Some stories of women accepted under the
Immigration and Refugee Board Gender Guidelines
I am a single mother from Fiji. My son is in his early teens. I am of Indian descent. Indians in Fiji are a minority and they have historically been mistreated by Native Fijians. After the May 2000 coup in Fiji, I came to Canada to claim refugee status because I no longer felt safe in Fiji where I lived alone with my son. I had separated from my husband who was an alcoholic and used to beat me regularly. After the coup, I was sexually assaulted in public by a gang of Native Fijians who nearly raped me. I suffered threats to my life from Native men who took advantage of women in the state of lawlessness. The police in Fiji would not help me and there was no one to turn to for protection.
I came to Canada because I knew that my son and I would be safe here. When I arrived here I was in a bad emotional state. There was also a man in Canada who harassed me and threatened to get me deported if I did not sleep with him; this man called Immigration Canada and told lies about me. When I reported the man to the Canadian police, they immediately responded to my calls for help and provided me their cell phone numbers and other support. This reaction by the Canadian police was so different from the police in Fiji who did nothing to help me. Even though I am living as a single mother in Canada, I feel safe here because I know that the police will protect me.
Experiencing my refugee claim in Canada also made me a stronger woman.
Whenever I felt depressed, hopeless and scared, my lawyer always encouraged
me and gave me the strength to stay positive. I was initially scared to
testify at my refugee hearing, but when I actually did it and I won, I
felt the strongest that I had ever felt in my life. Everyone at my refugee
hearing was so good and understanding with me. I now live free of all fears,
and I feel strong to do whatever I want. My son is doing well in school.
I am studying for a certificate in long-term care, and I hope to be certified
in May 2003 so that I can give back to the Canadian people as thanks for
all that they have done for me. God Bless this country.
Lila was a journalist in Iran, interested particularly in arts, especially film. Along with a friend, she worked on a documentary film project interviewing prostitutes. The film, made without official permission, explored how economic problems caused by government policies force girls and young women to sell their bodies. Making the film was dangerous because those who talk about women’s rights risk being labelled as against God. In 2002, Lila was invited to come to Canada to present an unedited version of the documentary. After she had spoken publicly of the way women’s rights are abused in Iran, friends warned her that it would be dangerous to return to Iran. She already faced threats of jail because of an article she had written that spoke of the restrictions on women’s freedom.
At first Lila didn’t know what to do, but she was put in touch with a community organization which helped her to find a lawyer and supported her through the refugee claim process. She was recognized as a refugee in January 2003.
Lila is now going to English classes daily and working on a project
to make a film about Iranian immigrant women living in Canada. She is committed
to continuing to fighting for the rights of Iranian women and for the end
of oppressive government in the name of religion.
Ana [not her real name] first came to Canada in 1991 to live with her fiancé. The same year, Ana gave birth to her daughter. The family began the immigration process together, and in 1993, they were married. During the following years, she and her daughter were verbally and physically abused. Ana’s husband kept her official documents from her, controlling every aspect of her life. She fled to Mexico where he followed her, threatening to take away her child if she didn’t come back to Canada. Ana writes, "In Mexico there is no protection for abused women, there is no law protecting women from spousal abuse. The police do not intervene…" Her husband’s family spoke with her employer canceling her work contract in Mexico so she returned with him to Canada.
In 1995, after she was brutally beaten, Ana again decided to leave and called the Canadian police, who were able to protect her from her husband. "I believe that he is afraid of the Canadian police in a way that he is not of the Mexican police." Ana’s confidence in the Canadian justice system was further strengthened when a restraining order was placed on her husband.
Her immigration and legal work status unstable, Ana, filed a refugee claim in 1996, because she did not feel safe to go back to Mexico. "I feel protected here in Canada while I do not in Mexico."
In 1997 Ana was accepted as convention refugee. She is now a Canadian
citizen living with her daughter, safely protected from her ex-husband.
I am a refugee woman from Ukraine. In Ukraine, I was threatened, beaten and raped by fascist-like nationalists because I was married to a man who was a member of a minority ethnic group. The nationalists insisted that I leave my husband or they would continue to attack me and my daughters. The nationalists attacked me while I was pregnant because they wanted to prevent me from bearing more ethnic minority children. When I reported things to the police, they twisted everything around and accused me of being a prostitute and inviting the attackers. The police in my country won’t believe anything that a woman says because they still believe that any sexual assault is the woman’s fault.
Just prior to coming to Canada, I was brutally beaten and raped. I was so traumatized that I wanted to leave my child in Canada for protection and then commit suicide. However, shortly after arriving here, I found a counselling centre for traumatized women; this kind of support centre for women is unheard of in my own country. The counselling centre gave me hope and strength to survive.
I was extremely scared to testify at my refugee hearing, especially
since the decision maker was a man and I had never been in a court before.
My refugee hearing was very long, but everyone treated me very gently and
understood what I was going through. I won my refugee claim and I am now
taking English lessons, continuing with counselling and waiting for my
husband and the rest of my family to join me in Canada.
