Thank you very much for having me today. It's my pleasure to participate, and I appreciate the fact that our work at Plan Canada is being recognized by this group as being relevant and insightful.
I'd also like to take the opportunity to say thank you for your support in proclaiming October 11 as the International Day of the Girl. Our inaugural Day of the Girl this year will be something to watch for and be excited about. Thank you for supporting us in that.
I'd like to pose the insight that education is an articulated priority for the Government of Canada to ensure that all girls, especially those in marginalized communities, can realize their right to a quality education and to provide the most direct route out of the cycle of poverty.
As a complement to the government's efforts to support sustainable benefits to girls over the long term, we strongly believe that there needs to be life skills programming to support girls outside of their academic training. From the work we are doing with girls in Canada and globally, we know that life skills are what keep girls out of the cycle of poverty, and help them reach their full potential.
The issues that affect girls are the same regardless of where they live. It's the need state that differs, and it's up to us to provide for the need state.
Plan International Canada is a global movement for change, mobilizing millions of people around the world to support social justice for children. We have one agenda: to improve the lives of children. Although the core work that we do is in the developing world, we have learned many lessons from the communities that we serve, especially in the area of girls. Our extensive work globally has proved that investing in girls is key to the social and economic well-being not only of the communities in which these girls live but of the entire country. We firmly believe that this concept applies to Canada as well.
In Canada we are seeing great success in girls' education. They are staying in school, and where appropriate and attainable, they are moving on to complete post-secondary education. Girls face unique challenges, however, and are often victims of double-discrimination because they are young and they are female. The gender discrimination is prevalent globally. We see it in Canada manifested in the types of employment that women are participating in. Two-thirds of minimum-wage earners are female. Men continue to earn approximately 20% more than women do in this country. There are fewer women in executive jobs, governance positions, and in government in Canada.
In our work with school boards and other agencies focused on girls, such as Girls Action Foundation, as well as Girl Guides of Canada, we are seeing massive gaps in life skills. Our Because I am a Girl club initiative, which is supported by the Status of Women, is a life skills program designed to provide educators, student leaders, and community group leaders with a turnkey tool kit to address the issues that girls are presented with as they grow into women. This program addresses issues that girls face and provides activities, discussion points, resources, and tools that girls can use to be empowered to work through the issue and gain that life skill. Once the issue is worked on from a domestic point of view, girls are then presented with the same issue as it manifests globally, providing them with thought-provoking content so that they can make the local-global connection.
By making the global connection, girls are then empowered to make a difference in the lives of others simply by understanding a more global perspective.
One theme we work on is gender-based analysis. Here in Canada it manifests as understanding gender—the difference between boys and girls. Globally, we work on gender and development.
The second is nutrition. Here in Canada it manifests as healthy eating and food preparation, and globally we talk about food security.
On physical literacy, we talk about activity and how important it is to be active, and we talk about females in sport. Globally, we talk about sport for development.
We talk about the environment. Right now we are talking about water conservation and preservation. Globally, we talk about the importance of clean water and sanitation, and the impact that has on the lives of girls.
The fifth theme is rights and advocacy. Here we talk about understanding your rights as a girl in Canada, while globally we talk about a community-based approach to rights.
Next is conflict resolution, manifesting here in Canada as bullying. Globally, we talk about peace-building.
Next is economic empowerment. Canadian youth here are given skills around financial literacy, and that gives them the lens to talk about programs such as microfinance, and village savings and loans.
The theme of self-esteem is manifested here in poor body image and other issues that affect girls here in Canada, while globally we talk about self-expression and the importance of harmful cultural practices that affect girls' self-esteem.
The next theme is media and information communications technology. Here it's Internet security, social media, and Internet safety; globally, we talk about ICTs as a means to empowerment for girls.
In terms of the work and career theme, here we talk about career planning tips, interview tips, etc. Globally, we talk about the work of girls and women in developing countries.
In the last theme, relationships, we talk about what a healthy girl-and-girl relationship looks like here in Canada, and also boy-and-girl relationships. Globally, it's about the role of boys and men in gender equality.
The environment in which these programs exist is very important. Girls need a safe place in a positive environment so that they can learn these skills, which are typically not taught at school or at home. Creating safe spaces for girls to work through these themes is critical to the success of the program. The standard school environment does not necessarily provide girls with the security they need to address these gaps. Violence, bullying, and gender and ethnic discrimination create a sometimes toxic place where girls feel too vulnerable to ask for help. The girl club model is designed for girls to work on issues together in a safe environment to champion each other to reach their full potential.
I would like to point out that while the work we are doing is supported by the ministry for the status of women, we have also consulted with companies in the private sector to create these modules so that our resources were not consumed in reinventing the wheel. Some examples include Visa, which provided the expertise for financial literacy modules; Dove and Unilever, which provided the expertise for the self-esteem body image module; IBM, which provided for the ICTs and Internet safety module; Kraft Foods, which provided the expertise on nutrition; and Coca-Cola, which provided expertise on women in business. This provided us with not only expertise but additional financial resources to ensure that these materials are provided to educators free of charge.
When we originally designed this program, it was directed towards girls aged 12-plus; what we are experiencing is that it must start earlier. It's critical to plant these skills as early as grade 3, or eight years old, due to the incredible influence of society through the media, Internet, and peer groups. The content of the program must be age appropriate, but the seeds for positive self-esteem, financial literacy, food and nutrition, and the other themes that I've talked about must be planted early on, so that when decisions are made, these girls have the knowledge and understanding to make good life choices.
Role models play an enormous part in the lives of girls who are economically successful. We need to start building these skills at an early age. However, educators, parents, and mentors do not have access to turnkey resources to help guide and mentor our girls. In fact, one of the insights that led us to create this program came from women who were trying to mentor girls but did not have a comprehensive resource to draw from or rely on. We need to start building these skills early on in the girls' lives so they are confident in themselves to reach their full potential. Girls are extremely powerful and are, by nature, agents of change—to invest in girls provides a positive return on investment for all.
With that, I have four recommendations.
The first is to provide educators, parents, mentors, and role models with the resources to build these skills early on in the life of a girl. By raising awareness on these gaps early on, adults can share their skills to supplement traditional academic education, and prepare girls for life once graduation has been achieved.
The tools must be current, free of charge, and easily accessible. School boards have incredible influence, and as with the delivery and implementation of Canada's Food Guide that we have from Health Canada, it would be appropriate to apply this type of resource to other areas of life skills development.