Because many Somali women are the only adult in Canada from their extended family, there are certain responsibilities and expectations that they alone must fulfil, such as supporting family members back home by sending them money, and trying to sponsor other family members to come into Canada.

Single mothers feel the pressure more than two-parent families. Some women had to leave their spouse and children behind in Somalia. In many cases women fled Somalia with false passports and could only bring the number of children stated on these passports. The cost of bringing the children to Canada was also used as a factor to decide which children to bring. The decision about who would leave and who would stay is a difficult one since some mothers leave young children behind in the hope of sponsoring them once they themselves have become permanent residents. But this process takes, on average, over a year.

Sponsorship has been made more difficult under Canada’s recently restricted immigration law, which only allows sponsorship of spouses and children under 19 years of age. Parents and grandparents, minor – age siblings, and adopted and orphaned children can be sponsored only if the sponsor is in work. Due to economic pressures and to be reunited with their children and other family members, women are thus forced to take any job they can get. These jobs are usually low – paid and result in having to accept two or three part-time positions in order to meet the minimum requirement for earned income set by immigration.

Immigrant women experience extreme difficulty finding decent employment at every level of the Canadian labour force, and Somali women tend to face the additional hardships of ‘cultural and language barriers (Somali and Muslim) and discrimination (Black, female and Muslim)’. Somali women are highly visible in terms of dress and behaviour and this has major implications for both employment opportunities and access to services. The majority of Canadian employers ask for Canadian work experience and are not likely to acknowledge previous work and educational experience of refugees in their home countries. This forces most immigrant women into jobs well below their overall skills and almost always below their potential. Women also lack work experience as they might not have worked outside the home before.

Consequently the majority of Somali women are employed in some form of domestic work: there is minimum language requirement and such ‘unskilled’ jobs are available in greater numbers to women. Once in these menial jobs it is difficult to escape this employment ghetto.

Since the lack of English or French language skills is often not considered a problem with such low-paying jobs, the women do not have opportunities to improve their language skills at work. Women therefore remain ineligible for occupational training or upgrading. On the job these women have few opportunities to learn the official languages because their fellow workers and supervisors usually do not speak to them and the work is done in isolation. The long hours and exhausting nature of the work also make it extremely difficult for women to attend evening or weekend language classes. They are caught in a vicious cycle which makes them vulnerable to exploitation.