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The Importance of Minority Women Role-Models for Young Women and Girls

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Part Four of Senator Jaffer's Blog Series on Systemic Discrimination in our Criminal Justice System (Part One, Part Two, Part Three)

When we look at young visible minorities in the criminal justice system, it is easy for the conversation to focus primarily on young males. This is not without reason:

According to the Statistics Canada: "In 2008/2009, as in previous years, less than one quarter of completed court cases involved a female accused. Approximately 18 per cent of cases disposed of in adult criminal courts involved a female accused, as did 23 per cent completed in youth courts."

Despite their lower incarceration rates, there remain serious challenges for at-risk visible minority females. While they may not be entering the criminal justice system as consistently as their male counterparts, the implications can be just as devastating. My main concerns for these young women are twofold.

First, in racialized communities, race can quickly become an everyday challenge for young people. Discrimination can become a consistent daily ritual, and ultimately lead to alienation of certain individuals. This could cause both girls and boys of similar races to be attracted to the familiar, subconsciously or not, forming segregated cliques. This is the result not of a lack of willingness to integrate with the community around them, but rather a survival mechanism to move out of the spotlight and feel accepted. This shows how alienation by their peers can result in a lack of sense of belonging. Worse yet, this alienation can be magnified by leadership figures in these young women's lives.

Unfortunately, systemic discrimination can also be found in some schools by people in authority positions, which can make the youth feel even more isolated and misunderstood. Given that fact, it is understandable that these young people feel a deep-rooted frustration in a system that appears to be blatantly functioning against them. As a result, the young women would be less likely to trust the leadership figures that surround them. This sentiment brings me to my second major concern.

Young visible minority women are at risk of seeing, on a potentially daily basis, their male counterparts treated more aggressively than members of other races. This can foster reluctance from these girls that will carry through when they become women. Most concerning would be if these women, under any unpredictable number of circumstances, found themselves in need of reaching out for help. What would be devastating to see is if they are less likely to reach out to our well-equipped public safety personnel, including the police, because of their impression based on how they see male members of their community being treated by them. My point, simply put, is that systemic discrimination expands beyond our general scope of understanding. Behind every young man that is criminalized there is a community that is affected, and half of that community is female; A mother, a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, a wife, these women are all affected by the higher likelihood of their community's men being criminalized.

It is fundamental to our Canadian values to make all members of society feel at home, and that requires addressing the systemic discrimination that exists in our nation. The sooner we explicitly reject this method of functioning, the sooner we can ensure all communities of this great country truly feel at home in their own homeland.

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