Evidence of meeting #26 for Status of Women in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was girls.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Brigitte Ginn  Board Member, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women
  • Jane Stinson  Director, FemNorthNet Project, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women
  • Claire Crooks  Board of Directors Member, Canadian Women's Foundation

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Welcome to the committee.

We welcome today Jane Stinson, director of FemNorthNet Project, and Brigitte Ginn, board member from the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. We also welcome, via video conference from London, Ontario, Claire Crooks, board of directors member for the Canadian Women's Foundation.

Thank you very much for being part of our committee and for bringing information and wisdom so we can indeed have a superlative report and present it to the Parliament of Canada.

I would like to begin with CRIAW. You both have ten minutes and then we'll go into question and answer. Please begin.

3:30 p.m.

Brigitte Ginn Board Member, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women

Hello. My name is Brigitte Ginn, a CRIAW board member and recently elected chair of the communications committee. With me is Jane Stinson, the director of the FemNorthNet project. We welcome the opportunity to speak with you today about improving economic prospects for young women in Canada.

I would first like to acknowledge that we are on Algonquin territory and say meegwetch to them for sharing their land with me today.

CRIAW, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, celebrated its 35th anniversary this year, building on our long history of documenting the economic and social situation of women and young women in Canada through groundbreaking research.

I will begin with a story about myself that tells you of the struggles and the challenges I faced growing up as a young woman. My mother raised me and my two siblings alone at a young age. She was forced to work as much as she could just to make ends meet. We were always well fed and had a good roof over our heads because she worked so hard, always putting her children first. By doing so, she neglected her own needs and health. This is a common story faced by many women. We were part of that high percentage of single-mother families who lived in poverty in Canada.

When I was 18 years old I decided to go to university in women's and aboriginal studies. During those four years I realized that injustice, racism, and sexism were still well alive in Canada. During that time I survived an abusive relationship and violent, racist, and sexist assaults from male students right here at the University of Ottawa because I was of aboriginal ancestry and a young woman studying in both these fields.

Today I am 22 years old, a feminist, and recent graduate who is in debt because I chose to attend university, and who cannot find a job in my field because of cuts to research and public services. I'm a young woman who's left wondering about where I fit in within this current economy. This story is one of many examples of the constant struggles by young women. One just needs to look at the unemployment rate for young women as an example.

Our government and its policies regarding young women have a negative impact on our education, health, and employment. For example, high tuition and job cuts to public services and research harm young women and exacerbate their social and economic inequality. Therefore, we continue to struggle for recognition of our right to be part of our growing economy, shaping policies, programs, and laws that directly affect us.

The story I've shared with you today is just one account of how many young women are still struggling with poverty, violence, and injustice, undermining their self-worth and potential. Many women today are left to reclaim their heritage, identity, culture, and land. This is especially the case for aboriginal women.

We recognize that we need to revitalize our traditional ways that were lost because of colonization. In order to better our people and our communities, and regain the equilibrium we once had, our government needs to provide space and funding for women to develop their leadership potential and build specific skills necessary in our communities, careers, and our personal lives. Promoting the participation of these women in economic, social, and cultural life across Canada is needed. Our future depends on it, because women are at the heart of the community. If you want a thriving and stronger Canada, then young women must be fully involved.

We cannot but emphasize how important it is for our government to continue to fund national research and action on gender equality. For example, a group of young women have come together at CRIAW as a youth caucus, focused on reaching out to other young women and encouraging them to get involved. We refer to this committee as the engagement, communication, and outreach team--ECO. This team has accomplished many things, with the main focus on introducing social media tools to promote youth and indigenous engagement to CRIAW. I am now chair of this committee. Our team has provided me with an opportunity to develop work-related skills, leadership skills, individual and collective work, and decision-making.

ECO Team shows the important role that CRIAW plays as a women's organization to help improve economic prospects for young women in Canada. Our ideas and the caucus continue to grow, but the lack of funding makes it difficult for us to respond readily to current issues faced by young women.

