“The news coming out of Afghanistan is about how women leaders are fleeing for their lives, and girls are being denied the right to education,” says Holly Benna, Pacific Immigrant Resources Society’s (PIRS) communications and marketing associate.
PIRS, a grassroots organization focused on local action, is one of the few organizations across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland dedicated to addressing the needs and challenges of migrant women and children. They have been delivering, for the past 45 years, accessible, inclusive, low-barrier programs – that create a sense of belonging, meaningful participation, and leadership such as trauma-informed Community English Classes, Women’s Leadership and Development, Children & Family Programs – for immigrant and refugee women and their children.
The organization works directly with women who might, among several other problems, not have access to government funded programs because of their immigration status, or lack the benefit of childcare.
“Because of our dedicated staff and volunteers, and donor support we are able to respond with new initiatives in a timely manner, such as our Emergency Food Hub; and most recently our Afghan Women Fund,” she adds.
A pressing need
“The Afghan issue is about the rights of Afghan women and girls,” says Benna.
According to PIRS, more than half of the refugees who arrived in the last month are children (0-18 years old), who require childcare and/or education. Meanwhile, refugee women arrive and find themselves without local support systems and facing inaccessible and expensive childcare. In addition to this, there is a significant literacy gap: 60 per cent of spouses of principal applicants lack English language proficiency.
“Without access to childcare and resources, Afghan women will miss out on orientation services and personal and professional opportunities – that are necessary for their transition into Canadian life, and their sense of belonging and agency,” says Benna.
She adds there is currently a high demand for English classes, with full wait lists for programs, and B.C.’s childcare is not affordable nor accessible. PIRS meets this need by offering trauma-informed Community English Classes, alongside culturally relevant childcare and mental health support. In addition, their Pop-Up Childcare program has supported other local organizations such as I.S.S of BC, which offers childminding at airports while parents attend orientations.
Over three days in August and September, PIRS Childminders took care of 52 Afghan refugee children for ISS of BC, serving 32 per cent of the 165 children (0–18 years of age) in the Resettlement Assistance Program. PIRS’ childminding services made it possible for these Afghan women to participate in resettlement orientation activities alongside the men, rather than staying behind with their children.
“[ This is to ensure] that women and men have access to the same orientation information, at the same time, is key to gender equity,” says Benna.
PIRS’s needs assessments have shown Afghan refugees who have recently arrived need the most support in securing permanent housing at Income Assistance Rates for families of 1–9, gift cards to help offset day-to-day expenses, access to English language classes, family reunification, and welcoming communities.
Although not speaking for them, Benna has heard that the Canadian-Afghan community has been concerned about the situation and especially forwomen and children. Some people still had relatives back home who were directly impacted by the current situation. And society, she adds, is looking for ways to safely return them back to Canada.
“There is also anger at losing their homeland again – a feeling that the “West’s” interventions have been inappropriate and lacking a true understanding of Afghanistan’s culture and people,” she says.
PIRS invite all who are concerned with the situation facing Afghan women and children to support through donations or efforts.
“Individuals have already raised funds through their businesses, or even by asking for donations in lieu of birthday gifts, and we are so grateful for their efforts,” says Benna.
For more information. please visit: www.pirs.bc.ca