Immigrant Women in Canada

The Role of Women’s Groups in the Immigrant Experience

Immigrant Women: Their Untold Stories is a collection of teaching materials approved by the Ontario Ministry of Education in 1989. As a product of its time, this collection reveals what it means to be an immigrant woman in Canada postwar. Since the mid-1980s, as immigration is increasing, it was also an important time for political change in Canada[1]. In 1988, Canada passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which intended to preserve and enrich multiculturalism in Canada by recognizing society’s diverse set of languages, customs and religions.[2] In addition, this was produced at the end of the second wave of feminism (1960s-1980s). Women’s involvement in the workforce during World War II brought a new consciousness to women in the public-sphere, which led to the formation of women’s groups focusing on access to education and re-evaluating women’s roles.[3]

This photo shows an English as a second language class. Immigrant women’s groups provided different services and opportunities for their communities (source: Immigrant Women: Their Untold Stories, p. 42, OISE Library).

Immigrant woman in Canada

Oftentimes, immigrant women in Canada faced many challenges as they settled in their new home. Since some may not speak or read English or French, it is difficult to perform everyday tasks, such as reading labels while grocery shopping or talking to their children’s teachers. Thus, being in a strange environment, usually as a homemaker, without the language, proved to be an isolating experience for many immigrant women in Canada.[4]

Immigrant women’s groups

The immigrant woman’s community extends beyond Canadian society. It transcends local, national and transnational levels that make up the complex lives of immigrant women. Immigrant women’s groups allowed them to engage all levels of their identities whilst helping their community grow.[5] They were volunteers who helped fundraise for scholarships, improve schools and hospitals, and foster culture and tradition. Their involvement aims to improve their own lives and the lives of others based on shared gender and immigrant status needs. Women’s groups offered isolated immigrant women the chance to be social, find support and provide support.[6]

This photo shows Jewish women picketing 1959-1960. Immigrant women’s groups often supported various political issues. (source: Immigrant Women: Their Untold Stories, p. 34, OISE Library).

Jewish Women’s Groups

Hadassah-WIZO and the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada (NCJWC) are examples of Jewish women’s groups. These women are dedicated to the advancement of childcare, education, and women’s issues, and have helped Jews lay down roots all over Canada.[7] As a first generation Canadian and a young Jewish woman, my family understands what it is like to start over in a new place. My family comes from South Africa where my great-grandmother belonged to the Woman’s Zionist League, baking and raising money for her community. After immigrating to Canada, my grandmother became part of the NCJWC, and my mother is part of Hadassah-WIZO, each contributing to the Jewish community through community service and fundraising. For these women, especially my mother, it was about being part of something, being social and coming together with the common goal of Tzedakah (‘charity’).[8] And as immigration continues to increase today, these groups remain just as important by providing support to women in their new home, Canada.


Leore Zecharia is currently in her first year of her Masters in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto. Holding an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Western University, Leore has always wanted to work in a museum. Her goal is to work in public programming and within the informal education system of a museum, and more specifically in Holocaust Education. Leore is a first generation Jewish-Canadian with her family roots going back to Israel and South Africa.

[1] Tastoglou and Miedema, 2003.

[2] Government of Canada, 2016.

[3] Rampton, 2015.

[4] Scane and Holt, 1989.

[5] Tastsoglou and Miedema, 2003.

[6] Scane and Holt, 1989.

[7] Hadassah-WIZO, n.d.

[8] Andrea Zecharia, personal correspondence (mother), 2016.

“Women’s groups offered isolated immigrant women the chance to be social, find support and provide support.”