I'm also the executive director of an organization in Ottawa called Sisters Achieving Excellence, which provides literacy and mentoring for criminalized women. One of the most important things we can do to increase economic opportunity for girls is to provide literacy and mentoring programs for them. We can start this very easily, and change for young girls can happen almost immediately.
The Canadian Council on Learning found that Canada is experiencing about a 48% illiteracy rate, so 48% of Canadians possess skills that are below those that are internationally identified to function in society.
Consider that you are an illiterate girl. You feel powerless because you cannot read or write. Your sense of inadequacy may be heightened because you have a history of abuse, exploitation, or mental health concerns. Certainly you've experienced inequality simply because you are a girl. Perhaps you're a young woman of colour, so that increases the chance that you will be further marginalized and therefore illiterate.
According to Craig Alexander, deputy chief economist at TD Bank Financial Group, the Canadian economy could experience a $32 billion boost if literacy rates were improved by only 1%. This is a mutually beneficial outcome: we raise strong, confident girls who can advocate for their needs and everything they need to access, and Canada's economy is strengthened.
We must increase the capacity for young girls and women to advocate for themselves, find equitable employment, and become empowered. We can easily use literacy as a vehicle for all of these things. The government must acknowledge illiteracy as a huge factor in economic access and provide funding to community literacy programs as well as schools. I know that education is a provincial responsibility; however, I believe that literacy is a human right and therefore a federal responsibility. Without the skills required to function in society, it is impossible to achieve financial equity.
Finally, our third recommendation is that we increase the use of gender analysis in all policy shifts. We believe it's vital for the continued and further use of gender analysis when we make policies in a variety of different sectors. We believe it would be a powerful statement to girls and young women for every policy—whether it be government policy, school policy, or health care policy—that gender analysis be part of our accountability system. If we are to create a more equitable society for girls and women, we must make advancements and commitments to critically examine how decisions will impact them as women or girls.
We need to recognize how policies impact the diverse women within Canada and ensure that all young women are provided with the same opportunities. For example, we need to be guided by our aboriginal sisters and create and maintain programs that provide equitable opportunities for them. It is necessary to show young aboriginal women that they are valued by providing resources, education, and health care.
Thank you so much for having us. It has been wonderful to speak and share some of our thoughts on how we can empower girls and young women. We want to create safe and secure futures for them, and it would be our pleasure to work with you on building a sustainable future and change for Canadian girls. We are always pleased to help advise and support this committee in policy shifts.