The Canadian immigration policy has for many years been the envy of many westernized countries. Canada’s multiculturalism policy has thus far thought to be very successful in serving as an aide to these newly arrived citizens. Sadly, with the change of the Canadian immigration policy for newly arrived and landed immigrants, we are only now starting to see more and more examples of the gender and economic inequalities and stratification that are occurring towards these immigrants as a result of their race, colour and ethnic origin.
The new emerging victims of these policies, which are primarily immigrant women, are struggling to cope within this system against the clear forces of gender inequality which are working against them. Feminists argue that this is primarily due to their gender. In order to save money, the Canadian government has cut back on many of the services and programs for these women and then because of language barriers, familial problems and adjustment issues, many of them have no where to turn.
Many of these new immigrant women, though professionals in their country of origin, often rely on low wage jobs in order to help provide a living for themselves in Canada as a result of not having the language capabilities or financial situation necessary to procure these high level positions. Unable to upgrade their skills to learn English, these women take those so-called “McJobs”, in order to survive, making them again clear victims of gender inequality, apparent to the feminist position.
Sometimes, they are unable to find work at all; leaving them stuck at home, their role primarily domestic and thus leading them to having primarily this identity of homemaker. Thus, by examining the feminist position on women and work and applying it to the situations faced by immigrant woman in Canada, I will demonstrate the pronounced gender inequalities faced by these women in Canadian society solely because of the fact that they are women. What is Gender and What does it have to do with working women?
Unlike sex which is a biological concept, the concept of gender is socially constructed, specifying the socially and culturally prescribed roles that men and women are to follow. According to Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, gender is the “costume, a mask, a straitjacket in which men and women dance their unequal dance” (p. 238). Lerner argues that the subordination of women preceded all other subordinations and that to rid ourselves of all of those other “isms”–racism, classism, ageism, etc. –it is sexism that must first be eradicated.
Women have always had lower status than men, but the extent of the gap between the sexes has varied across cultures and time (some arguing that it is inversely related to social evolution). In 1980, the United Nations summed up the burden of this inequality: “Women, who comprise half the world’s population, do two thirds of the world’s work, earn one tenth of the world’s income and own one-one hundredth of the world’s property. “(Stapleton, 2001: 7). Feminists believe that this holds true in the work world also, where women are often subjugated solely based on their gender.
In 1999, Stats Can released findings that found “… working women in Canada earned approximately 77% of what men made. “(Stapleton, 2001:7). Women tend to be employed mainly in low-wage occupations and industries, this tends many occupations to be “sex-segregated” (Brym, 2003:274) Occupational sex segregation occurs when men or women are highly concentrated in some occupations. An example of this could be day-care workers or secretarial staff. Feminists also believe that women’s work is valued less than men’s because “it is viewed as involving fewer skills” (Brym, 2003:275).
An example of this is teaching young children and the low wages associated with this position. Socialist feminists go farther and state that “the economic and sexual oppression of woman finds its roots in capitalism” (Brym, 2003:282). They believe that this is mainly due to class. The fact that lower class working women, they argue, such as immigrant women are often too poor to take advantage of the few opportunities available to women, emphasizes the point to which they are marginalized in society. Immigrant Women and Inequality in Canada
This statement of marginalization put forth by socialist feminists, still holds true in Canada, where immigrant women are often forced to work if they can find work, while their male counterparts often attend school. This results in “… low paying jobs and stress” (Stapleton 2001: 3) for these women as they must quickly adapt to the new working world, and to a new language as well. Married women, often at a cost to themselves are also in this predicament as “… their husbands are sent to school, while they find work, if they can find any work at all. ” (Stapleton, 2001:3).
Immigrant women in Canada have a higher unemployment rate than men at 21%, while that of men is 14 %( Man and Preston, 2002:1). Many feel the marginalization of immigrant women is unexpected in Canada as due to the immigration policy put forth by the Canadian government, they now have: … pursued a highly selective immigration policy that means recent immigrants are better educated than the average Canadian, the majority arriving with some knowledge of English or French, and increasingly, immigrants are selected on the basis of their skills, work experience and financial esources. (Man and Preston, 2002: 1). Despite having high levels of education, the unemployment rates for recently immigrated women who have come to Canada do not decline even with higher education as is the case with Canadian born women. (Stapleton, 2001:5) In fact the persistency of the unemployment rates within these immigrant groups also indicate that immigrant women earn less than immigrant men and also both Canadian born women and men (Stapleton, 2001:5), thus emphasizing the marginalization put forth by the socialist feminist position.
This trend was also apparent in the 1980s in Canada. Today, the employer’s preference for hiring men, finding suitable work hours and lack of support from family members often force these women to either not participate in the labour market or to gain employment in low-paying jobs, putting these women often in a lower class. Even when immigrant women find employment with suitable work hours for them, many women report that “… their husbands and children were shocked by the loss of status and authority that they[the immigrant women] experienced when they took poorly paid service jobs… (Man and Preston, 2002:8). The conflicting and changing gender roles of these women also contribute to the gender inequalities present in Canadian society. The fact that many new immigrant women depended on family members and paid servants to take care of their families and housework in their home country, while they worked, leads many women now to assume the “… unfamiliar roles of homemaker, employee, wife and mother. “(Man and Preston, 2002:8).
