Canada Is Encouraging New Immigrant Women To Play Sports

Kruti Bhadarka has been a regular participant at the Moosejaw Newcomer Welcome Centre since she moved to Canada in 2013. The community organization provides a variety of services to newcomers including sports programming that is tailored to new immigrant women.

“They have [events] two times a month,” Bhandarkar said. “I try to attend both if possible because who does not like a free event, and who doesn’t like to go out with people. I don’t have a family here so that’s my family, and those are the people I hang out with and that’s where I spend most of my evenings.”

Taking up a new sport is one way to integrate into a new community, but research shows that newcomer girls and women are far less likely than new immigrant men to participate in sports.

There are various barriers that prevent girls and women from participating in sports. Mothers, for example, may encounter difficulties when their attention is focused on caring for their children. Some parents may not want to grant permission to their girls to play sports, or may not have the budget to cover registration and equipment cost.

Newcomer women and girls may also be prevented by language barriers or deterred by cultural differences such as dress codes, or the fear of being stereotyped or racialized.

Various organizations across Canada are working to break down these barriers that deter immigrant women from participating in sports.

A non-profit organization known as the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), put together a list of recommendations to stop these obstacles. Through a grant from Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) they were able to provide funding for twenty (20) community organizations across Canada to tailor programs for new immigrant women. Practically every Canadian province, except for Newfoundland and Labrador province, had at least one community partner with CAAWs. Their funding was launched in 2018 and will end in June 2020.

The Prince Edward Island Association of Newcomers to Canada went from providing an average of one (1) activity per month to about three (3) per week with help coming from CAAWS. The organizers are now in discussions with how they are going to carry on after the funding ends this summer.

“It does not mean women in sports [activities] are going to be discontinued, but it means we can’t do it as consistently in the same way we were doing it,” said Nancy Clement, the organization’s community manager.

Since the grant began in 2018, the Charlottetown-based settlement organization was able to create partnerships with other local organization and venues. They would offer swimming lessons taught by female instructors or trainers with female lifeguards. Instructions were also mostly carried out in English, and Clement said many women preferred that as a low-pressure way to practice their language skills. But, they would still offer interpreters who could answer some of their questions.

In Yellowknife, North West Territories, an organization known as Sports North was able to meet the needs of immigrant women in a number of ways. They channelled fundings to organizations across the territory, such as Aurora College, where they were able to instruct women how to use gym equipments, among other skills.

“We continue to encourage our sport organizations to see a newcomer as a target population for when they are promoting their respective sports,” stated Spider Jones, a representative with Sports North.

Through the funding period, these organizations were able to focus on developing and implementing programs that would benefit new immigrant women and girls, a group that is only going to keep growing as Canada welcome more immigrants every year.

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