Women’s Day ignores cultural hurdles faced by immigrant women

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Pradip Rodrigues

Last week I attended an event commemorating Women’s Day at Mississauga City Hall hosted by Mayor Bonnie Crombie. In attendance were selected female students from high schools across the city who were invited to ask the guest of honour Premier Kathleen Wynne any questions they chose.

One particular question caught my attention. A Muslim student asked what advice Premier Wynne had for women who felt restricted or scared about pursuing their dreams because of their cultural backgrounds.

Naturally Premier Wynne’s advice included finding a role model and a mentor. She added that young women despite cultural hurdles should feel empowered. Needless to say, this was fair advice for a woman facing hurdles to her dreams and ambition but that advice would be quite useless for an immigrant woman whose culture and religious background expected her to be primarily a homemaker responsible for household duties while also bringing in a paycheck. So while western feminists now set their sights on boardrooms and political office having made enormous strides in other areas, here in Canada there is a large segment of women being ‘oppressed’ by their own families and communities who are urged to find mentors. Who would be their mentors? Chances are it would have to be a female from their own community or male if he happened to be a blood relative. The family would also agree she needs a mentor, ideally her husband!

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Women’s Day has now become a sort of battle cry for a the gender who believe they’ve been liberated from the shackles of male domination. Women everywhere often talk about how emancipating it is to fully participate in the workforce. I don’t know how many women working in a factory warehouse or serving coffee at a fast food drive through would agree.

However here is something that struck me after listening to speeches and reading narratives from highly liberated women and thinking about it all.

There was no mention of helping ‘oppressed’ women in many third world countries and there is a deafening silence on the thousands of such women who fit that feminist definition immigrating to Canada each year. Perhaps feminists should spend some time at Newcomer Centres and talk to some of these new Canadian women and men about their views on feminism and equal rights for women.

The problem is that western feminists rarely acknowledge the cultural and social barriers that prevent many women from third world countries from pursuing their dreams, even when they immigrate to Canada and call themselves ‘Canadian’.

The reason why these women will never get help from Canadian feminists is because they could end up burning their fingers very badly and be accused of racism or cultural insensitivity. It is easier to call out white male privilege than it is to call out 50’s era male chauvinism that exists in many immigrant communities. They also know that finding a mentor for many young women from ethnic backgrounds would be next to impossible. For one that mentor would only have to be female and preferably from the same community. And if that mentor happened to be male it could well turn out to be an uncle or a family friend.

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Many such women are steered into professions and educational streams keeping in mind the end goal- finding a suitable match for marriage. And that is fine as long as the girl is okay with that guidance and isn’t aspiring to attain goals other than to have four to six kids someday.

That brings me to another point. Feminists celebrate women in positions of power and exhort every woman out to go get a job. But what about those women regardless of their cultural background who are simply working to bring home a paycheck? What about those who really hate their jobs but do it anyway because they need to survive? I would say just a tiny percentage of women truly love their jobs, the large majority are simply stuck in dead end jobs that have little job security and a lousy paycheck.

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There are many women who are now pressured to join the workforce and find a great career even though they would much rather raise children and do something creative if they could afford it. Not everyone is cut out for the workplace and not everyone is going to find a satisfying career. It should be okay for western women to opt out of the workplace and be comfortable enough to announce to society that they are proud to be great moms and wives. Because white Canadian women are having fewer babies, ironically we need more immigration to cover the shortfall, the women having children are increasingly non-white and their mothers have the responsibility of bringing into the world and raising Canada’s next generation often at a professional cost.

Meanwhile many ethnic women who may eschew motherhood or the idea of marriage before 25 should be able to tell their families and communities that they want to pursue their dreams and maybe even pursue a particular woman and settle down someday. Western feminists need to make this acceptable by 2020. – CINEWS

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