Building Leadership Capacity to Address Gender-Based Violence against Non-Status, Refugee and Immigrant Women across Canada

This national five-year (2019-2024) project is funded by the Federal Department of Women and Gender Equality. This project is led by OCASI in partnership with civil society organizations working across not-for-profit, education and grassroots community-based sectors.

This project aims to build the leadership capacity of Non-Status, Refugee and Immigrant (NSRI) women to shape and inform policies and services addressing GBV by combining two promising practices developed by our project partners, the Peer Champions Program and Community Advocacy Network (CAN) strategy. The Peer-CAN model proposes a set of promising practices that support community-level capacity for enhancing the well-being of NSRI women and engaging them as leaders in eradicating GBV over the long term. We encourage the participation of NSRI survivors, service providers, and other civil society leaders to foster connections between NSRI women and participate in building community capacity for developing survivor-led, evidence-based solutions to GBV.

To learn more about this project and inquire about opportunities to participate and collaborate, please contact:

Margarita Pintin-Perez, Senior Coordinator
416-322-4950 ext. 285

Virtual roundtables: hosting and leveraging conversations in a digital space!

Flyer of Virtual National Roundtable - GBV during COVID-19We introduced the virtual roundtable series to host conversations and exchanges that consider the differential impacts of COVD-19 for non-status, refugee and immigrant women across Canada. These webinar series work from a social justice approach that suggests that more comprehensive analysis and collective discussion of social problems will yield more effective social actions, advocacy, strategies and responses.

This roundtable series brings together non-status, refugee and immigrant women, community members, frontline workers, academics, researchers, advocates and organizational leaders to share their insights, assessments and experiences around the unique tensions and challenges that COVID-19 introduces when addressing GBV against non-status, refugee and immigrant women across Canada.

This roundtable series is organized by a national group of community partners and agencies working together towards building leadership and community advocacy networks across Canada. This series is part of a project (funded by Women and Gender Equality) lead by OCASI - Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants in partnership with Barbra Schliefer Commemorative Clinic, Islamic Family and Social Services Association, Immigrant Women Services of Ottawa, The Migrant Mothers Project, MOSAIC, New Brunswick Multicultural Association, Rights of Non-Status Women Network and the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton.

Logos of the Community Partners

As we like to share, this is not about leading the conversation, but rather leveraging and hosting these conversations at a national level!

Brief summary: gender-based violence against non-status, refugee and immigrant women across canada in the context of covid-19

To watch the roundtable video recording, please follow the link.

The implications of COVID-19 are readily apparent. However, as legal and social activist-scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw recently indicated, the crisis among racialized and gendered communities across the globe is, indeed, "pre-COVID". Across the globe, we are observing the intersecting gendered and racialized contours which shape which groups are afforded access to engage in social distancing and basic practices of contagion. It makes us question, are we truly "all" in this together in the same way? In Canada, COVID-19 is revealing an architecture of inequality and those who were already unprotected before the pandemic is impacted differently and more intensely during this time, and this extends serious implications for addressing GBV against NSRI women across Canada. As reporting indicates that the COVID-19 situation furthers gender inequalities and increases risks of gender-based violence, what does this mean for addressing GBV against non-status, refugee and immigrant women across Canada? How can we better respond to GBV against non-status, refugee and immigrant women in the context of COVID19?

Graphic mural of the National Roundtable on GBV during COVID-19

We encourage you to share the following visual artifact from our roundtable as a tool to help us keep this dialogue going with one another, with our partners and in our communities:

Gender-Based Violence against NSRI women was already a crisis

At this roundtable, we learned that within these new social conditions and emerging social problems are longstanding and ongoing crises among certain social groups. Speakers provided a critical assessment and commentary to understand the changing context and spoke to gaps in capacity and services. They also emphasized the need to include and centre women’s organizations and NSRI survivors of GBV in COVID-19 response efforts. We also heard from service providers across different regions in Canada, who shared how they distribute their attention or their services, especially when we are being asked to isolate. We learned ways in which frontline workers working with NSRI women attend to the immediacy, but at the same time continue to think of the important advocacy and preventive work for their communities.

Moving away from generalizations: understanding the intersectional impacts of COVID-19 on non-status, refugee and immigrant women

Speakers provided a sharp critique of mainstream responses but also provided an alternative analysis and narrative using experiences of race, gender and immigration status to explain the impact of these intersecting social conditions in the context of COVID-19. They emphasized that strategies required to address and navigate GBV against NSRI must go beyond mainstream approaches and consider the impact and relationship of gender, race and immigration status.

The need to valorize and center the experience and embodied knowledge of NSRI women in responses to GBV in the context of COVID-19.

Speakers emphasized that accessing the knowledges expertise and long-standing work of social movements and advocates who have been articulating a crisis can provide a paved way and understanding of what is happening. Our speakers highlighted the importance and function of experience for producing knowledge. We learned of the work and ongoing efforts of advocates and community organizers to address and think about the specific social problems non-status, refugee and immigrant women experience within broader systems of racism, patriarchy, capitalism and nationalism and how this extends in the context of COVID-19.

We thank all those who participated in this roundtable. In particular, we would like to thank our speakers for their contributions:

Debbie Douglas, OCASI - Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Deepa Mattoo, Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
Mercy Lawluvi, Immigrant Women Services of Ottawa
Cornelia Mazgarean, Rights of Non-Status Women’s Network
Sultana Jahangir, South Asian Women’s Rights Organization
Ginette Gautreau, New Brunswick Multicultural Council
Thao Duong, Immigrant Women Services of Ottawa
Yasmine Abuzgaya, Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
Lubna Zaeem, Islamic Family and Social Services Association

July 16, 2020, National Overview Visual Summary

Mural of the Virutal National Roundtable - GBV Research Journey

July 30, 2020 - Toronto Roundtable Summary


On April 30th, 2020 we introduced the virtual roundtable series to host conversations and exchanges that consider the differential impacts of COVID-19 for non-status, refugee and immigrant women across Canada. On July 30, 2020 we hosted the Toronto Roundtable with our regional partner, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. This roundtable was the first of the series focused on regional practices and supports focused on non-status, refugee and immigrant women. As expressed at our national roundtable, the goals of these roundtables is not to lead, but leverage and host conversations and knowledge exchange at a national level.

Toronto Roundtable Speakers and Highlights

Along with our initial speakers from the previous series, we were joined in the Toronto roundtable by co-moderator Yasmine Abuzgaya (Barbra Schlifer) and speakers Deepa Matoo from the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, Loly Rico from the FCJ Refugee Center) and Fatima Filipi from the Rexdale Women's Center.

While the challenges to advocacy were explored more broadly in our first roundtable of the series (see above), the regional variations in their expression started to manifest in more detail with the Toronto focused discussion. This discussion also built on the introduction to the promising practices on which we are looking to build: the Peer-CAN model. Most significantly, however, our great line-up of speakers highlighted the community advocacy work being done by and for NSRI women across Toronto.

“What are the ways in which you practice community-based advocacy work to address GBV against NSRI women in Toronto? What makes this type of work and approach unique to addressing GBV against NSRI women in Toronto?”

Loly Rico, Co-Director (FCJ Refugee Centre) –

“At the FCJ we have a holistic approach. When a person comes, the first thing we ensure is that they have choice. We provide a safe space and environment to address what they want to choose from services are available.

Community advocacy for us is to have a client centre, but to have the tools in place from which the clients should be able to choose.”

Summary of Initiatives:

  • Provision of services- uniqueness: in-house medical clinic free of charge
  • Prevention of deportation
  • Members of staff include non-status women
  • Advocacy with York University for access to post-secondary education

Fatima Filippi, Executive Director (Rexdale Women’s Centre) –

“Our work focuses very heavily on GBV against women, and we have been doing it since 1978. One of the biggest questions for us in terms of advocacy is what it looks like, and this is important in educating our clients as well. It’s been about looking at alternatives, and recommendations that present the organisation as a community focused group. Our biggest learning has been that not all women are homogeneous, and some women are quite capable of speaking out for themselves, who can help turn this from an organisational issue into a women’s empowerment issue.

