Canadian Girls Face Interconnected Life Challenges


Participants in a Girls Action Foundation leadership training session, 2012.

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

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Girls Action Foundation Lights a Spark With Intergenerational Dialogue

Chief Kim Baird speaks at "Light a Spark"

On May 31 I was lucky to attend “Light a Spark”, an event hosted at SFU Harbour Centre by Girls Action Foundation to create intergenerational dialogue between girls and women involved in empowering girls.

“Zoom in on Girls” was a daytime regional gathering including GAF network members and organizations who work with girls. Joining the daytime participants at the evening “Light a Spark” event were local women’s activists, women engaged in mentoring programs, and representatives from local businesses and institutions like Science World.

At the evening social some of the women spoke about the projects they were working on. One young woman was working with GAF funding to establish a peer support group for young mothers. Syahidah, another young woman, received an $1000 grant with her collective to work on a non-profit magazine featuring poetry, prose, and photos by women of colour, queer women, and Indigenous women. The “Margins” zine will lauch on June 30 at the Rhizome Cafe and the first issue will be available here.

Next event organizers introduced the night’s keynote speaker, Chief Kim Baird of the Tsawwassen First Nation. She spoke about what it was like to write, pass, and implement the first urban land claims treaty in Canada:

“We’ve kicked the Indian act from our lands and were doing it ourselves and it’s a lot of work but it’s a labour of love.”

Baird talked about her background and the challenges she faced getting into band politics as a relatively soft-spoken woman. She also shared the difficulties she experienced balancing her work as Chief with raising three young daughters. Now she says the main challenges she faces are keeping her team motivated after years of working on the treaty and the new structures they needed to establish.  Baird says she now goes on long walks and listens to the favourite goth music of her teen years for self-care.

One of the most unique parts of the evening was the “speed mentorship” which occurred after Baird’s talk. Everyone in the room was paired up with someone they didn’t know. Each person had a few minutes to tell the other about a problem or challenge they’re facing with their work, projects, or campaigns. The other had the rest of a 5-minute window to help speed brainstorm suggestions. Then they switched. I found the pressure to generate fast, useful advice was a really interesting way to force myself to break out of the boxes and frames I often think in. It made me more open to considering new ideas and it was also just a cool way to get to know someone else.

Thanks to Karine and Melanie for inviting me to this event. Check out the Girls Action Foundation website for more information on future events and how you can get involved.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment