Why Women Seek Asylum: The global pandemic of gender-based violence

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Amanda Dale (back left) and the staff of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic.
 Amanda Dale (back left) and the staff of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic.Credit: Denise Babbsifontes

Toronto's Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic provides legal and other services to over 4,000 women annually who have experienced violence, many of them asylum-seekers. In 2014, Amanda Dale, the Clinic’s Executive Director and Inter Pares Board member, participated in an exchange with our counterpart SORD (Sudanese Organization for Research and Development) to strengthen the work of its legal clinics for women. She recently spoke with us about the challenges for women seeking asylum in Canada.

“The most interesting myth about asylum law,” Amanda began, “is the notion that it is universally applicable. In fact, it was designed with a male model of migration in mind, of a lone political dissident. What primarily drives women’s migration is the experience of violence against them.” Women experiencing gender-based violence – who are so numerous that the United Nations calls this situation a “global pandemic”– are forced to adapt and contort Canada’s laws if they wish to gain asylum here.

Many factors can compromise women’s safety. They include the continuum of violence from family members or intimate partners to state conflict. Where there is social upheaval or war, whatever protections are normally offered to women by laws or policing can become ineffective. In abusive situations, denying women reproductive choice can also be a form of control. Once they get to Canada, Amanda sees many women “driven by a single-minded duty to protect their children out of necessity,” organizing their entire existence around ensuring the next generation’s survival.

Despite the vast challenges in assisting women and their families to gain refuge in Canada, the Clinic has seen success as well. In Amanda's experience, “most people place their hopes and joys in the integration of their children” into Canadian society. She related the story of a mother and her daughter “whose lives have been about escape,” but in Canada the daughter has blossomed into an assertive and opinionated individual. “Even if those same qualities make her hard to parent, this mother sees it as her duty to nourish that independence and nurture her agency.” The Clinic is committed to all women’s agency, envisioning a world where all women build lives free from violence – a vision that SORD and Inter Pares share.

Inter Pares is proud to have Amanda as a member of our Board of Directors.

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