Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Margaret Walton-Roberts

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Access to health care services is an essential element to immigrant women receiving the care that they need. However, there are barriers that women face as immigrants in a new community. Language, cultural awareness and household responsibilities are issues that a significant number of immigrant women encounter when accessing health care services. There are significant gaps within geographic literature pertaining specifically to marginalized populations and health care experiences. More recent work is beginning to emerge that examines the social and behavioural aspects of health and health care. This study intends to contribute to this growing body of literature aimed at understanding the experiences of immigrant women by examining the role of place within the construction of health care services. Using this concept of place, a theoretical framework was established to answer these questions: How do immigrant women experience the health care system and the services that it offers? How do immigrant women interact with the geographies of health? And finally, what are the service providers doing to alleviate potential barriers to health care for immigrant women? A qualitative methodology was pursued and a community collaborative approach was taken. Using open-ended questions, I interviewed ten health care professionals and conducted two focus groups with Vietnamese and Tamil speaking women. Participant observation was also carried out during this research process. These methods were proven to be useful in attaining in-depth, personal experiences. All of the research was carried out in collaboration with the Immigrant Women’s Centre in downtown Toronto, Ontario. This Centre provides health care to the growing population of immigrant women in the Toronto area and staffs counselors with various cultural backgrounds and many different languages. The Centre services these communities by giving them access to a Winnebago that travels to various locations within the Toronto area, called the Mobile Health Unit (MHU). Findings show that immigrant women’s negative experiences towards health care places arise mainly because the system is structured to exclude those who do not follow institutional norms related to health care practices. The MHU is a service that crosses the barriers that many immigrant women face in accessing appropriate health care. It provides a culturally safe environment where language factors are ameliorated and where women can get the health care that they need. Moreover, it is a place that has a foundation based on the values and beliefs of immigrant women, which is shown to be essential in the delivery process. Communication is integral to these assumptions. Understanding the interrelated diversities of immigrant women’s experiences with health care is vital to creating policy and practice that is inclusive and responsive. Policy makers, however, have tended to exclude the understandings of marginalized populations. Only by incorporating the voices of immigrant women will the Canadian health care system truly move towards providing quality care to all members of its diverse population. Policy makers must look to successes of grassroots initiatives like the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre and the MHU in order to create more accessible and inclusive health care models.

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