Data is important. We can’t minimise the way in which we collect, evaluate and emphasise data. It really is key to understanding the scope of the issue, and we often feed this information to the people sitting at the table, and sometimes it involves meeting with local representatives who might benefit from a greater understanding of the issue.”

Summary of Initiatives:

  • Women’s caucus at OCASI
  • Education and creating avenues for women
  • Members of staff include non-status women
  • Advocacy: “when a client is denied housing, and you’re advocating on their behalf, you are advocating for the women not for the organisation”
  • Partnerships are crucial
  • Transmission of history

Deepa Mattoo, Executive Director (Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic) -

“Every immigraton and refugee case that comes to us- IRCC will intuitively be on the other side, and each of us have made peace with that. Because advocating for our clients will always be at the centre of our services, that establishes neutral ground between us.

There’s a corresponding sense of scarcity that comes from funding, and there is obviously a fundamental power imbalance there given that the funders are the decision makers as well, which makes it a complicated relationship.

With respect to NSRI women, I don’t think they should be seen differently from other service seekers since the communities face a lot of parallel issues. The strong intersectionality across the issues faced should be the focal point because that ensures that no one is left behind. We obviously shouldn’t co opt each other’s struggles but we shouldn’t hesitate to speak to each other’s problems.”

Summary of Initiatives:

  • Legal counselling
  • Education and creating avenues for women
  • Interpretation services delivered by immigrant women for immigrant women
  • Education and creating avenues for women

“Based on your experience, what are some of the challenges in doing community-based advocacy work?”

Loly Rico, Co-Director (FCJ Refugee Centre) –

“We need to understand what we mean when we talk about non-status women and precarious status. One of the main challenges is tackling fear of deportation and ensuring provision of services like access to housing and health independent of immigration status, and understanding the discrimination that non-status women face even outside the traditional streams of violence will help us address that gap in services for them.

That’s something we need to keep working on, not just in our sector but even in our interactions with the government. Officials need to understand the different situations faced by the non-homogenous groups of women that seek help.

We also need to be able to highlight the differences between non-status, refugee and immigrant women.”

Fatima Filippi, Executive Director (Rexdale Women’s Centre) –

“We need to understand where the challenges to advocacy work are coming from within the bureaucracy. Under-resourcing, lack of staff etc. We need to look to other organisations that do have research teams, and see how we can use that for ourselves.

The chill related to advocacy is really based on who is in power. Fear of defunding, and in regards to legislation relating to non-profits. The burden is on the organisations not the government, to be careful and understand that some of the charitable work the organisation is doing might end up being targeted in addition to the advocacy work. Your board has to be ok with it too.

Deepa Mattoo, Executive Director (Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic) -

“Data for this unique population regarding access issues is scant if available. Thinking of the issue in commonality with groups that do not have similar status issues, might help us to use the data trends in their areas as indicators of the amplified problem in groups with precarious status.

The unique challenges that an organisation such as ours- with its complex mechanisms- include balancing the organisation’s own functioning with the advocacy work we do with the government, but there are successes despite these challenges. A case to the effect was with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on July 16, 2018, in the case of Canada Without Poverty vs. Attorney General of Canada, that eventually forced the government to alter its practice of treating advocacy and communications activities as political and therefore non-charitable. In his decision, Judge Morgan ruled in favour of the anti-poverty group, agreeing with Canada Without Poverty (CWP) that the “10% rule” was a violation of freedom of expression under Section 2 of the Charter.”

“In the context of COVID-19, why is the work of community advocacy and centering NSRI women’s experiences. Particular vulnerabilities especially critical at this time?”

Loly Rico, Co-Director (FCJ Refugee Centre) –

“We’ve had trouble accessing COVID-19 funding. It’s been a struggle, since the NSRI women with experience were at the frontline, and many of them have been living with abusive partners this whole time.

