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Reviewed by:
  • Engendering Migrant Health: Canadian Perspectives by Denise Spitzer
  • Elizabeth Burgess-Pinto
Denise Spitzer. Engendering Migrant Health: Canadian Perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011. 320 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $42.90 hc. $29.95 sc.

Engendering Migrant Health is a collection of writings by researchers, practitioners, and community activists that focuses on the complexities that arise due to intersections of immigration, gender and health in Canada.

This edited volume is contextualized by the concept of the loss of the healthy immigrant effect. According to the healthy immigrant effect, voluntary migrants to Canada arrive with better health than the average Canadian, but over time they report poorer health and higher rates of chronic disease than those born in the country. Women, particularly those from non-European countries, report the greatest decline in health. The presentations in this book provide evidence of the factors that contribute to this deterioration, and offer examples of how the effects can be mitigated. [End Page 150]

The book is well organized with an introduction and four sections that begin with an examination of issues of individuals in four communities, followed by discussions of the impacts of immigration and settlement in selected groups, and descriptions of strategies used to mitigate the ill effects of settlement when working with communities. The concluding section is a reflection on the “…practical issues, theoretical insights, and policy implications…” that emerge from the previous contributions (20).

A strength of this book is the varied perspectives presented by the contributors. Parts 1 through 3 contain four chapters each. Part 1, Situating Migration, Gender, and Health in Canada, includes discussions of the difficulties experienced by Francophone refugee women of colour and of the embodiment of stress in immigrant and refugee women. Research by Este and Tachble on Sudanese and Russian fathers focuses on parenting and draws attention to the fact that migrant men can be vulnerable to marginalization and should be considered within the context of migrant health. The work by O’Neill and Sproule highlights the social inclusion issues of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) migrants.

The four chapters of Part 2, The Sequelae of Suffering, focus on detrimental aspects of the migration and settlement process. They include an integrative literature review by Hyman on the susceptibility of immigrant and refugee women to mental health issues, a discussion by Thurston of intimate partner violence and implications for policy, Simich’s study on consequences of liminality for undocumented female Spanish-speaking workers, and Dossa’s narratives of Afghan women in Vancouver. These authors highlight the complex relationships between recognition of suffering in the public sphere and the suffering experienced in the everyday lives of migrants.

Part 3, Communities, Social Capital, Empowerment, and Resilience, focuses on strategies to mitigate ill effects of settlement and on ways to establish social capital and empowerment in migrants. The section emphasizes the importance of social unity for individual and community health. Ortiz and the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op focus on equity and access to health in their description of the development of their community-based group in Edmonton. Torres, Estable, Guerra, and Cermeño describe their study of the impact of the work of Latin American community workers on the workers themselves as well as on the community members. Amaratunga and her colleagues describe the Global Ottawa Aids Link (GOAL) project, a community-based research project involving community members, researchers, and government representatives and others who work on effective responses to HIV/AIDS in immigrant women. Lastly, Vissandjée, Alexander, Apale, and VanderPlaat provide an interesting overview of social capital as it relates to immigrant and refugee women. [End Page 151]

The introduction and Part 4 of the book frame the contributions. Of concern is the repeated use of the verb “to complicate” in reference to the complexities of migrant health. While the word “complicate” can be defined as making something more complex or intricate, it carries exceptionally negative connotations, the main ones being that complications connote increased difficulties and that complications have few solutions. Complexities are more amenable to change than complications. Too often migrant individuals and communities are subjected to negative stigma. Surely the aim of the research and community efforts is to add...


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