Family Matters: Immigrant Women’s Activism in Ontario and British Columbia, 1960s -1980s


  • Margaret Little Queen's University
  • Lynne Marks University of Victoria
  • Marin Beck Queen's University
  • Emma Paszat York University
  • Liza Tom McGill University


immigrant women, family, feminism, motherhood


This article uses oral history interviews to explore the ways in which different attitudes towards family and motherhood could create major tensions between mainstream feminists and immigrant women’s activists in Ontario and British Columbia between the 1960s and the 1980s.  Immigrant women’s belief in the value of the family did not prevent immigrant women from going out to work to help support their families or accessing daycare and women’s shelters, hard fought benefits of the women’s movement.  However, these women demanded access to job training, English language classes, childcare, and women’s shelters on their own terms, in ways that minimized the racism they faced, respected religious and cultural values, and respected the fact that the heterosexual family remained an important resource for the majority of immigrant women. 

Immigrant women activists were less likely to accept a purely gender-based analysis than mainstream feminists. They often sought to work with men in their own communities, even in dealing with violence against women. And issues of violence and of reproductive rights often could not be understood only within the boundaries of Canada. For immigrant women violence against women was often analyzed in relation to political violence in their homelands, while demands for fully realized reproductive rights drew on experiences of coercion both in Canada and transnationally.


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Author Biographies

Margaret Little, Queen's University

Dr. Margaret Little is a Professor in Gender Studies and Political Studies at Queen’s University and has been involved in anti-poverty activism for over 30 years. She is the author of the award-winning No Car, No Radio, No Liquor Permit: The Moral Regulation of Single Mothers in Ontario, 1920-1996 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1998) and If I Had a Hammer: Retraining that Really Works (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2005).

Lynne Marks, University of Victoria

Dr. Lynne Marks is a Professor in the History Department at University of Victoria. She is the author of Revivals and Roller Rinks: Religion, Leisure and Identity in Late Nineteenth Century Small Town Ontario (U of Toronto Press, 1996) and Infidels and the Damn Churches: Irreligion and Religion in Settler British Columbia (UBC Press, 2017), as well as a range of articles and book chapters on topics related to the history of religion, irreligion, ethnicity, social welfare, gender, class and feminism in Canada.

Marin Beck, Queen's University

Marin Beck is a PhD Candidate (ABD) in the Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where she specializes in the Gender & Politics and Political Theory. She is a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Scholar (2016-2019) and recipient of the Jean Royce (2016) and R.S McLaughlin (2015) fellowships. Her doctoral research explores the interplay of neoliberal practices and gender within immigrant settlement service organizations in Canada. She is currently serving as a Policy Analyst in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada on issues related to gender, race, and indigenous self-governance.

Emma Paszat, York University

Dr. Emma Paszat is a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Social Science at York University. Paszat's research interests include politicized homophobias, LGBTQ politics, and decolonizing transnational LGBTQ activism.

Liza Tom, McGill University

Liza Tom is a PhD candidate in Communication Studies at McGill University. Her work looks at non-governmental and community-based organisations that provide formal and informal support and services to transfeminine communities in Bangalore, and popular narratives of activism and welfare in urban India. Her work is funded by an FRQSC doctoral research scholarship.