they remain with their parent in an abusive home, or if they face being separated from one parent if the sponsored parent is removed from Canada.
  • The suggestion that some cases would be “targeted for fraud” raises fears of possible racial, national or ethnic stereotyping and discrimination, and of malicious denunciations.

According to the notice, a process would be developed to allow sponsored spouses in abusive situations to come forward without facing enforcement action. This is not a solution. Given that many sponsored immigrants, especially women, have little knowledge of their rights, it is not realistic to suggest that they would come forward to the immigration authorities to report an abusive relationship.  It is also unfair to place the burden of proof of abuse on the abused woman.

The notice mentions that similar policies are already in place in the UK, Australia and the U.S. Experts in those countries have reported that conditional status creates the problems mentioned above, putting women at risk and giving increased power to abusive sponsors.

Given the lack of evidence that “marriage fraud” is a widespread problem, it is unfortunate that the government is exploring this proposal, which would create another barrier to family reunification. We urge Citizenship and Immigration Canada to turn its attention instead to reducing the existing barriers to family reunification, including the unacceptably long processing delays in too many regions of the world.

We are also concerned that characterizing relationship breakdown as marriage fraud adds to the increasingly negative portrayal by the government of newcomers, and thus increases xenophobic tendencies within society.

Statement signed by:

Canadian Council for Refugees
Agence Ometz
Aids Committee of Guelph and Wellington County
Alliance pour l'accueil et l'intégration des immigrants-es (ALAC)
Amnesty International Canada - English-speaking section
Assaulted Women's and Children's Counselor/Advocate Program at George Brown College
Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick (AHSNB)
Assistance aux femmes de Montréal
Battered Women's Support Services
Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (CASAC)
Canadian Migration Institute (CMI)
Carrefour d'aide aux nouveaux arrivants (CANA)
Carrefour de liaison et d'aide multi-éthnique
Carrefour de ressources en interculturel (CRIC)
Centre d'Action SIDA Montréal (Femmes) (CASM)
Centre de Femmes du Témiscamingue
Centre de femmes Entre Ailes Ste-Julie
Centre de femmes l’Autonomie en soiE
Centre de femmes l'Éclaircie (La Prairie)
Centre de femmes l'Érige
Centre de femmes l'Essentielle
Centre de femmes Marie-Dupuis
Centre de ressources éducatives et communautaires pour adultes CRÉCA
Centre des femmes de la Basse-Ville
Centre des femmes de Verdun
Centre des femmes d'ici et d'ailleurs
Centre des femmes italiennes de Montréal
Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC)
Comité d'accueil international des Bois-Francs (CAIBF)
Comité d'action contre la traite humaine interne et internationale (CATHII)
Committee to Aid Refugees
Community Legal Services of Niagara South
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (English sub-region)
Dixon Transition Society
Downtown Legal Services
FCJ Refugee Centre (Toronto)
Federation CJA Social Advocacy Committee
Fédération des femmes du Québec
Femmes du monde à Côte-des-Neiges
Global Alliance for Traffic in Women - Canada (GAATW-Canada)
Howe Sound Women's Centre, Squamish, BC
Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba Inc. (IRCOM Inc.)
Immigrant Settlement & Integration Services (ISIS)
Immigrant Women Services Ottawa
La Collective des femmes de Nicolet et région
La Maison d'hébergement pour femmes francophones
La Maison Flora Tristan
La Marie Debout, Centre d'éducation des femmes
Le Centre Au Cœur des femmes
LEGIT: Canadian Immigration for Same-Sex Partners
Ligue des droits et libertés
Maison d’hébergement la Volte Face, Victoriaville
Maison de Lina, Lina’s Home
Maison des femmes des Bois-Francs
Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council Inc.
Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence against Women and Children (METRAC)
Mississauga Community Legal Services
Montreal City Mission
Movement Against Rape and Incest
National Indo-Canadians Council
New Starts for Women
Northwood Neighbourhood Services
OCASI: Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH)
Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women
Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS)
Project Genesis
Project Refuge Maison Haidar
Quaker Committee for Refugees
Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale
Regroupement Québécois des Centres d'aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel (RQ-Calacs)
Réseau d'action pour l'égalité des femmes immigrées et racisées (RAFIQ)
SACHA, the Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton and Area)
Service d’aide aux Néo-Canadiens
Sistering “A Woman Drop-in”
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO)
South Asian Women's Community Centre (SAWCC)
Springtide Resources, Inc.
Surrey Women’s Centre
Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI)
Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal
The Cridge Centre for the Family
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund
YWCA Canada
YWCA Toronto

CCR Anti-Oppression Policy

Find our Power wheel and other resources here

1. CCR Mission Statement

The Canadian Council for Refugees is a non-profit umbrella organization committed to the rights and protection of refugees in Canada and around the world and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada. The membership is made up of organizations involved in the settlement, sponsorship and protection of refugees and immigrants. The Council serves the networking, information-exchange and advocacy needs of its membership.

