Racism: A threat to women’s health

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Publication Date: 
Thu, 2013-03-21

Denise L. Spitzer (Ed). (2011). Engendering Migrant Health: Canadian Perspectives. University of Toronto Press.

This collection, while not specifically focused on women, does contain several articles looking at women’s experiences and change strategies. For instance, Ilene Hyman describes “The mental health and well-being of immigrant and refugee women in Canada,” Michèlle Kérisit contributes “Examining the health of immigrant and refugee francophone women  living outside Québec,” and Sara Torres et al. discuss “Empowering women through community work: Strategies within the Latin American community in Ottawa.”

For more information, see the University of Toronto Press website.

Vijay Agnew (Ed). (2009). Racialized Migrant Women in Canada: Essays on Health, Violence and Equity. University of Toronto Press.

Divided into three sections—relating to violence, health and equity—this collection of essays examines the experiences of immigrant women living in Canada. Specifically, the essays focus on women in several distinct communities, revealing the inequalities within the economic, legal and political systems in this country. The essays describe the situations for immigrant women living in densely populated urban centres as well as those in smaller communities and demonstrate regional disparities as they relate to the three overarching themes. Some of the diverse issues address by the essays include: the social construction of Muslim women, access to health care, earnings inequity and violence against immigrant women.

For more information, see the University of Toronto Press website.

Ilene Hyman. (2009). Racism as a Determinant of Immigrant Health. Public Health Agency of Canada and the Metropolis Project. Also available in French: Le racism comme déterminant de la santé des immigrants.

This policy brief written for the Canadian federal government presents evidence of the major health and health access inequities that exist for racialized people in Canada and elsewhere, and for racism as a determinant of health, based on a review of the literature available at the time. It proposes policy and research actions to address racism and reduce health inequities.


Several recent books demonstrate the complexities of racism’s impact on women’s health and show us some ways forward. While the books below are all based on U.S. research, there are extensive parallels to Canada.  

Evelyn Nakano Glenn. (2012). Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America. Harvard University Press.

Like Canada, the U.S. faces a growing crisis in care: the number of people needing care is growing while the ranks of traditional caregivers have shrunk. Glenn offers an innovative interpretation of care labour in the United States by tracing the roots of inequity along two interconnected strands: unpaid caring within the family; and slavery, indenture, and other forms of coerced labor. By bringing both into the same analytic framework, she provides a convincing explanation of the devaluation of care work and the exclusion of both unpaid and paid care workers from critical rights such as minimum wage, retirement benefits, and workers' compensation. Glenn exposes the underlying systems of control that have resulted in women—especially immigrants and women of color—performing a disproportionate share of caring labor. Finally, she examines strategies for improving the situation of unpaid family caregivers and paid home healthcare workers.

For more information, see the Harvard University Press website.

Dorothy Roberts. (2012). Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century. New Press.

Roberts argues that a decade after the Human Genome Project proved that human beings are not naturally divided by race, the emerging fields of personalized medicine, reproductive technologies, genetic genealogy, and DNA databanks are attempting to resuscitate race as a biological category written in our genes. “Americans are accepting a genetic ideology rooted in race that makes everyone responsible for managing their own lives at the genetic level instead of eliminating the social inequalities that damage our entire society.”

For more information, see the New Press website