I am an African woman who fled my country of origin because I feared being forced to undergo my tribal custom of female circumcision (female genital mutilation). In my tribe, a woman cannot marry until she has been circumcised. I had witnessed other girls and women in my tribe undergo the immense pain of female circumcision which was performed with unsterile knives, an iron sheet or a razor without any anesthesia. I strongly disagree with female circumcision and I consider it a gross violation of my physical and emotional integrity as a woman. Prior to fleeing to Canada, tribal clansmen harassed me and assaulted me because of my resistance to female circumcision. My tribe had also arranged that, after my circumcision, I would marry a man whom I did not even know.
I came to Canada because I needed protection from being forced to undergo female circumcision and from being forced to marry a man whom I did not know. Although there are some laws against female circumcision in my country, they are minimal and, for the most part, not enforced because of the over-riding strength of tribal custom. The police could not protect me in my country because they were more influenced by custom than by law.
Canada is a country that has great respect for women’s rights. I feel independent, free and safe in Canada. I never felt this way as a woman under the control of customary law in my own country. Everyday, I thank God for the goodness of the people in Canada.
My dream in Canada is to become a nurse. I already have a healthcare
certificate and I have already helped many Canadian patients. I have
also been accepted to a university in Canada where I will be pursuing a
Shakila is a single Afghan woman, Hazara ethnic origin and a Shia Muslim. She used to live in Kabul with her mother and a brother. Two other siblings were already married. After completing her schooling in1990, she started to work as a nurse. During 1992, after the arrival of the Mujaheedin, the general insecurity increased in Kabul and Shakila’s house was attacked by rockets. The Mujaheedin started to target minorities (women were raped and men were killed). Shakila’s family fled to Mazar-e-sharif in the north of Afghanistan where Shakila continued her work with a NGO. In late1998, when the Taliban captured Mazar-e-sharif, Shakila’s brother was taken away by the Taliban. She has not seen him since. Many Hazaras felt persecuted because the Taliban considered them infidels. Shakila and her mother, along with many other people from her community, fled once again. Without fully knowing where they were going, they spent a month walking or taking a bus through mountains and deserted areas. Finally she and her mother arrived in Pakistan with another family. Her mother became very ill during the period of flight and she lost her life within two weeks of arrival in Pakistan. Shakila felt very vulnerable as a young woman especially in Peshawar where she was not allowed to walk alone without a male protection.
In 2000, Shakila came to Canada where she was accepted as a refugee. She was very happy that the system acknowledged her vulnerability as a woman and gives her much needed protection.
Shakila took English classes and just last year she started to study
nursing again. She is alone and does feel safe after a long journey of
pain and many losses. She hopes one day to meet her other siblings who
are refugees in the region.
In 1999 a young woman from Mali came to Canada as a student. While still
here she was informed by her parents that a marriage had been arranged.
Not only was this to be a polygamous marriage but, prior to the marriage,
she was also to undergo FGM, from which her mother had courageously shielded
and her two sisters as children. When she refused to return home her school
funding was cut off. The young woman made a refugee claim and was recognized
without a full hearing. Before the family realized that their eldest daughter
would not return home the second daughter also arrived to study at the
same school. As there were no immediate plans for her marriage she did
not initiate a claim until she got into a relationship with a Christian
man and found herself pregnant. By this time the youngest daughter, through
some skillful maneuvering by the mother, had also arrived at the school.
She was now the intended bride of the man who had been rejected by the
elder sister. Both sisters made refugee claims, the second one having given
birth to a girl-child, and were recognized as Convention refugees. Currently
the older sister is working at a nursing home, the second one is married
with two daughters and the youngest is attending university. The three
sisters and two little girls have been spared the practice of FGM.
A woman from Sri Lanka was brutally violated while her husband was detained
for political reasons. She did not even tell her husband of the attack.
Their first, politically based, claim in Canada was denied. After three
months in the USA they returned to make a second claim; this time a severed
claim in which she was able to disclose her personal horror. She was recognized,
enabling the entire family to become permanent residents.
A professional young woman from Ukraine married a foreign student from
Africa and had a son. The racism they experienced intensified the abusiveness
of her husband. They went to Africa where she found herself isolated and
within an extremely patriarchal society. Back in Ukraine her son was subjected
to increasing racism. They came to Canada under the live-in caregiver program
where she laboured as a virtually unpaid servant for their keep. She eventually
managed to get to the city where she found an advocate and was later recognized
as a Convention Refugee. Her son is now in his teens, while she is comfortably
employed and is a rising local artist.
Also recognized as Convention refugees were:
- two sisters from Trinidad who were being abused by their father
- an older woman from Guyana who had endured years of spousal abuse
- a young woman from Nicaragua who escaped from her abusive, military spouse
- a woman from Argentina who had been sexually abused by her father
- a woman from El Salvador who was targeted and sexually violated due to her husband’s political activities