Thursday, November 24, 2016

#WS3330F Blog Post #17: Allie Phillips - Eritrean Refugee Women in Canada

For Eritrean refugee women in Canada, their transition into Canadian society is marked by employment concerns, isolation and loneliness, and changes in gender dynamics. Political unrest and severe droughts in Eritrea have caused massive economic decline, resulting in nearly half of the population living in extreme poverty. Starvation, forced military conscription and extreme subordination of women have resulted in a refugee crisis. The majority of Eritrean refugees came to Canada in the 1980s to escape the violence and oppression of their war-torn country. For refugee women in particular, their experience as refugees was marked with additional threats of sexual assault and exploitation. Resulting from their subordinated status in Eritrea, many women arrived in Canada with low levels of education and English proficiency. With many women coming to Canada as family sponsors, this negatively impacted their eligibility to access government programs to increase their education and improve their English proficiency. As a result, women experienced employment concerns, often being forced into low paying service sector jobs. Lack of adequate employment and income resulted in financial insecurity, and often forced the women to rely on social assistance. Family ties were broken during the refugee experience, and women lost valuable women’s networks in their home country. Lack of English proficiency and income stood as obstacles to the formation of new friendships in Canada. Gender dynamics were also disrupted within Eritrean refugee families. While Eritrea is a strictly patriarchal society and women occupied a subordinate status, these values are not tolerated in Canada. Men lost their sense of authority within their families, and women often became the primary breadwinners when men were unable to find employment. Eritrean refugee parents experienced a double burden of employment and childrearing. Maintaining a strong sense of their Eritrean cultural identity, while also transitioning into Canadian society is of primary concern.

            Media representations of Black women contribute to the building of a national identity. While shaping our opinions of oppressed peoples, media also constructs racialized bodies as “outsiders” within White Canadian society. These “outsiders,” or social deviants, are perspective threats to national identity. Less obvious forms of segregation exist to maintain “safe” spaces for the larger White population, and to prevent the crossing of boundaries between “normal” and “deviant” aspects of society. An example of this would be the “ghettoization” of Black communities, while White suburbs are normalized. Both living arrangements are essentially the same, but Black communities are seen as deviant. By portraying Black women as hypersexualized in the media, it renders them mere sexual objects for men and promotes their subordination in society. Negative portrayals of Black women result in a lack of role models for young women and girls, and limit their life chances. If the Black female experience is defined by a stereotype, how are Black women able to live authentic lives?

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