So where the government doesn’t step up, civil society has to- to that end we have been receiving funding from foundations to help with their rent issues, we sent an open letter together with doctors and OHIP for all to the provincial and federal governments. That kind of advocacy has helped bring about increased access to health independent of status across hospitals during the pandemic.

The government has to be accountable. It is our role as the civil society to step up, and hold them accountable.”

Fatima Filippi, Executive Director (Rexdale Women’s Centre) –

“Our line of work really talks about marginalized groups- racialized women, people being denied access to health and access to education, and all of that is just compounded by COVID-19. We have one of the highest tested rates of COVID-19 here in Toronto, and that really shows an unhealthy community driven by poverty which becomes an issue whether you’re status or non-status and the access you have to food that will support your health.

I’d also like to focus on the problems being faced by our clients and most of our staff- where both groups are predominantly female (The Four Digital D’s):

  • Digital equity: doesn’t exist across our clients, and as organisations we’ve had to step up and provide that sort of access to our staff as well
  • Digital fluency: what has been the cost of a lack of fluency to our staff and our clients? Women that are doing more of the work at home are being impacted by access and fluency to digital platforms
  • Digital infrastructure capacity
  • Data Overload”

Deepa Mattoo, Executive Director (Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic) -

“Thinking about the recovery piece of GBV against non-status women is really important while navigating the pandemic. If we put a hiatus on advocacy right now, how long will we be putting it on hold for, considering the uncertainty of how the pandemic will progress?

Make sure you engage with the global and political systems in place that are welcoming submissions and views. Make sure you think about partnerships.”

Uniting Idea: Defining Advocacy

One of the emerging questions from this conversation was how advocacy was being defined in this sphere. Some of our partners voiced that advocacy should target access to equal opportunities and fair chances. It was also added that while the idea of advocacy was intimidating, it was an everyday part of the work being done to tackle GBV in this sphere because of its intersectional impact on NSRI women, and still had to be undertaken.

Our stakeholder consultations revealed some common challenges of doing advocacy work in this area, which was affirmed by our partners during both the roundtable discussions that have occurred in the series so far. (link both here) The view that it was intimidating to undertake this sort of work echoed the evidence of an advocacy chill on work with NSRI survivors that had emerged from our community consultations. The idea of losing funding, being muted or silenced was powerful and obstructive. This made us wonder what this work would look like if service providers had further capacity and support, and about the ways to collectively navigate systemic barriers to the advocacy work that service providers talked about.

Uniting Idea: Partnering Up

In the vein of highlighting some of the fantastic work that has been done collectively, the directive issued at the time of the Harper government was

The responses evoked from our partners during the discussion affirmed our efforts to create a blueprint for collaboration across service providers. It was echoed that mapping the work already being done would allow us to collectively train people and use the existing labour as the starting point for our blueprint. Our community conversations also revealed a certain typology of advocacy (image below) along which the work was being done on the ground. We think that highlighting the campaigns that have been started over time across these regions and mapping it along that typology of advocacy would be a useful exercise, and might serve as a boost in the effort to archive the history of advocacy against GBV in NSRI women.

Presentation screenshot of Stakeholder Consultations

We are very grateful for the enthusiastic participation and in addition to the speakers showcased above, we would encourage you to listen to Carolina Leite, who spoke to her own experiences in this roundtable here.

Please also visit the recordings of the complete roundtable here to listen to the full conversation and access further resources around this issue!

August 13, 2020 - Ottawa Roundtable Summary


On April 30th, 2020 we introduced the virtual roundtable series to host conversations and exchanges that consider the differential impacts of COVID-19 for non-status, refugee and immigrant women across Canada. On August 13, 2020 we hosted the Ottawa Roundtable with our regional partner, Immigrant Women’s Services of Ottawa (IWSO). This was an opportunity to learn about the existing forms of advocacy and survivor-led work focused on supporting non-status, refugee and immigrant women in the Ottawa area. As already expressed in the national roundtable, we are not focused on leading, but instead leveraging and hosting these conversations at a national level.