2. CCR Organizational Principles

The CCR is guided by the following organizational principles:

  • The membership of the Canadian Council for Refugees reflects the diversity of those concerned with refugee and settlement issues and includes refugees and other interested people in all regions of Canada;
  • The work of the Council is democratic and collaborative;
  • Our work is national and international in scope.

3. Definitions

For the purpose of this Policy, the CCR uses the following definitions:

  • Discrimination is the treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit and that can be used to privilege (special treatment in favour of) as well as disadvantage (special treatment against) a particular group or individual.
  • Oppression is the use of power or privilege by a socially, politically, economically, culturally dominant group (or groups) to disempower (take away or reduce power), marginalize, silence or otherwise subordinate one social group or category.
  • Systemic Oppression consists of practices, policies, laws and standards that disadvantage a particular group or category of people.
  • Individual Oppression is demeaning and oppressive behaviour towards and treatment of a particular group or category of people, expressed through individual attitudes, beliefs and values.
  • Anti-Oppression is the work of actively challenging and removing oppression perpetuated by power inequalities in society, both systemic oppression and individual expressions of oppression.

The CCR recognizes that certain people in our society face oppressive experiences because of individual and systemic unequal power related to race, colour, culture, ethnicity, language and linguistic origin, ability, socio-economic class, age (children, youth, seniors), ancestry, nationality, place of birth, religion or faith or other forms of conscientiously held beliefs, sex, gender (including gender identity and expression), sexuality (including sexual orientation), family status (including marital status), and residency/migratory status in Canada.

We recognize that these forms of unequal power have impacted in particularly harsh ways on the Aboriginal population in Canada. We also acknowledge that the CCR is a reflection of the society in which we live, and that these uses of power exist within the CCR.

The CCR recognizes that individuals may have power in some way, sometimes in more than one way, even though they can experience oppression in another way or multiple, combined ways. For example someone who experiences oppression because of race, may have some degree of privilege and power because of gender.

The CCR recognizes that unequal power operates both at a personal level in interactions between people, and at a systemic level through rules, structures and practices. We recognize that refugees’ flight is the result of experiences of oppression, and that refugees and immigrants are subject to various forms of discrimination and oppression within Canada. We come together in the CCR because we recognize the need for broad change, and the need for combating oppression in and through our work, so that all refugees and immigrants are treated with dignity and their rights are recognized and protected.

The CCR values the contributions of every individual who belongs to our membership and our network, and who supports us in fulfilling our mission. The CCR recognizes that discriminatory and oppressive acts and mechanisms can prevent individuals in our membership and our network from engaging with the CCR in a way that fully reflects their ability, experience and contributions. We recognize that such barriers can limit not only their contributions, but also their potential to engage with the CCR at all levels, particularly at the levels of leadership.

The CCR recognizes that individuals and groups who are disempowered and marginalized because of discrimination have the capacity to make choices and act on their own behalf to bring about change that will eliminate oppression for themselves and others.

The CCR also recognizes that understanding, acknowledging and working to eliminate oppression is a learning process for us all. We recognize that different people can be at different stages in the learning process. We recognize that we all need to make the effort to learn, create opportunities for learning and assist each other in the learning process.

The CCR is therefore making a commitment to anti-oppression in all the areas of our work focused externally on changing our society and internally on eliminating oppression within the CCR. This commitment takes ground in our belief that change is not only necessary but possible, through an intentional process of organizational learning and change.

