Immigrant Women – a Different Perspective


This post is by Leigh Naturkach:

Every day in my role at the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), I hear stories of women and girls facing sometimes unimaginable situations, particularly issues around poverty, violence and trafficking. 

At CWF we support programs that work to free Canada’s most vulnerable women from these situations so they can lead healthy lives and have the choices and opportunities that many of us already have.

I met one of our program participants, Maria Christina, who, a few years previously, was forced to flee her home country of Columbia with her family.  When she came to Canada, things got worse.  Maria’s marriage fell apart, and she was left to raise two boys knowing little English and having no family, friends or networks.  She soon found herself in challenging financial circumstances, struggling to find ways to support herself and her children.

Maria Christina’s story is not uncommon.  Women find themselves in poverty for reasons that can happen to any of us – violence, illness, divorce, multiple family and domestic responsibilities, job loss and immigration

One in seven women in Canada are living in poverty.  Of the programs we supported at CWF that worked with low-income women in 2003-2008, 39% of participants were immigrant or refugee women, just like Maria. 

In addition, according to Statistics Canada, “…immigrant women, tend to have low incomes despite their usually higher levels of education than Canadian-born women. In 2000, the average income of immigrant women aged 15 and over was just 64% of that of their male counterparts.”*

Maria found hope in a self-employment training program funded by CWF.  These programs look at the whole woman and her unique circumstances, skills, and strengths and provide the skills, resources, and confidence they need to transform their lives.  The programs also provide other key supports like childcare and transportation, which are crucial to ensure completion. 

Women like Maria are the key to their own success and bring the same entrepreneurial strengths despite their wide array of interests, skills, expectations, and aspirations.  They all bring personal strength, persistence, and a desire to change their lives to support themselves and their families. 

Maria worked hard and developed the skills she needed to start her own jewellery business, and now runs it successfully with her mother as a partner.  The confidence she built has also given her the resiliency she needs to face any fears, doubts, or future setbacks.  This confidence is one of the most important things that the women develop through this process.

One of the best parts of my job is hearing inspiring stories of success like Maria’s, women who just need a hand up, not a hand out, to start their own journey to a better life.

We know that investing in women like Maria also creates a ripple effect.  Not only does a woman learn the skills to stand on her own feet financially, she becomes an amazing example for her children and other women.  As well, over 35% of women who completed our programs went on to take community leadership roles and give back, while still working on their own journey to a better life.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation believes in women helping women build better futures for themselves and for those around them.  Through every day and large scale personal development, philanthropy, mentorship, and volunteering, the women I work with are truly an inspiration in making the world a better place.

About CWF
Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF) is Canada’s only national public foundation dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls. CWF researches, shares, and funds the most promising approaches to ending violence against women, moving low-income women out of poverty, and empowering girls with confidence, courage, and critical thinking skills. Ranked as one of the five largest women’s foundations in the world, CWF has raised over $32 million and supported more than 1,000 programs across Canada.  For more information, visit


Leigh Naturkach has a B.A.A. from Ryerson University, and worked for seven years in the television industry primarily in marketing.  Her volunteer work in women’s advocacy led Leigh to change career path to the non-profit sector in 2008.  She is now a Development Manager with the Canadian Women’s Foundation.  To contact Leigh, email her at

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