Women’s experience oracism: How race andgender interact
The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide easy tounderstand statistical information and research onhow women experience racism, and to providesuggestions for resources and action. We hope itserve as a basic introduction for people with noknowledge of how race and gender affect women’slives. The full version of this fact sheet can be foundon our web site: www.criaw-icref.ca/racegender.htm
Anti-racism does not mean pretending that racedoesn’t exist. It means recognizing racism, effec-tively and constructively challenging racism inyourself and others, and eliminating racism embed-ded in public policy, workplaces, and every otherarea of life.
Racism and sexism combine to produce moreeconomic inequalities for racialized women thanexperienced by either white women or racializedmen. Average annual income for 1995/96
:$31,117 -
 All Canadian men
$23,600 -
Visible minority men
$19,208 -
 All Canadian women
$18,200 -
 Aboriginal men
$16,600 -
Visible minority women
$13,300 -
 Aboriginal women
Over half or nearly half of some racializedgroups of women in Canada are living in pov-erty: 52% of women of Arab/West Asian [MiddleEastern] ancestry, 51% of women of LatinAmerican ancestry, and 47% of Black womenand 43% of Absrcinal women live in poverty. Inthe case of the first two groups, recent immigra-tion may be a factor. Racialized immigrantwomen face more roadblocks to employment inCanada: More often than not, foreign universitydegrees and qualifications and foreign workexperience are not recognized, becauseCanada hasinadequatesystems to judge academicequivalencies.
Although gov-ernments investin English orFrench as asecond lan-guage pro-grams, existingprograms areinadequate tomeet the need.Many women inparticular arenot receiving
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enough language training to inte-grate themselves as full participantsin Canadian society. Racism is amajor barrier to employment: Manyemployers and managers makeassumptions about work habits,suitability of certain types of workand ability to “fit in” on the basis of skin colour, or assume that someonewho speaks English or French with adifferent accent is stupid.
In thecase of Black women and Absrcinalwomen, long standing policies andpractices of racism andmarginalization keep almost half (over 40%) of these groups of women living in poverty, comparedwith 19% of women who are notvisible minorities.
In 1996, 17% of visible minority women in Canadahad a university degree compared to12% of Canadian women who didnot belong to a visible minoritygroup. Nevertheless, 15% of visibleminority women were unemployed,compared with 9% of non-visibleminority women.
Racial discrimination in housing iswell-documented. Jamaican andSomali immigrants had particulardifficulties in finding rental housing,because of perceptions of landlordstoward these groups.
Race is also abarrier to home ownership. In twostudies of Black and White people in Toronto matched for income andfamily characteristics, found a lower
Visible minority, racial minority, women/peopleof colour:
“Visible minority” tends to be used by theCanadian government, and will be used in this fact sheetwhen reporting statistics collected by the federal govern-ment. These terms do not include Absrcinal peoples.Some people are now using the term “racialized” to referto this group, to show that “race is socially constructed”:For example, in Canada “Irish” and “French Canadians”used to be considered races. There were signs saying“no Irish allowed” and Irish people were discriminatedagainst in employment. Racist hatred has nothing to dowith the target groups and everything to do with howdominant groups in a society identify non-dominantgroups for discrimination.
 Aboriginal or indigenous peoples:
“Native” people. This includes First Nations, Inuit, tis, status and non-status Indians.
 This word has been used in different waysby different people. In this fact sheet, racialized will referto anyone who experiences racism because of theirrace, skin colour, ethnic background, accent, culture orreligion. In this fact sheet, “racialized” includes people of colour, Absrcinal peoples, and ethnic, linguistic, reli-gious or cultural minorities who are targets of racism.When terms such as “women of colour” are used, itrefers only to that group, as Canadian statistics are oftencollected separately for “visible minority”, “Absrcinal”and “immigrant” groups. Racialized women have differ-ent cultures, histories, religions, family norms, life expe-riences, and are subject to different stereotypes. Whatthey have in common is they are
– they aresubject to racism and made to feel different because of their racial/ethnic background.
An immigrant is someone who moves toCanada intending to stay permanently. Immigrants comefrom all over the world: Asia, Africa, Europe, North orSouth America, or Oceania. Immigrants can be white orpeople of colour, speak English, French or anotherlanguage as a mother tongue.
A refugee is someone who moves to Canadaunder a special category (“refugee”) because they arefleeing persecution or war in their own country.
2 CRIAW Fact sheet/Women’s experience of racism: How race and gender interact
rate of home ownership among Black people.