To create a balanced economy benefiting from innovative input and solutions, it is of utmost importance to have an organizational refuge where young women can speak freely, comfortably, and safely, where women can share their experiences, ideas, and dreams, all in the hope to better women's lives. CRIAW is exactly that place that creates spaces for developing women's knowledge and actively working together to promote and advance social justice, equality, and a sustainable economy for all.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Jane Stinson Director, FemNorthNet Project, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women

I'll carry on for the remaining time. My comments will focus on the needs of young women in northern communities, drawing on findings from CRIAW's FemNorthNet project, of which I am the director.

FemNorthNet is a research alliance focused on three northern communities: La Loche, Saskatchewan; Thompson, Manitoba; and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. We are working closely with women in Labrador West, as well.

The network includes municipal officials, community-based organizations, national organizations, and researchers from universities across the country. It is supported primarily by SSHRC, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which CRIAW turned to for funding when Status of Women Canada stopped funding research. As well, we have funding from Status of Women Canada for the leadership development we are doing with these community partners and with women in these northern communities.

Our research here in FemNorthNet is revealing a desperate need for investment in a range of social infrastructure to support young women and improve their economic prospects, especially those in northern communities. The federal government has a key role to play here, both in providing leadership in investing and in encouraging other levels of government to invest in the range of social infrastructure that will support the economic prospects of young women in northern communities.

We're particularly wanting to focus on the need for federal investments in affordable housing, post-secondary education, child care, and health and social services to provide the supports young women in northern communities need to improve their economic prospects.

I imagine that it's no surprise to you that there is a crisis in terms of a lack of affordable housing, especially in northern communities, and especially in booming northern communities, where we're engaged. House prices are skyrocketing, and homelessness is also increasing alarmingly. This particularly hits young women, right? It's a particular concern for young women, leaving some of the people we work with calling for improved services for youth as a top priority. For example, in Thompson, the crisis centre has found that women who use their crisis shelter routinely have to return to their abusers, as there is no housing available to them.

How are young women to escape violent relationships or move out of their family homes and become economically independent and start families without affordable housing? Our recommendation is that the federal government really needs to get back to playing a role and to directly providing affordable and accessible housing so that young women can stay in their communities and improve their economic prospects there.

Post-secondary education is also extremely important. We all know how important it is for improving the prospects of young women. In the north, there are particular problems. Often you cannot get post-secondary education in your community, or if it is offered there, there's a very limited range of programs. Young women in northern communities normally have to leave their communities and travel great distances to southern locations, where they are really cut off from family and friends and both emotional and financial support. In some cases, such as the community of La Loche, Saskatchewan, which we are working with, which is primarily Dene-speaking, it's also about aboriginal students moving to a community where the language is totally different and where there are very few supports.

A really positive model we've uncovered, or that has come to our attention through our work, is the University College of the North, in Thompson, Manitoba. There, there's an expansion of the program. It is not only providing education for people in the north, it's providing good employment rates. It's also helping to diversify the economy, especially as Vale is closing its smelter, and 400 jobs will be lost in that community.

We recommend that the federal government support the establishment and expansion of post-secondary education in northern communities.

Child care is also extremely important for young women to be able to work for pay or get training or go to school. In a recent study in northern Manitoba, seven out of ten women said that the lack of child care was their number one obstacle to getting a post-secondary education. It's clear. Providing child care is really important if we want young women to be able to get post-secondary education and move on to better jobs.

Health and social services is a final area I want to touch on. There are certainly others that demand attention in northern communities, but this is another area where there is a strong need: a need for health, social services, and particularly mental health, addiction services, and supports to the disabled.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

I'm so sorry, Ms. Stinson, but could you wrap up?

3:40 p.m.

Director, FemNorthNet Project, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women

Jane Stinson

Yes, definitely.