Ottawa Roundtable Speakers and Highlights

Along with our initial speakers from the previous series, we were joined in the Ottawa roundtable by co-moderator Thao Duong (IWSO) and speakers Alexandra Derisier from Connecting Ottawa, Andi Vicente from Ottawa Sanctuary City Network and Louisa Taylor, Co-Founder and Director of Refugee 613.

“What are the ways in which you practice community-based advocacy work to address GBV against NSRI women in Toronto? What makes this type of work and approach unique to addressing GBV against NSRI women in Toronto?”

Alexandra Derisier, (Connecting Ottawa) –

“This is something that I’m very passionate about since I’ve had to be a translator for my parents from a very young age when they were new immigrants.”

Connecting Ottawa’s mandate is to provide communication services to people with communication barriers- non-english/french speakers, or people with sensory barriers.


  • Tailor PLEs → demystify legal jargon or issues from community partners helping people facing GBV
  • Consultations with settlement workers and clients
  • Interpretation services for those who have legal appointments (fact sheets in various languages for what to do when you are in trouble)
  • Member of the Law Society of Ontario
  • Have over 50 partner agencies that function as information and presence sharing platforms, such as churches, legal clinics etc. One stop shop for vulnerable clients, where CO encourages partners to use plain language

Uniqueness of work against GBV for NSRI women:

  • Eligibility criteria → i.e. communication barrier → women and some men in need of cultural sensitivity and language services
  • Paperwork is not required when people come in search of help

Andi Vicente, (Ottawa Sanctuary City Network) –

“It’s a systemic thing that we have to recognise will continue to be an issue, especially in the context of COVID-19 for marginalised communities.”


  • Support LGBTQ newcomers with or without status in terms of mental health
  • Centre drop in
  • Work is around safe spaces and inclusivity
  • Organisers need to have an understanding of discirmination, cultural competency etc.
  • OSCN: working on having more navigation support for refugees that arrive without families

Lousia Taylor, Co-Founder and Director (Refugee 613) –

“It’s a systemic thing that we have to recognise will continue to be an issue, especially in the context of COVID-19 for marginalised communities.”

“Something Refugee 613 does is putting refugee welcome on the spectrum of normal Canadian values, that it isn’t some fringe activity, and is important to how Canadians view themselves, and pushing back on the idea that there is something radical about it.

Digital messaging isn’t rocket science.

Refugee 613’s staff listens to learn so we know what happens at the frontline, and to see what might have a communications solution, and that’s how a lot of interesting work has developed.

There’s been an affirmation with covid is that information itself is an essential service.

Regarding Whatsapp Groups: This isn’t something that we can do off the side of our desks. We need to strengthen existing digital networks across communities. We already provide informal support to may networks, but with COVID we took a bit of a hit, and a lot of them were looking for support. We don’t think it’s sustainable for us to offer the Whatsapp service to other language groups, but to strengthen existing networks of support.”


  • Forms of Advocacy are more public education focused
  • Strategic communications advice
  • Seeking out government officials and trying to educate them on how to adapt information campaigns for newcomers
  • Whatsapp group in flux, starting with the Arabic language


  • Hybrid organisation
  • Inform (providing information to the public by convening stakeholders, including service providers, school boards, food banks, ottawa police, faith groups, anyone connecting Ottawa and CHCs, anyone supporting newcomers in some way with many people on the table being refugees/ newcomers
  • Connect (convening and including people whose roles can be built as useful allies
  • Inspire (public education- events, social media, explaining what the refugee journey is)

“Based on your experience, what are some of the challenges in doing community-based advocacy work?”

Alexandra Derisier, (Connecting Ottawa) –

“While funding is secure for us, it is still affected by changes in legal aid cuts etc. Whenever clients face cuts based on eligibility that affects us as well.

Compassion fatigue is a real thing for frontline workers. If there isn’t enough funding to do the work, there definitely isn’t enough money to get help as a frontline worker. You’re just going to continue having a high turnover rate in the industry.

A lot of people are working with the refugee convention but don’t understand the definition of a protected person.