There isalso a racist perception that Chinese immigrants in theBC Lower Mainland, for example, are “taking over”,particularly certain suburbs like Richmond.
No oneseems to feel that white people have “taken over”certain communities, even though all white people inCanada are immigrants or the descendants of immi-grants. Research has shown that racialized immigrantwomen can experience extreme forms of discrimina-tion when finding housing, especially if they are singleparents. They are very vulnerable to abuse by land-lords.
For racialized women, gender-based violence is notthe only type of violence they experience: race andgender combine to increase their likelihood of beingassaulted. For example, First Nations woman HelenBetty Osbourne was brutally gang-raped, tortured andkilled by a group of white men, and the white townsfolkkept a conspiracy of silence about her rapists andmurderers. Because of the documented racism of Canada’s police forces, criminal justice system and jails
– racialized women may be reluctant to callpolice in cases of domestic assault out of loyalty to their family and community, not wishing to fuelracist stereotypes about their community, or to subject themselves or family members to a racistsystem. Refugees from places in which police forces, military and the government were involved in
Racism can beovert, such as calling peoplenames, beating them up, excludingthem on the basis of race or ethnic-ity. Some companies ask employ-ment agencies for white candidatesonly.
Covert, subtle or “polite” racism:
Lets you know you are different,that the most salient characteristicabout you is your race, rather thanyour personality, your achievementsas an individual, or anything else.
Structural racism:
Not all racismis as obvious as beating someoneup or even secretly excluding some-one while being polite to their face.Racism can be structural (it’s a partof every aspect of society). Some-times structural racism in hiring isnot conscious or deliberate: Peopletend to hire people they know,people like themselves, they adver-tise the job among their own net-works. When the majority of peoplein decision-making positions arewhite men, they tend to hire otherwhite men. Employment equityprograms are supposed to getcompanies and government depart-ments to expand their networks, toensure racialized communities hearabout job opportunities, to givethem a fair chance, and to introduceanti-discrimination policies andworkshops in the workplace.
housingjobsself-esteemhealthand everyaspect of your life.If you are subject to racism, it may cost youmoney, a place to live, a job, your self-respect,your health, or your life. Women whoexperience racism may live through it in adifferent way from men, and from each other.
CRIAW Fact sheet/Women’s experience of racism: How race and gender interact 3
violence against civilians, including organized or systemicrape of women, may have no trust in systems of authority.
Absrcinal women are subject to racism in the courts, andare over-represented in Canadian jails, which is a soul-destroying experience. Absrcinal women make up over20% of Canada’s female prison population, but only 2% of the female population of Canada.
In Canada, you aremore likely to be sent to jail if you are poor or racialized.
Programs in jail are often not appropriate for racializedwomen.
Racism itself can cause illness. When people are overtlyracist, it translates into poorer health for the targets of racism.
Structural racism can also cause illness anddeath. Language and cultural barriers mean less access tolife-saving medical procedures.
Structural racism leadingto less income and social status has a direct impact onhealth.
Another example of structural racism is usingstandards developed in research using white men to meas-ure health and health risks, when these standards may notbe the same for women, racialized people, and particularlyfor racialized women.Some women refugees in Canada have experienced rapeduring wartime and have seen their children and otherfamily members tortured and killed. This has particularphysical and mental health consequences. Some womenhave been subject to female genital mutilation, which mayalso pose health problems and isolate them from healthcare providers and from women outside their communities.
Women tend to be the health guardians of their families, and sacrifice paid work and personal happi-ness to care for sick relatives. Greater vulnerability to illness and less access to health care andhome care services for racialized communities
mean more unpaid health care work for racializedwomen, which can have an impact on their own health.
Racialized women are often sexualized in racist ways. This is one of the ways racism and sexism cancombine. For women of colour, sexual harassment can be racialized. A man might sexually harass awoman of colour by making racist comments or assumptions about her sexuality. Women of Asian
It’s obviously not in the past. Take a look at the statistics abouthow racism affects access tohousing, jobs, health, justice andcitizenship. The past also shapespeople’s experiences in thepresent. For example, for over ahundred years, a Canadian gov-ernment policy to assimilateAbsrcinal peoples by taking kidsaway from their families to resi-dential schools where they werepunished for speaking their lan-guage, practicing their own cul-tural and religious traditions, andoften the victims of physical andsexual abuse, left generations of Absrcinal people withoutparenting skills, without self-esteem, and feeling ashamed of who they were and hopelessabout the future. Survivors of residential schools are still trying
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