Red Shawl study to probe job barriers for immigrant women

August 3, 2015

By John Stewart, Mississauga News |

MISSISSAUGA – An $81,000 grant to Mississauga’s Red Shawl organization, announced over the weekend on the eve of the federal election call, will be used to break down the barriers to economic stability that plague so many immigrant women settling in Peel region.

“This will be all about income assessment and helping women who come here earn money, start a business, and become entrepreneurs,” Zari Gill, the founder of Red Shawl said shortly after the grant was announced Saturday.

The two-year-old organization’s motto is “engaging women to make a difference.” It chose the red shawl as its symbol to denote the the importance of women sharing and caring for each other for mutual benefit and security.

Mississauga-Streetsville MP Brad Butt and Minister of Status of Women Dr. Kellie Leith made the early morning announcement at the Gateway Centre for New Canadians on Wolfedale Rd.

Gill, recognized earlier this year by the United Nations as one of 60 global champions of women’s economic empowerment, said there’s an influx of 34,000 people a year in Peel Region, many of them South Asians. “About 33 per cent of women who are recent immigrants live in poverty,” she noted.

“This grant means that those women will get a chance to maximize their potential.”

The money is being provided to a project with the cumbersome title of “Closing the Gap For Women in Peel: A Gender-based Analysis of Income Security and Economic Prospects.”

In an interview, Gill said part of the money will go to hire a gender-based analysis expert.

There are cultural, as well as economic barriers to newcomer success, the Mississauga resident emphasized.

“Some cultures do not encourage women to be open, as we are in Canada.”

Asked for an example of how family and cultural traditions can be inhibiting factors to employment, Gill cited the fact that women raised in other countries may be uncomfortable in an office setting of mixed genders.

“Some women don’t feel safe out by themselves and do not sit in a taxicab by themselves,” she said. “If she doesn’t drive and she has to go places for training or programs, then she may not call a taxi. We may find that access to transportation is one of the problems, one of the reasons women do not access (employment training) programs.”

In many cases, women coming to Canada are highly educated and well-trained, with the ready capacity to start companies and create jobs that will significantly benefit local economies.

When immigrant women secure jobs, not only do their families fare better economically, but they have better social and health outcomes as well, Gill said.

The project, which includes a statistical analysis, will produce recommendations for action which will likely be presented at a symposium of Red Shawl’s local community partners, such as the Gateway Centre where the press event was held.

The former director of infectious diseases for World Vision International said the intent of the academic study is to create recommendations, “set out in plain language that will put people into jobs.”

In an interview, Minister Leitch said that needs assessment, such as that being undertaken by the grant, is the foundation of job creation. “This will provide the opportunity to empower women in Mississauga to start a business, develop the skills to start a business or grow a business,” she said.

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