Standing up for immigrant women
Vathsala Illesinghe, Policy Studies PhD candidate
Vathsala Illesinghe understands the challenges faced by immigrant women—because she is one herself.
For her Policy Studies PhD dissertation, Illesinghe is investigating how immigration policies affect immigrant and refugee women’s experience of violence. Her research involves examining a complex set of social, economic and political factors in new ways.
Before arriving in Canada in 2013, Illesinghe was a doctor in Sri Lanka. Her frustration with the lack of resources available to women facing domestic violence led her to become a prominent academic and activist, publishing papers on violence against women; helping establish care centres in hospitals, co-founding a non-profit community organization for empowering youth, and collaborating with an international community of violence against women researchers.
Her journey eventually led her to Ryerson for graduate studies as a mature student. “I never imagined I’d go back to school but I felt right at home with others in my cohort,” says Illesinghe. “Because Policy Studies is an interdisciplinary program, it attracted many others who, like me, are going back to school or taking a new career path.”
Recently, Illesinghe was named Ryerson’s first Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar. Awarded to only a handful of doctoral students in Canada for academic excellence and civic engagement, the prestigious three-year scholarship is valued at over $200,000.
While Canada is considered a leader in immigration, Illesinghe recognizes there is more work to be done. She hopes to better understand how immigration policies shape people’s experiences, how women become vulnerable to violence and ultimately help develop a more transnational approach to immigration policy-making.
At Ryerson, we are committed to finding new ways of understanding our increasingly complex world and making a difference in it.
Photo credit: Narrative Drive