How Canada is encouraging newcomer women to play sports

Shelby Thevenot
Published: March 2, 2020

Kruti Bhadarka has been a regular participant at the Moosejaw Newcomer Welcome Centre, since she immigrated to Saskatchewan in 2013. The community organization offers a variety of services to immigrants including sports programming that is tailored to newcomer women.

“They have [events] twice a month,” Bhadarka said. “I try to attend both if possible because who doesn’t like free events, and who doesn’t like to go hang out with people. I don’t have a family here so that’s my family, and that’s who I hang out with and that’s where I spend some of my evenings.”

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

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

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

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Organizations across Canada are working to break down the barriers that prevent immigrant women from participating in sports.

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

The Prince Edward Island Association of Newcomers to Canada went from offering an average of one activity per month to about three per week with the help of CAAWS. The organizers are now in discussions with how they are going to continue after the funding ends this summer.

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

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

The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) in Halifax has also been able to strengthen its programming through funding, and provide spaced childcare during the popular women-only swimming lessons, as part of many other activities, including track and field and hiking.

In cases where ISANS does not offer an activity that a newcomer requests, they will refer them to other local organizations such as the YMCA.

In Yellowknife, North West Territories, an organization called Sports North was able to cater to the needs of newcomer women in a number of ways. They channelled funding to organizations across the territory, such as Aurora College, where they were able to teach women how to use gym equipment, among other skills.

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

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

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