Girls and Young Women Making Change

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by Lisa B

Good Grief What's Happening to Our Girls

May is Sexual Violence Prevention Month

Girls and young women have so much to contribute. They are capable of making change and developing into strong leaders.

Girls face an onslaught of challenges, however, which can hinder this potential. For instance, between the ages of 9-13, many girls’ confidence plummets. Girls are more likely to experience depression than boys. Although girls and boys report similar levels of depression in grade six, by grade 10 girls’ rates of depression are three times higher than those of boys’.

Given that girls and young women face higher rates of violence (in particular, sexual violence) and constantly receive societal messages that their primary value is how attractive and pleasing they are to others, it isn’t surprising that girls tend to struggle as they hit adolescence.

We need to work on creating a safer and more equitable world for girls. In the meantime, we also need to think about the many ways we can empower them. One of my favourite strategies is to honour examples of girls and young women who speak out for social justice and gender equality. Here are two recent Canadian examples:

In November 2014, a group of young feminists challenged their Fredericton high school’s dress code which states that students must dress in a “modest” and “appropriate” manner. Of course, young women were the ones being disciplined based on their clothing.

Pointing out that this type of rule targets young women and places blame on those who experience sexual harassment or sexual assault, the Fredericton Youth Feminists named the dress code as a part of rape culture and redirected the conversation to be one about sexual harassment.

They organized a rally, created a petition and video, and successfully gained media attention with their efforts. Although the high school is not currently revising the dress code policy, the school has now promised to work with students to create a sexual harassment and sexual assault policy. The high school has also partnered with the local sexual assault centre to organize a sexual assault response team at the school. There has also been some discussion about organizing a local White Ribbon chapter.

To learn more:

In an example from Ontario, two grade 8 girls pushed for reforms to the outdated Ontario sexual education curriculum. Lia Valente and Tess Hill created an online petition to ask that the issue of consent be included in health classes in grades 1 through 12. Their petition gathered 40,000 signatures. The curriculum has since been released. For more information, click here and here.

Check out this interview with Lia and Tess. They clearly express why revisions to the outdated sex ed curriculum were necessary.

Here are two of my favourite quotes from the interview:

Asked to explain consent culture, Hill replied “It’s a culture of asking for permission. Sometimes we talk about affirmative consent in sexual relationships but other times we’re just talking about respecting people.”

Talking about why it is so important to talk about healthy sexuality in an educational setting (rather than learning about sex from exposure to online porn), Valente asserts “It’s so weird. People say ‘boys will be boys.’ But boys are not born this way; they’re taught to be like that, that girls’ bodies are their property. If that’s what they’re learning early on, maybe we could change that with the curriculum. If they’re learning consent early on, then it could be ‘boys will be boys that ask for consent.’

bee girlIn Hamilton we have the amazing Bee You Tiful Girls Club organized by Queen Cee.  The club encourages young women to think critically about the media messages that girls are sent. The club also empowers girls by helping them to create music and media that highlights their own thoughts and voices.

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