Isolated from family members and unable to afford domestic help, these women struggle to accommodate the changes of paid work and domestic responsibilities all on their own without the help of their partner, solely because it is “their responsibility because they are women”(Man and Preston, 2002:8). The loss of status and class also leads to high levels of depression for these women, as many of them are now “dependant on the welfare system” (Man and Preston, 2002: 9), as stated by feminists.
Guida Man and Valerie Preston conducted a study on the employment experiences of Asian immigrant women in Canada. Their subject’s complaints all matched as they complained of the wastefulness of the Canadian immigration policy that encourages professional women to immigrate, “… and then later upon arrival is not able to fully utilize the skills of these women” (Man and Preston, 2002:9). All women also reported that their male counterparts found it even easier gaining interviews than they did (Man and Preston, 2002:9).
In order then to gain the critical “Canadian experience” necessary for these employers these highly qualified women had to take whatever jobs they could find. Many immigrant women used to prior independence also feel the need to find employment quickly in order to “not be dependent on their husbands or the welfare system” (Man and Preston, 2002:10). The overqualification factor for these women still results in many of them working “… mainly in the restaurant and beverage industry, retailing and the garment industry” (Stapleton, 2001:7).
The adaptation process to a new identity can often be a difficult one as many new immigrant women are left to deal with these challenges on their own. Many of the immigrant women in the Man and Preston study reported that their husbands were educated before they were even though their husbands had expressed the desire that their wives take English classes before themselves as they had an advanced knowledge of the English language. As one immigrant woman stated of her experience in 1998:
She [immigration officer] told me I could not go to school to learn English. That my place was at home taking care of my children and to go find a job, whatever it may be quickly. She told me in Canada that when people come from another country, the government wants the man to learn proper English before his wife because usually it is the husband that is hired in the better job and not the wife. She can go to school later, if there is time and money. (Man and Preston, 2002:7)
The irony of the situation above is that it is these exact policies which bring immigrant women to Canada, but which at the same time it keeps them from moving upwards in the very same country which encouraged them to immigrate. The sad part is that all these women are being marginalized solely due to the fact that they are women. How are they to gain the necessary language skills if they cannot take language lessons? How are they to integrate themselves if they do not have the necessary skills in order to do so?
Many of these immigrant women immigrating to large metropolitan areas such as Toronto or Vancouver find employment within their ethnic community. This is also not a good alternative as the women gain no exposure to Canadian society or languages. These jobs are mostly all retail, but allow the woman at the same time some form of bonding within their ethnic communities. Many of the women in the Man and Preston study reported this was a more viable, comfortable and working solution for them as they were surrounded by “their own people”(Man and Preston, 2002:9).
But at the same time the language skills of these women did not develop as quickly as those who had been employed in the larger society (Man and Preston, 2002:10). In fact they found that their English language skills closely resembled the skills they possessed upon arrival in Canada and they were still earning extremely low wages (Man and Preston, 2002, 10). Although centres have been started primarily catered to immigrant women, these same centers find themselves overburdened as they are too few to deal with the overwhelming needs of these newly arrived citizens.
The result is then that major policy changes to our immigration system must be made in order to combat the alarming inequalities which present themselves to these women, in order for them to successfully integrate themselves within Canadian society. Summary: What did I talk about? Gender inequalities have plagued women for centuries. Working women often have a harder time balancing responsibilities, as point out socialist feminists because of the many roles which they need to juggle and complete because of the relations between the two genders.
With immigrant women, this idea must be taken a step further as new identities and gender roles must be learned and adopted in order to integrate successfully into their new country. In Canada, immigrant women are marginalized in the area of employment largely due to the issue of gender. Not having the necessary language skills, these women are often forced to take jobs in the low paying service sector. Through presenting many examples above of this marginalization, I have attempted to show that this is indeed happening at an alarming rate in Canada and that policy changes need to occur soon if there is to be any hope for these women.
Conclusion: What did I leave out? In general it can be said in Canada that immigrants are a marginalized group. In my paper though, I focused primarily on the immigrant woman as she by studies completed, tends to be marginalized more so than her male counterpart. Also on this topic, could be applied the concepts of race and colour, as many minority women reported that this is also a factor in attaining employment (Man and Preston, 2002: 22).
Sadly, the lack of time and space meant that I had to generalize and take these women and write on them as a group. Also to this topic could be applied the marginalization of the immigrant woman who has been here for many years, compared to the newly arrived immigrant woman. Though studies have been completed in this area, much more can and should be done as the blatant inequalities occurring towards these women is not disappearing and it is not something which should remain hidden.