Who is missing from the pre-election talk in Ontario? Girls and young women.
This, as Autumn Peltier, a 13-year-old water protector from Manitoulin Island, Ont., recently addressed the United Nations calling on world leaders to "warrior up" to protect water. The Young Women's Leadership Network has been consulting across Ontario on a sexual violence support toolkit to address violence against women in politics. And it was two young women from Toronto, Ont., Tessa Hill and Lia Valente, who convinced Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to put consent in the updated sex-ed curriculum.
Girls and young women are advancing solutions amidst all of the well-intentioned talk. Their leadership should be a call to action for Ontario politicians to start talking about, and investing in, girls.
Government departments, even Status of Women, do not have dedicated funding streams for girls, young women and non-binary youth programming.
Ontario YWCAs — from Toronto, to Hamilton, to Cambridge, to Muskoka — run feminist programming specific to girls, young women and non-binary youth. These programs also operate within a funding gap. Government departments, even Status of Women, do not have dedicated funding streams for girls, young women and non-binary youth programming. Ontario's Ministry of Children and Youth Services released a Youth Action Plan and a Black Youth Action Plan that did not include gender-specific commitments.
These gaps must be addressed. Ontario Politicians need to start talking about dedicated program funding for girls, young women and non-binary youth. Here are four reasons why:
A Harvard study of corporate women found that the majority felt alone, unsupported and outside of their comfort zones. If this is happening in boardrooms, imagine what is happening in classrooms. Girls' programs create an encouraging space for girls to talk openly. It also creates a safer space to discuss complex issues — whether that be racism, mental health, bullying, or rigid gender roles and binaries, topics often not talked about elsewhere.
The confidence gap is a consistent barrier for women in the classroom, in politics, the C-Suite and the labour market. These trends start young: in Grade 6, 36 per cent of girls say they are self-confident, but by Grade 10 this plummets to only 14 per cent. A girl-centered space is part of the solution. Girls benefit from extra support to help them recognize their own strengths and build confidence in themselves.
Girls and young women are eight times more likely to be victims of sexual assault and twice as likely to be victims of bullying, especially cyberbullying. Girls living in poverty, and disproportionately racialized and Indigenous girls face challenges in their daily lives. Investing in girls' programs funds access to confidential staff support and mentorship — and ultimately, a safe place between school and home that is dedicated to helping these girls thrive.
Canada ranks a distant 59th in the world on women's representation in National Parliaments. And while STEM jobs are growing faster and paying higher, these jobs employ less than 25 per cent women. Girls in YWCA programs are leading in these male-dominated arenas through initiatives like the Girls' Tech Tour in Toronto, STEM Girls' Club and the Elect More Women series in Hamilton. These initiatives build support for future economic and political impact, giving young women and girls the tools to transform their lives and communities.
When girls are given a dedicated and safe space to explore their full potential, they rise up as strong women.
Canadian Women's Foundation research further highlights the impact of girls' programming that is strength-based, positive and holistic. Girls' programs in 56 locations across Canada saw that 96 per cent of participants felt better about being a girl, 95 per cent felt more connected, and 95 per cent of parents agreed girls' programming strengthened their daughters' self-confidence. This furthers the case for action. Feminist organizations are doing the work, but need core investment from government partners.
When girls are given a dedicated and safe space to explore their full potential, they rise up as strong women. As one participant put it, "I didn't know I needed [girls' programming] until I had it." Thinking back on our experiences, we both would have benefited from girls' programming. In Ontario, with a government of strong women — a woman premier, a woman third-party leader and a critical mass of women members of Provincial Parliament — we hope this rings true for most as well.
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Dedicated program funding for girls, young women and non-binary youth is a budget issue, and an election issue. With Election Day — June 7 — fast approaching in Ontario, we must vote for action and ensure that girls, young women and non-binary youth have the government investments necessary to be up front, whether that be in politics, social movements or on the world stage.
After all, Beyoncé said it best: Who run the world? Girls.
Etana Cain is the Manager of Advocacy and Communications at YWCA Toronto and Daniela Giulietti is the Advocacy and Engagement Coordinator at YWCA Hamilton.
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