As Saskatoon’s immigrant population grows, it becomes increasingly important to understand the problems and concerns of this segment of society. To this end, the Saskatoon chapter of Immigrant Women of Saskatchewan initiated a study conducted by Coralee Drechsler and Ifeoma Bridget Anene to assemble both quantitative and qualitative data on 200 immigrant women’s experiences in Saskatoon. This study’s results, along with recommendations to address these concerns, are collected in Influencing Poverty Reduction Policy Through Research Evidence: Immigrant Women’s Experience in Saskatoon.
Through a series of questionnaires, the researchers collected information regarding participants’ marital status, family size, education level, immigration history, past and present employment, and current income. Among the more noteworthy revelations is that while more than 50% of respondents had at least some college education and 81% said that they were employed in their home country, the employment figure went down to 63% since living in Saskatoon. Furthermoreline, the most frequently held occupations in their original countries were that of teacher, librarian, secretary, and market or scientific researcher. By contrast, since moving to Saskatoon the most common answer was childcare, healthcare, and community worker, followed by secretarial and retail work. Overall, when asked about living in Saskatoon, 25% had positive feelings, 32% negative, and 40% were ambivalent.
A group of forty women were then asked to participate in more open-ended interviews to share their experiences of living in Saskatoon. All participants shared stories of racism or other forms of discrimination or social rejection. These ranged from overt racism (e.g. being told that her dark skin would cause the company to lose customers) to slightly more subtle forms, such as being rejected for jobs because of a foreign accent. Racist attitudes were quite prevalent when it came to looking for work. In addition to the above examples, many women found that their educational background and work history was disregarded because they were achieved in a foreign country. Because of this ignorance or deliberate discrimination, many highly qualified women were forced to work in unskilled and low paying jobs.
Participants also found that social rejection and adjustment problems contributed greatly to stress, loneliness, and depression. Inability to find well paying work also increased many women’s financial dependency on their husband. A lack of social resources (and unawareness of those that do exist) for dealing with these anxieties meant that many of these women suffered in isolation.
To remedy some of these problems, participants recommended anti-racism and -discrimination education programs for all Canadians, particularly for employers. Recognition of immigrants’ educational and work qualifications, as well as increased educational (particularly English Second Language programs) and business opportunities, would improve employment opportunities. Establishment of mental health services, affordable daycare, and greater dissemination of social resources was also recommended. Devaluing immigrants’ skills and experiences limits their ability to add to Saskatoon’s economic and social development, and prevents the city from fully reaping the benefits of a diverse multicultural society.