3. Stop racism/ oppression; make Ontario accessible

If you embrace that oppression is defined as “ the systemic mistreatment of a people or group based on a belief in the innate superiority of one group or idea over another” (1) and that racism is defined as “ a discriminatory system of beliefs and practices that uses race, and ethnicity as a basis for inherent inferiority and systemic, and/or physical or verbal mistreatment” (2) then it is not difficult to fathom that racism and oppression are everyday occurrences for women of colour and non-dominant women in Ontario.

Women’s experiences of oppression based on sex, age, ability, sexual identity, socio-economic status, citizenship and educational background perpetuate sexual violence and women’s inequality.

Racism and oppression in all its forms create ongoing barriers to women’s equality and create conditions that make women experiencing them more vulnerable to all forms of violence against women.

Women’s herstory illustrates inequality of women and among women. Women in Canada won the vote in 1918 but were not recognized as “persons” until 1929. Asian and Indo-Canadians, however, did not get the vote until 1947 and Aboriginal women could not vote until 1960.

Currently, Aboriginal women in Canada are the only women who have a specific set of laws (The Indian Act) that dictates how they must live and that takes away rights that other women in Canada have achieved.  Under immigration laws requiring sponsorship for a designated period, sponsored immigrant women are placed into a legally subservient relationship with their sponsor (usually their male partner or other male family member).

The significance of Step 3 is to connect racism and oppression not only to individual women and groups of women, but also to make visible the experiences of marginalized women, the ongoing prevalence and support of racism and women’s oppression throughout our systems and our government that reduces access and increases the impacts of violence for women in communities marginalized by racism and oppression.

Currently, Canada is not living up to any of its international agreements as they relate to gender equality.  United Nations Conventions related to women, whether the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW), the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women or the Beijing Platform for Action, are not a priority for Canada.  In Canada women represent more than 50% of the population however only approximately 20% of the seats in the House of Commons have women occupants.  According to the UN, Canada ranks 30 in the world in terms of representation of women in Parliament.

It is most challenging to speak of any one type of example of racism and oppression as racism and oppression is deeply rooted in most systems that women navigate in their efforts to lead a non violent existence of equality.

Some examples where racism and oppression support and maintain an inaccessible Ontario include:

  • Women continue to be under represented in the work force; working women continue to be offered low paid, unskilled labor positions that don’t value their true knowledge, education and experience.
  • Despite the recent report by the media that more than 50% of students currently pursuing post secondary studies are women, women’s value, equality and economic worth is still less than a male  in the same position.
  • Women continue to be under housed; discrimination by landlords, arbitrary and racist treatment by developers and government is often not challenged. Housing builders do not consider the needs of people with disabilities and low-income housing is so scarce that women in marginalized communities most hit by poverty and lack of access to jobs are forced to live in sub-standard housing conditions.
  • Women of colour and immigrant women are most vulnerable in having their children being targets by the education and social service systems and seen as unfit parents.
  • Housing segregation of groups of people is often based on the “power” and decision makers’ support of “ghettorization”.  (“Ghettorization: the conscious exploit of segregating members of an ethnic or racial minority group from the larger community.”)(3)
  • Media’s reflection of women continues to suggest and support “stereotypes” of poor, marginalized communities.
  • Women of colour and immigrant women are concentrated in the service and manufacturing sectors.  Many are highly educated but their credentials are not recognized in Canada or not used because they are not hired in their field of skill.
  • Sponsored immigrant and refugee women, mail-order brides, and domestic live-in caregivers are especially vulnerable to abusive relationships, according to CRIAW.
  • Sex trade workers, often immigrant and Aboriginal women as a result of historic oppression and poverty, are at increased risk of violence.
  • Lesbians are subjected to discrimination and often, community hatred.  For some lesbians of colour, the constant struggle against racism has meant that sexual choice has become secondary.
  • Young women in all communities are most at risk of male violence.
  • Women in rural and Northern communities have less access to all services, including police and justice response, housing and welfare, child care, education and health services and women’s support services because of their geographic location.
  • Francophone women have limited access to French language services in Ontario, even in areas designated as areas that should provide French language services under the French Languages Services Act of Ontario.
  • Women with disabilities have a 74% unemployment rate.

What can you do?

  • Fight systemic racism by challenging racial stereotypes and profiling.
  • Challenge oppression that denies women equal access to full participation in all facets of society.
  • Publicly support community groups demanding changes in housing policies, social service, medical and educational access.
  • Demand that participation in the political process be affordable and accessible.
  • Advocate for increased representation of women within all systems.
  • Challenge media representations of marginalized community members and pressure media outlets to be representative of the community
  • Provide information to others around you.  Share the wealth of herstory.
  • Challenge international economic and political structures that foster systemic oppression of women globally and locally.

Some facts:

  • More than 500 Aboriginal women are missing in Canada, presumed dead and no one is searching for them because they are Aboriginal.  The Manitoba Justice Inquiry said of the killing of Helen Betty Osborne: “There is one fundamental fact: her murder was a racist and sexist act.  Betty Osborne would be alive today had she not been an Aboriginal woman.”(4)
  • Canadian Census data from 2001 shows how racism and oppression affect women’s equality with men and with each other.

Average annual earnings for all Canadian men: $36,865

Visible minority men: $28,929

Men with disabilities: $26,890

Average for all Canadian women: $22,885

Aboriginal men: $21,958

Visible minority women: $20,043

Women with disabilities: $17,230

Aboriginal women: $16,519

  • According to a DAWN Ontario study, an estimated 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually abused in their lifetime.
  • Homicide data indicates that between 1974 and 2000, older women were at higher risk of spousal homicide than older men. More than half (52%) of the older women who were victims of family homicide were killed by their spouses, compared to one-quarter (25%) of older men victims of family homicide. (Abuse of Older Adults: A fact sheet from the Department of Justice Canada)
  • Rosemary Brown was the first black woman in the history of Canada to be elected to a provincial parliament—in 1972.  It was only in 1974 that the first woman was elected leader of a provincial party.  Jean Augustine was the first black woman to be elected to the Parliament of Canada—in 1993.

More resources:

  • Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW) Fact Sheets on Immigrant and Refugee Women, Women’s Experiences of Racism, Building Intersectional Feminist Frameworks for Social Policy Development.
  • DisAbled Women’s Network of Ontario (DAWN)
  • Ethno Racial People with Disabilities Coalition of Ontario (ERDCO)
  • Doing so much with so little…Overview and profile of French-language violence against women services (1994-2004), Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes, 2004.


  1. Adapted from the Cultural Competency Handbook for students compiled by R. Degano and Dr. M. Disman for the Dept of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Canada: Stolen Sisters, Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada, A Summary of Amnesty International’s Concerns.

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