Profile: Refugee Women’s Network

In 2016, Zein Dhanidina took action to support women and families in her community. In Ontario, there had been an influx of women refugees. Nearly half the newcomers didn’t speak English and had limited education.

In response to the needs she saw, Dhanidina founded the Refugee Women’s Network (RWN) to provide education, advocacy, and support programs.

“Our programs are meant to empower refugee women from being withdrawn and afraid, to being empowered and an advocate,” explains Dhanidina, who is also the Executive Director of RWN. “We believe our clients’ success will be immediate, but the benefits will be generational.”

RWN offers three primary programs: Learning Lab, Women Helping Women, and Education and Training & Development.

Learning Lab focuses on English language skills so women can advocate for their children, talk to their doctors, and get opportunities to further their education. Women for Women offers connection and gives new immigrants and refugees a chance to meet with other women in a safe space. The education component helps women with professional designations retrain to re-qualify for work in Canada. Supporting women in these ways has a trickle-down impact on their families, and makes the future brighter for multiple generations.

“[Increasing] self-confidence motivates refugee and new immigrant women to pursue the goal of standing on her own two feet and not only provide for her family but motivate her children and other women to pursue success,” Dhanidina notes.

But the pandemic has exposed additional challenges for refugee women, who face increasing domestic abuse and food insecurity. One of the network’s goals for 2021 is to support more women in these situations.

The pandemic added another layer of complexity to the lives of women who access RWN programs.

“The pandemic left our clients facing the challenge of helping their children with online learning,” Dhanidina says. “This provided them with a look at how their child is learning, how they can help, and how they can advocate for their child.”

Limited English-speaking skills has prevented some mothers from being able to help their children with their online classes — which is why RWN wants to connect with more refugee women.

“I am thrilled that Project Change Foundation has chosen RWN as one of its 2021 grant recipients,” says Emily-anne King, one of Project Change Foundation’s board members. “I look forward to supporting Zein in developing a formal donor acquisition strategy which will help to ensure long term sustainability for the organization.”

The Project Change Foundation grant is going towards professional development so that RWN can provide counselling to women experiencing domestic violence, and to support other programs. On the advisory side, the foundation is helping with board development and strategy.

“[Project Change Foundation] support helps us translate our learnings to our clients, and helping them impacts their family,” Dhanidina says.

Read more about Refugee Women’s Network on their website.