The federal government needs to work with the provinces and territories to invest, and ensure that health and social service needs are being met in northern communities. Where possible, through the environmental assessment process, they should be requiring that there be this broad, gender-based, socio-economic analysis of new economic developments to ensure that those social needs are also being met.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Thank you very much.

We'll turn now to Ms. Crooks, for ten minutes, please.

3:40 p.m.

Dr. Claire Crooks Board of Directors Member, Canadian Women's Foundation

Thank you, and good afternoon.

My name is Dr. Claire Crooks. I’m a board member of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Canada’s public foundation for women and girls. Thank you for inviting us to speak to you today.

We work in three areas: helping low-income women move out of poverty; preventing violence against women and girls; and building strong, resilient girls who grow into productive adults who enjoy safe, healthy relationships.

Through our girls fund, we fund research-based programs for girls that build their protective factors and engage their bodies, minds, and spirits. The programs we fund provide a supportive all-girl environment for girls aged nine to thirteen to explore science and technology, develop healthy relationships with peers and adults, get physically active, learn financial and media literacy, and above all learn to think critically, take on leadership roles, and build strong social connections.

Here I would echo what Ms. Ginn said, in that with our programming for aboriginal girls there's an added layer of promoting cultural connectedness and strengthening ties to elders and other female mentors in the community, which is a really critical piece of programming for that group.

We currently fund 14 programs, operating in 22 communities across Canada. Thanks to some generous donors, we are in the process of doubling that number. Even with that additional funding, however, we are only able to fund 10% of the requests we receive for funding.

In addition to funding front-line community programs, we study and share the best ways to address root causes and create long-term change. We work to build the capacity of community organizations working with women and girls.

Since 1991 we’ve raised almost $65 million from individuals and corporations, and have invested in over 1,100 community programs around Canada. We are now one of the ten largest women’s foundations in the world.

The foundation has asked me to speak to you today as a board member and because of my expertise in the area of risk behaviours in adolescence.

At the Canadian Women’s Foundation, we believe that Canada will only reach its full potential when women and girls reach theirs. The corporations and individuals who support our work believe this too. If we are to have a healthy economy, we need all of our human capital. It is timely and urgent that you are looking at ways to improve the economic prospects of girls.

The message I'm going to deliver today reinforces what Ms. Stinson has offered, but looks at the earlier developmental stage of younger girls. I will make three key points and recommendations regarding the economic prospects of girls in Canada.

First, despite women’s progress over the last few decades, girls in Canada still face unique and significant barriers to their long-term well-being and economic prospects.

Second, research shows that if girls are supported to build specific protective factors at the specific developmental stage of ages nine to thirteen, they thrive and grow into productive adults.

Third, we urgently need a significant investment in our girls and greatly increased funding for girls programs. We need to support what works, and it must include a gender analysis. There is an important role for private philanthropy, but to do it on the large scale needed for Canada’s future economic prosperity, governments must step up.

In terms of barriers facing girls, I’ll touch first on the challenges. It’s true that when girls start school, they do better than boys in reading, writing, and forming friendships. But as girls move into adolescence, this early advantage far too often becomes overshadowed by challenges, with serious implications for girls' long-term health and economic prosperity.

Girls today face pressures that we adults can barely imagine. According to Dr. Blye Frank from Dalhousie University, “The challenges that a 14-year-old girl faced 20 years ago are the challenges faced by 9-year-old girls today.” Every day, girls see thousands of images of women in advertising, video games, TV shows, music videos, and movies. These women are overwhelmingly thin, tall, beautiful, and white. The emergence of social media has amplified these problems.

Today the widespread and rapidly growing sexualization of girls and women has sinister undertones that go far beyond the pressure to look pretty. When girls are sexualized, their intelligence, their creativity—who they are—becomes secondary. This has serious implications for their future economic prospects.

Is it any wonder that by grade 10, girls are three times more likely than boys to be depressed, and only 14% of girls say they feel self-confident? Sadly, more than half of girls in Canada say they wish they were someone else.

