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Stronger Together Through Community

In 2021, approximately 20 percent of Manitoba’s population were immigrants. Just last year, Manitoba welcomed 40,593 newcomers to the province. 

Each person who arrives brings stories and experiences which are incredibly beneficial. However, sometimes their voices aren’t always heard. That’s where the Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba (ECCM) comes in, a representative body that’s a collective voice for all ethnocultural community groups. Through this cooperative approach, ECCM advocates for change and change of social, economic, and political challenges ethnocultural communities face.

ECCM first started as a branch through Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, a pilot project that was able to find its legs and become an independent entity with staff and board members, says Kathleen Vyrauen, project manager of IPW and ECCM. Vyrauen’s role at ECCM is to support staff and projects and provide oversight. 

“One of the really cool things about IPW is we build a network of organizations that we work with.”

This collaborative approach, both at a societal and organizational level, allows ECCM to accomplish its goals to empower, inspire, mobilize, and support ethnocultural communities in Manitoba. ECCM executives this through communication and its numerous projects, which engage ethnocultural communities in their role of settlement and integration of other newcomers.

Among the diversity of programs and services ranging from multilingual educational supports and involving stakeholders in diverse communities to youth engagement, one which has seen a united front is the Healthy, Safe, and Violence-Free Relationships project. 

Community Consultant Beatrice Maundu and Project Coordinator Piper Larsen have been looking to better understand intimate partner and domestic violence within ethnocultural communities since the project’s launch in 2020. 

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, more than 4 in 10 women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. In 2022, 184 women and girls were killed due to gender-based violence. Looking at statistics across Canada, of the 117,093 victims of police-reported intimate partner violence in 2022, almost 8 in 10 were women and girls. Of these rates, they were highest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. According to Statistics Canada, in 2022, Saskatchewan (730 victims per 100,000 population) and Manitoba (585) had the highest provincial rates of police-reported family violence and intimate partner violence (732 for Saskatchewan and 633 for Manitoba), similar to police-reported crime overall.  

Maundu says when it comes to newcomer communities, there are often misconceptions about what domestic violence entails. “Is it a lack of understanding of what violence is and what is termed as violence, especially when you make the transition to Canada as a newcomer?”

This project invited newcomer youth, men, women, and ethno-queers to sit down and have these conversations to better understand what is happening. Early conflict can start during the immigration process. Maundu paints a picture of a potential scenario. 

“You’ve moved here with your whole family, and you and your partner have probably been arguing about why don’t you go first. I twist his arm and say no, we’re all coming along; for us to get here and go, huh, you’re right, you really should have come before we did. You are no longer a doctor in Canada because your experience is apparently not fit for Canada.”

The shock of realizing you can no longer work in a profession you trained diligently for can be a tremendous shock and take a toll on a family. Another significant concern that Maundu and Larsen heard from newcomer communities is the lack of agency they sometimes feel in the decision-making process. They felt they were not included in developing policies involving the settlement sector, employment, and education. This adds to the frustration individuals may feel. 

The COVID lockdowns only amplified those feelings. 

During the approximately 30 consultations that took place through the Healthy, Safe, and Violence-Free Relationships project, other barriers were identified. The pandemic saw a lack of services, beds, or places for people to go; language was another significant concern. Maundu explains many felt that because many services weren’t offered in their native language and the pressure to learn English without an effort to provide accessibility to newcomers caused added stress. 

However, despite the barriers that were identified, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

“I know for a fact the settlement sector is working on ensuring ethnocultural communities are represented,” says Maundu. “We do have translation services, and we do have people who are volunteering. We have people working on one with ethnocultural communities, and I mean people who are leaving their 9-5 jobs and acting as a lesson in the community. We have that, so there is a glimpse of hope.”

Solving these issues will take a lot of work, adds Maundu; it will take the collective effort of both public and private sectors and dedicated and passionate individuals. ECCM has already seen community members step up to the plate. Men are predominantly the perpetrators of IPV and family violence, and men within the community want to engage in these conversations on how they can be a part of finding solutions. Discussions are also taking place that men, too, can be victims of domestic violence and how domestic abuse in all its forms needs to be addressed, not just violence but financial abuse and mental health struggles. 

By identifying these themes through consultation, ECCM looks to partner with organizations on the front line to address these challenges. SEED Winnipeg Supporting Employment and Economic Development (seed Winniopeg) and Safe Housing and Directed Empowerment (SHADE Winnipeg) are two such organizations. 

With the Healthy, Safe, and Violence-Free Relationships project coming to an end this upcoming March, Vyrauen, Maundu, and Larsen have been grappling with how to wrap up such an essential initiative, understanding that if these conversations around violence stop, they could be right back where they started in a few years. To address this, they’ve invited women of 15 ethnocultural communities to record voiceovers for animated videos in their native languages.  

“These short animated videos define what violence is, what different types of abuse look like, and where to find support,” says Larsen. “The hope is that these can be shared with the community and it can have that lasting impact. It’s addressing those language barriers and educational barriers so that you can hear, in your first language, identifying different types of abuse.”

For all members of the team, this project has been incredibly fulfilling, engaging with communities across the province and meeting so many incredible people. They hope the seeds of these conversations have taken root and communities can continue to work together to make a difference. 

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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