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Calgary Immigrant Women's Association celebrating Global International Women's Day


Staff and volunteers from the Calgary Immigrant Women's Association (CIWA) have staked out a plot in Southcentre Mall to set up a display celebrating Global International Women's Day. Their goal from March 8 to March 12th is to raise awareness for the programs they host for new Canadians.

"For us, International Women's Day should be every day," said Paula Calderon, CIWA's CEO. "But it is definitely a special occasion that gives us the opportunity to talk about the issues that are still prevalent in gender equality and to talk about the challenges and the barriers that women face not only here, but around the world."

CIWA is a culturally diverse settlement agency that focuses on the unique concerns and needs of immigrant and refugee women, girls, and their families. It's been active in the Calgary community for more than 40 years.

"We're very passionate about being able to help women integrate and settle and succeed," said Calderon. "Whether it's professionally or getting over family barriers, or cross cultural issues, there's over 55 services at CIWA that support women in a very holistic way."


The colourful display at the mall features many statistics CIWA has accomplished over the years along with literature for visitors about the organization. Over a five day period, hand-crafted items will be sold to raise money for its programs.

"There's nothing worse for us than to hear 'oh, we wish we had heard about you'," said Calderon. "So here we are, spreading our word and hopefully reaching more women who need our services and who can come and talk to us."

Many of the items at the sale are made by senior immigrant women taking part in CIWA programs. Celestina Akinkunmi is the settlement and integration manager with CIWA who oversees the seniors program and says even though the women speak many languages, they enjoy spending time together.

"It's not just us telling them what to do, it's actually them bringing their skills and (we're) just helping the seniors feel very valued," said Akinkunmi.

"Because it's so easy for seniors to really get lost, everybody's busy," she said. "We know how busy life is here, right? People go off to work, their children go, their grandkids go off to school, [and] no one is actually able to make those social connections with them."


Akinkunmi is originally from Nigeria and says International Women's Day is special for her.

"Because if I think back to where I'm coming from, even from my country, there are so many things that women are not allowed to do," she said. "There's a lot of gender inequity and then International Women's Day being able to actually bridge that gap and create those bridges towards equity, one step at a time, is big for me."

Elena Esina moved to Calgary from Russia 13 years ago and graduated from CIWA's employment program for professional immigrant mothers with several job offers. Now she's at the University of Calgary's faculty of social work on a project to end domestic violence.

"Since I moved to Canada I have been highly passionate about advocating for immigrant women," said Esina. "Because I believe our stories are not often heard and the challenges that we face are not often covered and it's for me, it's about gender equity, trying to make sure that all women get supports that they need."


The theme for this year's International Women's day is #EmbraceEquity. Alexandra Velosa is the marketing manager at Southcentre Mall who came to Calgary 20 years ago from Colombia. She is another graduate of CIWA who tries to be a role model for women new to Canada.

"When you tell your story, you inspire others so it's like, yeah, I was an immigrant, I came here 20 years ago, just with big dreams, that was my suitcase," said Velosa. "Now I am working in the mall, I spend a lot of time with non-profit organizations helping them succeed so I am very excited and I hope that this inspires others to grow as well."

The CIWA five day mini market is open during mall hours. Learn more about the organization here: Top Stories

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