For newcomers to Canada, starting from scratch is a test of fortitude. But doing so in a pandemic has brought a new set of challenges for women who have been tasked with navigating an even more uncertain job market.
On Monday, Windsor resident Anthonia Abimbola Aborode was honoured by Women’s Enterprise Skills Training of Windsor (WEST), an employment organization that has been working to help immigrant women find employment of their choosing.
It held a virtual networking gala on International Women’s Day to bring together women of all walks of life who are hoping to find work or gain skills to help them enter the workforce.
Aborode spoke about her struggle to become an accountant in Canada after immigrating to Canada from Nigeria in 2012. In 2017, she was able to fulfil her dream while juggling being a mother of three young children, in part due to initiatives offered by WEST that allowed her to complete stepping-stone programs to becoming an accountant.
Aborode wanted to inspire those struggling during the pandemic saying, “not to give up and that with hard work, dedication and commitment you can make it.”
WEST was created in 1984 to address high levels of unemployment among women in Windsor-Essex and obstacles in entering the workforce. It offers programs and workshops like English classes, computer training and citizenship test preparation.
Joan Simpson, an organizer with WEST, said that the group felt the event earlier this week was necessary during a time where people are unable to meet physically.
“It’s an opportunity for us to showcase their assets and their resilience — and that is something that we focus on for International Women’s Day, because oftentimes, we hear so many things about the barriers that they have once they get here,” she said.
Gurpreet Chana, another organizer with WEST, notes that the group has been able to help over 200 women find work during the pandemic.
“Last year was very hard for us to help clients find employment since many were being laid off. Despite those challenges, we were able to find many women employment into the careers they wanted,” she said.
Simpson said that what helped WEST achieve this was the continued support of partnerships in the community that recognized immigrant women were a vulnerable population when it came to job loss.
Challenges facing newcomer women
With issues like accommodations for childcare, immigrant women often have to face additional cultural, linguistic and financial barriers in trying to create a new life for themselves and their family.
Simpson notes that sometimes women deal with different family obligations that make it difficult to put their own education and training first.
“We have language classes here at WEST and we find that the females are sort of the last person to be considered in regards to their learning. They’re more likely to worry about making sure that they have the tablets or the computer for their children to be able to do virtual learning,” she said.
WEST also found that many immigrant women were laid off from positions that were already precarious and tended to pay lower than other industries. Chana said the organization has been working with women who were small business owners and also lost jobs in retail, beauty and tourism.
“But we’ve also helped women find employment in different fields like manufacturing and work from home jobs,” Chana said, in explaining how skills re-training has also played a big role in helping immigrant women bounce back from job loss.
How many women have lost work during the pandemic?
Federally, overall employment decreased for women who had immigrated to Canada within the last five years, with unemployment now at 14.4 per cent.
On Monday, the federal government announced a new task force to help address financial precarity among women. It will be dedicated to tackling issues surrounding what many have dubbed the “she-cession” because of the way women have been disproportionately impacted economically.
Locally, Simpson said that Windsor-Essex has to be proactive when it comes to creating an environment that is inclusive and supports women of all backgrounds who are new to the country.
“We want to be able to provide for our families,” she said. “We want to be able to go all the way with our careers and our goals. We want to be a part of change.So if the doors are open, I would say Windsor-Essex, allow us to come in.”