Living in poverty, as almost one in ten children do in Canada today, limits the potential of all children. As well, the high rates of violence that girls in particular experience is a major challenge.

If you are a female in Canada today, you are mostly likely to be sexually assaulted when you are between the ages of 13 and 15. Teen dating violence is a serious and common experience all over Canada.

Today, teens in romantic relationships have a one-in-three chance of being abused emotionally, sexually, or physically. According to police reports on dating violence, over 80% of the victims are female. Dating violence is one of the strongest predictors of violence in adult relationships, which we know is a major barrier to women's economic security and participation.

Research clearly shows that the triad of risky behaviours for adolescence—drugs, alcohol, and violence—co-occur. If teens become entangled in just one of these issues, they are more likely to experience the other two. For example, girls in an abusive relationship have higher rates of substance abuse. They are more likely to run away from home, drop out of school, develop an eating disorder, engage in suicidal behaviour, have unsafe sex, and become pregnant. Clearly, the repercussions and the limits on their ability to contribute to the economy can last a lifetime.

Aboriginal girls in Canada are especially at risk from violence and poverty. Incredibly, about 75% of aboriginal girls under the age of 18 have been sexually abused. To address the very serious challenges to their future economic prospects, we must invest in programs that help them to finish high school, increase their safety, and reach their full potential.

So in meeting this challenge, how do we help girls navigate through this minefield of sexual assault, dating violence, hypersexualization, and poverty?

We must reach girls before they enter the minefield. Our research has shown that with the right kind of help at the right time—between the ages of nine and thirteen—girls can learn to challenge these messages, improve their self-esteem and safety, and successfully navigate adolescence.

We must invest in programs specifically designed for girls. Girls repeatedly tell us that this is the only way they feel safe enough to speak up and take on leadership roles. If we can teach a girl to think critically, to feel confident, and to develop strong social connections, we can change the course of her life.

Girls who think critically make better life choices because they understand what influences their decision-making. They learn to recognize the powerful role played by media and peer pressure and learn to weigh these influences against what they actually want for themselves.

Girls who are confident have the courage to take on new challenges. We need large-scale investment in programs where girls explore science, technology, and trades, opening their eyes to new possibilities. We need to prepare girls—half of our human capital—for careers with higher incomes, careers that meet our country’s need for skilled workers.

Girls with strong social connections—those who are connected to schools, pro-social peers, and a caring adult or mentor—feel more of a sense of belonging and safety. They consistently perform better academically than their less connected peers, which sets the stage for further academic and career attainment.

Social connection is one of the strongest protective factors against a wide range of negative outcomes. Connected girls demonstrate lower rates of teen pregnancy, substance use and abuse, suicidal behaviours, and dating violence, all of which significantly interfere with future academic and job success.

Eighty percent of the girls who attend our funded programs increase their skills and knowledge in these three protective factors: critical thinking skills, confidence, and social connection. One girl told us: “I feel different about myself. I know that I’m not totally worthless. I used to think I wasn’t very valuable and stuff. I learned I’m worth more than I thought I was.” Another said, “In this program, I feel like I’m treated like a person, not just a girl.”

We recommend that the Government of Canada make a significant and large-scale investment in girls, supporting programs with a gender analysis that build protective factors and skills. We recommend that you work in partnership with other levels of government and with private philanthropy. This is how we will unleash the potential of half our population and have a healthy society and a thriving economy.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Irene Mathyssen

Thank you very much, Ms. Crooks. We appreciate very much hearing from you.

Now we'll go to our question and answer portion of the committee meeting.

We'll start with Madam Truppe and Madam Bateman, for seven minutes.

3:50 p.m.


Susan Truppe London North Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I would like to thank our panellists today too. It was very interesting to hear all your thoughts on everything.

I would like to commend the Canadian Women's Foundation for raising $65 million—since 1991, I think you said. That is really good.

