News / Vancouver

'You are not alone': Multilingual ads reach out to immigrant women fleeing abuse

Building Supports campaign hopes to spread message of welcome and safety through ads on public transit, bus shelters and women’s washrooms in five languages.

Part of an anti-violence against women Building Supports advertising campaign by the B.C. Society for Transition Houses, the ads reach out to immigrant and refugee women with the message

Contributed/BCSTH

Part of an anti-violence against women Building Supports advertising campaign by the B.C. Society for Transition Houses, the ads reach out to immigrant and refugee women with the message "You are not alone" in five languages: Punjabi, Farsi, Arabic, English and Mandarin.

Can you say “You are not alone” in five languages?

More than 100 transition houses for women fleeing violence in British Columbia now can — thanks to an ad campaign from their umbrella organization that’s been rolled out across the province to ensure immigrant and refugee women know they can turn to them for help.

“Transition houses are there for all women,” explained Joanne Baker, the executive director of the B.C. Society of Transition Houses, in a phone interview. “And they're absolutely for immigrant and refugee women.

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“We wanted to create something warm and welcoming around transition houses being safe, welcoming places where women's culture and language will be respected, and where they’ll be taken care of.”

The “Building Supports” public awareness campaign launched last month and runs through the end of March in five languages — Arabic, Farsi, Mandarin, Punjabi and English — with messages appearing on bus shelters, women’s washrooms, and public transit across B.C. as well as on radio and television.

Baker explained that many immigrant women either don’t know what is available to help them when escaping an abusive relationship, face language barriers if English isn’t their first language, or else are worried that asking for help could cause them more problems or even put them in danger.

“These women have barriers to accessing transition houses,” she told Metro. “They might come from a place where there's a lot of shame attached to state-funded programs for women, or they might assume you have to be a citizen to access them. And there might be concerns that their culture might not be respected.

“Because they and their children have experienced violence, some might be afraid their children might be taken from them. That’s something many women have a fear of anyway.”

But Baker emphasized that, while such concerns are "well-founded," transition houses in the province don’t require residents to be citizens or permanent residents to seek sanctuary, and that even women and children without legal status here can seek shelter there and staff will “work with the women to protect them to go through whatever immigration processes they need to go through to strengthen or confirm their status,” she said.

“The most vulnerable women are those without status,” she said. “Often abusers use that as a threat to women, to say, ‘Your status here is tied to me supporting you.’

“Making yourself known to authorities is a leap of faith when you're scared that can be used against you … But (transition houses) are there at a point of crisis for any women fleeing violence.”

The advertising campaign is a partnership between BCSTH, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Simon Fraser University’s FREDA Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children. The campaign was funded by the Vancouver Foundation; Newad agency donated washroom ad spaces, and the City of Vancouver granted $28,000 for bus shelters.

For more information on the campaign or accessing transition houses, visit www.bcsth.ca, or phone VictimLink BC at 1-800-563-0808.

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