The CCR will therefore ensure that its work accurately reflects and uses the variety of knowledge of all peoples as the basis for all of our activities; that it recognizes the leadership of disempowered and marginalized individuals and groups to bring about anti-oppressive change; and that it acknowledges the existence of discrimination and makes a conscious effort to challenge oppression. The CCR will work towards ensuring that:

  • The membership of the CCR accurately reflects the range of groups that form our society; and that our process to develop and select our leadership is free of bias and that it promotes equitable representation of the diversity of our membership;
  • The CCR’s consultations and meetings are organized and conducted in an accessible way, so that all participants can contribute in a manner free from obstacles, barriers and oppression. This involves a particular leadership role and responsibility among CCR leaders (Executive Committee, Working Group chairs and Core Group chairs) and staff, as well as the ongoing commitment among CCR members to offer each other an environment where oppression is challenged and countered;
  • The CCR’s networking, information sharing and strategizing endeavours are informed by the goal of identifying and countering the impact of the various and combined forms of oppression affecting refugees and immigrants;
  • The CCR’s work in areas such as advocacy with government and parliamentarians, and communications with the media and the public addresses the diverse and combined forms of oppression facing refugees and immigrants, and promotes change to counter such oppression.
  • Our capacity and the capacity of our membership is strengthened to challenge unequal power and biases that lead to oppression;
  • We strengthen our capacity and the capacity of our membership to develop individual leadership potential;
  • The CCR has an effective process for resolving concerns and complaints that may arise from members’ experience of unfair, inequitable or oppressive treatment within the CCR;
  • Financial and human resources are sought to support the CCR’s commitment to anti-oppression;
  • A process is put into place to develop policies and practices that promote anti-oppression, and to implement, periodically review and improve such policies and practices where necessary.

Pathways to Gender Justice Handbook (htm format)

How does gender affect newcomers’ experience of migration and settlement? What does gender mean? Are only women affected by gender issues? If you work or volunteer in an organization serving newcomers, you may want to deepen your understanding of gender and how it affects the experience of newcomers, in order to better adapt your services to the different realities of immigrant and refugee women and men.

The Canadian Council for Refugees is launching a new tool, the Pathways to Gender Justice Handbook, that aims at enhancing the capacity of organizations to use a gender-based approach in their work with newcomers. The Handbook is a practical guide that can be used in different areas of an organization, such as governance, management and direct services.

Significant attention has been paid to gender in recent decades, but there is still a need within the immigrant and refugee serving sector to better understand gender issues and to effectively apply a gender-based analysis within the service delivery framework. A gender-based approach ensures that policies and services are designed, analyzed, implemented and monitored with an appreciation for gender differences. 

Gender roles often change after a person or a family arrives in Canada and these changes affect relationships between women and men, as well as girls and boys. Changes in gender roles can empower some family members, with various possible repercussions for family relationships. Looking at the process of migration and settlement with a “gender lens” may help improve programs, services and policies. However, in order to succeed, a gender-based approach to settlement work needs to involve everyone, including men.

The Handbook was developed by an active Advisory Committee, made up of people from across Canada active in the immigrant and refugee serving sector – most of whom themselves have a refugee or immigrant background. To make it as concrete as possible, the Handbook was piloted by 7 organizations across Canada. The pilot was done with the input and participation of refugee and immigrant women clients of the organizations.

The Handbook is a flexible tool that offers a variety of entry points and encourages organizations to make the process their own. It includes suggestions of self evaluation, action plans, references and examples and can be adapted to different sizes and types of organizations across Canada. The Handbook’s approach is to use open questions that can help organizations find their own pathway to gender justice. For example, the following questions are included regarding case intervention:  

  • What are our assumptions about why our intervention is needed?
  • Who benefits from our intervention? Why?
  • Whose needs are not being addressed? Why? How can those needs be met?
  • Who is excluded? Why?  What can be done about it?
  • Will our intervention lead to greater/lesser/same levels of equity? In the short term? In the long term?

The Handbook was developed with an understanding that different forms of oppression intersect and create different experiences of the migration and settlement process. Power in relationships also plays a special role in shaping newcomer experiences. For example, when a service user enters a settlement agency for the first time, the following factors should be considered by staff, as they affect the settlement process: family dynamics, domestic violence, mental health before/after migration; race; status in Canada; surviving rape, torture and crimes against humanity, among others.

“Solitude can be a heavy burden, especially for women who find themselves at home with small children, without the opportunity to learn English, build a new social network. They often do not want to burden family members back home with their emotional struggles in Canada.”

“There needs to be more programs for men and how to look at the cultural differences. Men need help in looking at the changing roles.”

The Pathways to Gender Justice Handbook is available on the CCR website at  

You can also order copies from the CCR using the order form

The Handbook complements the CCR’s Pathways to Gender Justice Toolkit, also available online at . The Toolkit, launched in 2006, is a reference document that includes background information, theory and exercises about gender analysis.

The project to develop the Handbook received funding from the Women’s Program, Status of Women Canada.