by Jarrah Hodge
In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, the Girls Action Foundation has released a new report about the situation facing girls in Canada. Beyond Appearances: Brief on the Main Issues Facing Girls in Canada contains findings from a close review of population surveys and academic literature and shows that girls in Canada face serious and interconnected life challenges, at rates higher than the general public might expect.
I spoke with Saman Ahsan, Executive Director of Girls Action Foundation. She has worked with and on behalf of girls for most of her career.
“There were a couple of statistics that I found really alarming: one was the proportion of girls who try self-harm. In BC we found one in five girls had attempted self-harm in the previous year and that really showed me that the mental health of girls in Canada is something that needs attention,” said Ahsan.
“Another statistic I found alarming is the rate of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. It’s shocking that as a nation Canada can just sit by. I don’t think action is being taken at the level that needs to be done.”
17% of reported missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada were under 18 years old.
Ahsan summarized the situation facing Canada’s nearly 3.6 million girls today:
“Girls are facing a lot of issues that are very intertwined – all the issues they’re facing such as mental health, violence, their career and educational prospects, their physical health – are intertwined and reinforce one another.”
For example Ahsan said many girls experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety as a result of experiencing violence and feeling unsafe at school. Some of the most disturbing stats in the report were around violence: 46% of high school girls in Ontario reported being the target of unwanted sexual comments or gestures. Four times more girls than boys are sexually abused and 75% of the time it is by a family member or friend. The situation is even worse for girls with disabilities. Read more