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The Top Issues Facing Canadian Girls

The Top Issues Facing Canadian Girls

Girls Inc. is committed to advancing the rights and opportunities of girls and young women, with a particular focus on the needs of girls from low-income communities and girls who face multiple, intersectional challenges. Informed by the voices of girls themselves, we advocate to break through the barriers girls face and to reform systems that impede their success.

 

Sexual Assault and Abuse

Girls are at high risk for sexual abuse and assault. According to a 2008 survey, 27% of girls in the 9th-11th grade reported having been pressured into doing something sexual that they did not want to do.[1] Almost 30% of Canadian girls reported having been grabbed or pinched in a sexual way; girls consistently reported being victims of harassment at higher rates than boys.[2]

Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately affected. For example, studies show that women are more likely to experience sexual assault on reserve compared to non-reserve areas[3]

Why It Matters

  • Sexual violence and harassment have lasting effects. Beyond immediate emotional and physical pain, girls in abusive situations have a higher risk of headaches, stomach aches, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.[4]
  • Sexual assault endangers a student’s academic success. In some cases, particularly if they do not receive support, students may withdraw from classes or activities, losing access to critical educational opportunities.
  • Survivors of dating violence often blame themselves, lose trust in others, and become convinced that they do not deserve to be treated with respect. Many survivors internalize this treatment and come to think of it as normal.

Mental Health

Mental health is important at every stage of life and is critical for a girl’s success in school. Girls and young women aged 15-24 are the population group most at risk of depression and anxiety disorders in Canada.[5] Sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 15-24 in Canada and girls are the most likely Canadian population group to attempt suicide.[6]Supporting girls’ mental health is essential for boosting their academic success as well as their overall livelihood.

Why It Matters

  • Mental wellness is critical to the ability of girls and young women and their ability to lead healthy, fulfilling, and meaningful lives.
  • Despite the fact that mental health issues are treatable, girls may not receive the services they need if their schools do not know how to identify and offer support to students who need help.
  • Girls with unaddressed mental health problems may withdraw from classes or activities and lose access to critical development opportunities.
  • Mental illness can be isolating given the stigma that still surrounds seeking treatment or even admitting one suffers from mental health issues.

Reproductive Health

All people should have equal access to reproductive health care, but this is not the case. Young women, and especially indigenous women, are disproportionately restricted from the kind of reproductive health care that would give them the autonomy and options they need to lead healthy lives. For many women and girls, contraception and other forms of reproductive health care are out of reach because of their income level, where they live, or what their parents/caregivers think about them accessing these resources.[7] Teen pregnancy in Canada overall has decreased significantly over the last few decades, but the rate of adolescent pregnancy remains high for Indigenous girls.[8] A study conducted in 2006 found that almost 1 in 10 First Nations and Inuit teenage girls, and about 4% of Métis teenage girls, were parents.[9]

Why It Matters

  • Giving girls control of their reproductive health allows them to have more control over their lives in general — including their health, education, career, and overall economic security.
  • Girls who do not have access to comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health care are more vulnerable to contracting sexually transmitted infections, having an unplanned pregnancy, and missing the signs of an unhealthy relationship.
  • Girls Inc. believes that all women and girls have the right to bodily integrity, sexual safety, sexual pleasure, comprehensive sexuality education and access to affordable reproductive health care.

What We Can Do

End Sexual Violence in All Forms

  • Raise public awareness regarding harassment and violence and fight to change cultural attitudes on sexual violence and victim-blaming.
  • Require schools to teach students about healthy relationships, including about “consent”.
  • Advocate for funding for comprehensive, medically-accurate, age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and LGBTQ+-inclusive sexuality education programs so young people can make informed, responsible, and healthy decisions throughout their lives.
  • Advocate for continued funding for programs that address violence against women.

Treat Mental Health As Just as Important As Physical Health

  • Combat prevalent stigmas surrounding mental health issues and treatment, including for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma.
  • Promote diverse, empowering images of girls and women of all races, ethnicities, skin colors, sizes, body types, and abilities, and combat limiting depictions of women that contribute to mental health conditions and low self-esteem.
  • Support trauma survivors’ access to mental health resources in schools.
  • Reform school disciplinary practices to take into account the underlying causes of a student’s behavior and connect students to services they need.

Promote Reproductive Health

  • Advocate for legislation that supports the health and well-being of young people by providing widespread access to non-shaming and inclusive comprehensive sexuality education and other resources youth need to make informed, responsible, and healthy decisions throughout their lives.
  • Secure funding for programs that help educate young women about sexual health and healthy decision making, and end funding for programs that promote abstinence-only education, which has not been proven effective.
  • Encourage young women to be informed, active participants in their health by seeking complete and accurate information about their health and reproductive rights.

 


[1] Wolfe, D. and D. Chiodo. (2008). Sexual Harassment and Related Behaviours Reported Among Youth from Grade to Grade 11. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

[2] Wolfe, D. and D. Chiodo. (2008). Sexual Harassment and Related Behaviours Reported Among Youth from Grade to Grade 11. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

[3] The Source for Women’s Health. “Diversity.” Retrieved from http://www.womenshealthdata.ca/category.aspx?catid=35&rt=2.

[4] Ibid, see 1.

[5] Findlay, L. (2017). Depression and suicidal ideation among Canadians aged 15 to 24  Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2017001/article/14697-eng.htm.

[6] Public Health Agency of Canada. (2006). The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/human-humain06/pdf/human_face_e.pdf (February 18, 2012).

[7] Planned Parenthood Action Fund. ”Health Care Equity.” Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/health-care-equity.

[8] The World Bank. “Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19).” Retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.ADO.TFRT?locations=CA.

[9] Turcotte, M. (2011). Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report – Women and Health. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11543-eng.pdf.