My question is for the Canadian Women's Foundation. As you know, the focus of our committee study is prospects for Canadian girls with regard to economic prosperity, economic participation, and economic leadership, and what changes can be made by Status of Women to their approach in improving them.

Can you reiterate what recommendations the Canadian Women's Foundation would offer the committee on how Status of Women Canada could actually directly improve economic participation, prosperity, and leadership in girls?

3:50 p.m.

Board of Directors Member, Canadian Women's Foundation

Dr. Claire Crooks

There's obviously not a one-size-fits-all or only-one-time approach, but I think what we need to look at is what girls need at relevant developmental stages. Our research shows that between nine and thirteen, you just see this significant dip in confidence, in taking on leadership roles, in a lot of the things that you would recognize are necessary for successful academic and career attainment.

I should add that our programming really targets marginalized girls in particular, so girls who face other barriers, and these challenges are further amplified for them. A specific example is supporting programming that really connects marginalized girls with strong adult female mentors. One of our programs works up in a first nations community near Fort McMurray. There are all kinds of community challenges there.

In one of the girls groups, they asked girls at the beginning of the group to give the characteristics of a leader. When they were asked, “What's a leader?”, they said a leader was male, and probably old, and white—a very narrow view. By the end of the group, what had really shifted for them was recognizing that they could be a leader in their community, that the leaders were their aunties, and their elders, and their moms.

So shifting that view of what's possible for girls at that age has really significant implications for them as they move into high school and beyond. They need to at least see those paths that are available to them.

3:50 p.m.


Susan Truppe London North Centre, ON

Great. Thank you.

I have one more question, and then I'll turn it over to Madam Bateman.

The minister for Status of Women Canada was here, and we learned from her that the approach we're always addressing has three pillars: economic security, violence, and democratic participation. In your work, do you find there's a link between addressing violence against girls and improving their economic prospects with some of the programs you have?

3:50 p.m.

Board of Directors Member, Canadian Women's Foundation

Dr. Claire Crooks

Absolutely. And you can look at it from different angles.

From a basic needs point of view, one of our most fundamental human needs, obviously, is to be safe. You see this if you're working with women who are in shelters, for example. It's very hard for women who don't have safety in their relationships, who don't have a place for themselves and their children to live, to be thinking about what program they're going to access to go back to school or upgrade their skills. It needs to happen in sequence.

So anything that promotes safety is critical in terms of the long-term prospects and in terms of the short-term prospects. Adolescent girls who are in abusive relationships with a controlling partner are going to have a lot more challenges having a part-time job or volunteering if their partner is very controlling over how they spend their free time or very jealous about them possibly working with other boys.

You see it in adults. You see it in adolescents. So going back a step, giving girls the skills they need to navigate these relationships as adolescents in a safe way and in a way that maintains their own integrity is a really important starting point.

3:55 p.m.


Susan Truppe London North Centre, ON

Thank you.

Madam Bateman.

3:55 p.m.


Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Thank you very much.

Thank you to all for your presentations and being here today.

I particularly want to thank Ms. Stinson for her comments about University College of the North, based out of Thompson, Manitoba. I come from Manitoba, and it is a huge success. This is in no way to take away from the successes of Athabasca University, which is equally outstanding.

I think both of those institutions—thank you for knowing about them—would be so grateful to serve more of the community that you have all spoken of so eloquently, because they have a track record of actually tailoring the needs to certainly the community. They serve the aboriginal community. They are sensitive to serving the needs of young women, many of whom are also young mothers. They have tailored that and made that possible.

To me, economic security comes with an education. If we can give these young women an education, on their terms, with their babies, which is what those online universities are doing, often in person, but often online, and very respectful to the needs....

Could you talk briefly about how you have reached out? To me, that's a very cost-effective way to reach out, to serve the economic security requirements of our young women. Could you speak to how you're doing that with your community?

3:55 p.m.

Director, FemNorthNet Project, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women

Jane Stinson

Perhaps I just need to clarify that it's our research, with our community partners, so we're not reaching out directly—