  • Funding Changes: based on partner changes in organisations
  • Compassion fatigue
  • High turnover rate
  • Eligibility Criteria (where it may not ring true for CO, it would be true for other organisations)

Andi Vicente, (Ottawa Sanctuary City Network) –

“It can be tricky when a lot of the work can be related to the personal challenges you’ve had.

A lot of the models out there are also unsustainable if it involves being in this constant mode of emergency, especially for women with precarious immigration status.

A lot of assumptions are made when it comes to client needs, and there needs to be time given to make it a fully inclusive space, and understanding the intersectionality of the issues they face.

Relating to COVID-19 it’s worse with child-care and unsupportive partners. It is also worse with homophobia or transphobia.”

  • Disassociation
  • Gatekeeping and surrounding power dynamics to accessing information
  • Lack of support
  • Funding

Lousia Taylor, Co-Founder and Director (Refugee 613) –

“The hustle is real. The lack of resources and collaboration makes the hustle very real. It’s partly funders, but it’s also partly us, because what the audiences need from us isn’t always what they get. Checking in and trying to understand how they want to receive information is important.

You need to tailor services. The good news is that it doesn’t take too long if you get a mindshift where you think through the format and tactics- though we may not have the capacity or resources to do that on a community wide level.”

  • Communicating for advocacy
  • Understanding your audience

“In the context of COVID-19, why is the work of community advocacy and centering NSRI women’s experiences. Particular vulnerabilities especially critical at this time?”

Alexandra Derisier, (Connecting Ottawa) –

“Difficult to pick up on cues as you would in an in person meeting- social or physical cues that I would have been able to work with to contact them again or restructure the meeting. The lack of face to face can make me anxious

  • Access to social workers, counsellors

Andi Vicente, (Ottawa Sanctuary City Network) –

“In this context it’s about the organisations and who has been consistently innovative in improving access to services for clients. If you haven’t been current on this, then your services aren’t immediate enough. If you weren’t digitally savvy before you’ve had to come into that because of the compounding effect of COVID-19.”

Lousia Taylor, Co-Founder and Director (Refugee 613) –

“Nothing like a crisis to show the holes in your safety net, and the intersectionality of the problems being faced by NSRI women means there are some pretty big holes. In terms of communication, we have to ensure that literacy and language are not barriers to being well informed to make it work for your family.

On the communications front, we need to see that just having fact sheets in different languages isn’t enough. Most of our audience aren’t on twitter or facebook and getting the information out there needs to be thought through more holistically.”

Feedback/ Q&A

General Comments/ Feedback:

On challenges

From Pcawa Coordinator to Everyone: (3:18 pm)

  • There is a likelihood that some communities will be more likely to go to their own religious or community organisations if they go to anyone at all, and those institutions (as with most institutions) are often also very patriarchal
  • I think for a lot of the communities in Peel Region (west of Toronto), there is also a great barrier in the first place in terms of reaching NSRI women or nonbinary people

On information provision

From Zakieh Zarabi to Everyone: (3:14 pm)
Yes, in Windsor , we also holding newcomer groups virtual information sessions. using Microsoft Teams, well attended and participants access update community news, services and many more

On access

From rifaa carter to Everyone: (3:33 pm)
Fyi Nisa Homes and Sakeenah homes do not have eligibility criteria for status because they are not publicly funded. however they are faith based so I don't know the impact of that. Sakeenah homes will do remote work as well.

On access

From Esperanza Martinez to Everyone: (3:48 pm)
The challenge to work remotely as an Interpreter brings some challenges.

CAN efforts

Louisa Taylor
If you’d like to be notified of the details about our national workshop on Digital Messaging for Settlement and Integration (DMSI) in late Fall, please send an email to and we’ll add you to our project mailing list. Please put DMSI workshop in the subject line. Thank you!

From Pcawa Coordinator to Everyone: (3:59 pm)!

Questions in the chat:

I'm curious to know if being in the "nation's capital" makes advocacy work more (or less) challenging? Seems like there are a lot of politicians and people working for the government which I'm guessing has pro's and con's for doing this work.

Ans: ‘being able to go up to MPs and speak to them directly is great’