On this International Women’s Day, conversations are ongoing about the role of women in societies of the past, about how things are now, and what they should look like in the future.
As the CEO of the largest immigrant-serving organization with a gender-specific mandate in Canada, I reflect on these issues every day and am thankful for the progress that has been made to date and the success stories that give us reason to celebrate.
I am all too aware of the progress that has not yet been made and how some of the barriers that immigrant women faced a generation ago are still in place today.
As the leader of the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association, an organization with a 40-year presence in the community, our reach and impact have been immense.
Although our mission may have changed over the years, we have never veered from our vision of empowering immigrant women and thereby enriching Canadian society. Throughout the years, we have been able to recognize, respond to and focus on the unique concerns and needs of immigrant and refugee women, girls, and their families through customized service delivery that includes more than 55 programs and services in 90+ community locations across the city.
All of this history and these services allow us to help thousands of new Calgarians every year. This past year alone, almost 12,000 clients’ lives were impacted through CIWA.
Moving the dial on breaking down barriers for women
Even though we’ve got this amazing track record, there is still a lot of work to be done.
For example, emergency transitional housing supports should be made available to women fleeing abusive situations as shelter capacity across Calgary is very limited. As well, the housing crisis remains prevalent in Calgary with low-income units being a scarcity.
The need for employment training programs and supports for bridging into labour market for newcomer women cannot be overemphasized.
What can we do to move the dial on these barriers?
At CIWA we are acutely aware that in our society not all women start from a level playing field.
For this reason, there is a need for collective activism that is focused on removing as many barriers as possible, whether government institutions, not-for-profit organizations or grassroots agencies, or anyone working towards ensuring that support and resources needed for success are made available.
This is essential to instituting change and building collective resiliency which will ensure equitable access to resources and pathways to successful integration for all.
- Paula Calderon is originally from Colombia and moved to Canada with her family in 2001. Over the last 20 years, inspired by her family’s own immigration journey, she has focused on leading workforce development projects that support the economic integration of newcomers to Canada and has had a progressive career within the immigrant-serving sector. Currently, she is the CEO of the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association, Canada’s largest gender-focused immigrant-serving agency. For the past 40 years, CIWA has supported immigrant and refugee women, girls and their families with more than 55 programs that focus on settlement needs, language and employment training, family matters and much more.