Immigration: Kingston Immigrant Women’s Network
by Christina Chant
Kingston’s Immigrant Women’s Network, part of Immigrant Services Kingston and Area (ISKA), was established in November 2006, and is currently funded by both Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Kingston Community Health Centres. The network, together with Immigrant Services Kingston and Area, helps women with all aspects of their settlement in Canada.
The network supports isolated immigrant women, with or without children, and is designed to provide a space in which they can socialize, share stories, and establish long-term supportive friendships. It also provides services such as childcare (for women who meet the Immigration Settlement and Adaptation Program (ISAP) requirements) and one-to-one meetings to help women work through their immigration forms.
Since its beginning, the network has attracted a diverse membership, including women from countries such as India, Germany, China, Niger, Senegal, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Korea, and Zimbabwe.
Christinah Kutama, who has run the network since 2007, is keen to dispel the myth that the network is only for women who do not speak English. She emphasises that the Immigrant Women’s Network is for all immigrant women, and points out that the addition of English-speaking members would be very beneficial for the group, giving other women a chance to practice their English in a relaxed and comfortable environment.
The network meets on the second and fourth Monday of every month, from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m, in the Immigrant Services Kingston and Area (ISKA) office at 400 Elliot Avenue. Christinah acknowledges that transportation to the meetings is one of the biggest challenges the network faces. While the network is able to provide transport in emergency situations they are not funded to cover transportation to and from meetings.
In response to this challenge, Christinah has taken the network on the road on a number of occasions, holding workshops in the central downtown offices of Kingston Employment Services (KEYS), and in the An Clachan Apartment Complex of Queen’s University. Many of the women living in the An Clachan Apartments have arrived in Canada with spouses who are studying at Queen’s University. Changes in CIC regulations now mean these women, as the spouse or common-law partner of a full-time student at a Canadian institution, are eligible for an open work permit. However, as Christinah points out, a language barrier often prevents the women from finding employment.
The Immigrant Women’s Network also offers a wide range of workshops. Immigrant women who have successfully established themselves as entrepreneurs in Kingston have visited the network to discuss setting up businesses, and the network has also welcomed guest speakers from organizations such as the Native Friendship Centre, the Children’s Aid Society, and Kingston Interval House.
Occasionally they will organize a special event, for which additional meetings are required. The latest special event was a colourful Multicultural Fashion Show to celebrate International Women’s Day, and there are more ideas for future events in the pipeline. Christinah is also keen for one of the woman to volunteer to co-facilitate the network meetings. Although this has been something they have tried to establish in the past, the idea has not fully flourished before. This time Christinah is hopeful that a confident co-facilitator will emerge, and that the women themselves will be able to take more control of the network – an outcome that would be representative of another step in these women’s journeys towards a happy and successful settlement in Canada.