Standing Up for Immigrant Women – Ryerson Graduate Student Vathsala Illesinghe


Canadian immigration policies not only make women vulnerable to violence in their private lives but also keep them entrapped in it. You need to make policy level changes if you want to change the conditions that we are creating for these women. My interest in the area of violence against women began at the time I was working as a doctor in an urban slum area in Colombo. At the time that I started this work violence against women was a stigmatized topic. Nobody was talking about it. It was not acceptable for a woman to come out and say I have been abused at home. In my clinic there was a place for them to come and tell me about their problems. I was inspired then to do something that was bigger and broader than just treating people individually when they would seek services. Out of the number of pathways to immigration, one is based on your skills and work experience. In that system, you would receive a number of points based on the years of work the years of education, age and so on. The majority of women from the Global South do not apply as primary applicants, mainly because the type of work and the education that they have is not valued in the points-based immigration system. So they are more likely to apply as sponsored spouses. So imagine the case of an abusive relationship. Leaving an abusive relationship is difficult under the best of circumstances. But for somebody who is in a precarious situation, that becomes even harder. So it creates these conditions of vulnerability by creating gender-inequitable conditions. The PhD in Policy Studies, as an interdisciplinary program, encourages us to go out into the community, to look for way in which we can improve the experiences of others. I was truly honoured to become the first Pierre Elliott Trudeau Scholar at Ryerson University in 2017. At Ryerson, I have experienced a diverse and inclusive environment. For somebody like me, a newcomer who has come to this country and trying to find my place, I’ve seen an environment that allows me to feel accepted and welcomed.

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