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Evidence of meeting #36 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 work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond  Representative, British Columbia, Representative for Children and Youth
Jennifer Flanagan  President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua
Claudia Mitchell  James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University
Jessica Danforth  Executive Director, Native Youth Sexual Health Network

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

So how does that work? What are the organizations?

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

The 33 organizations are hosted by universities and colleges—always within the departments of engineering and science, and usually as an organization supported by the dean of engineering, for example. The organizations are administratively supported by the university but responsible to be cost recoverable.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

How do you measure the success of the projects?

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

We do a lot of different measuring and evaluation, both at a local level and on a national scale. Within the programs our members are offering, they evaluate their camp programs, for example, on an ongoing basis. It's a formative type of evaluation. They're constantly asking questions about what activities are working and what activities aren't, what kinds of learning outcomes are being impacted and which aren't. That's an ongoing evaluation.

We've also done formal research. We had a researcher at the University of Ottawa do a three-year formal impact evaluation of our programs, pre-attendance and post-attendance, that looked specifically at those intrinsic values of self-confidence, interest in science and technology, and knowledge of those areas, all with a view to gauging what future behaviour would be. The results were significantly positive pre-attendance to post-attendance.

Interestingly, the girls who came into the programs with lower levels of self-reported confidence had the most significant increase over the course of the program.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

That's great. It sounds as if you're doing a great job. I agree that we're under-represented when it comes to management roles, so I think what you're doing is great.

You were talking about how you measure success or whether something is not working. What would you say is the best success you've had? Which program works better than the other ones you have?

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

For the past 15 years, we've played with which elements matter the most. I think the combination of the safe space we've created to allow girls to explore and make mistakes and learn new skills with their peers, combined with the mentors we're able to engage, is really the formula that seems to be resonating the most with the girls and with their parents. It's the environment with the opportunity to interact with role models.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

I'm sure that you understand what our study is about, but I'll just reiterate it. It's economic prosperity, economic participation, and economic leadership.

Keeping that in mind, given the mandate of Status of Women Canada, because the funding you have comes from a different department, what steps do you think Status of Women should be taking to try to directly improve the economic participation, prosperity, and leadership of girls in Canada?

4:15 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

We made a long-term commitment to do this work until it was no longer needed. It's extremely hard to fund it. As an organization, we have done quite well securing the kind of investment we need to meet the community demand. The girls program is the hardest one to fund.

Among corporations, the interest comes and goes. It's not that they're not interested, but there are other priorities.

I think investing in these types of programs for the early engagement of girls in experiences that promote careers in a different way and that promote future opportunities in a different way would be highly impactful.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

Thank you.

How much more time do I have?

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

You have one minute and thirty seconds.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

Perfect.

How do you think men and boys can be engaged by Status of Women Canada to improve the prospects for Canadian girls in regard to economic prosperity, leadership, and participation?

4:20 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

That's a great question.

I can speak from our experience. We tend to create all-girl environments, where most of the instructors are women because of the lack of those role models we spoke about.

We do gender awareness training. We do it for the 600 undergraduate students who are engaged as instructors in our programs across the country. We employ about 600 undergrads. Half of them are men. They go through the same type of training. It is just about gaining awareness of how girls are perceiving these subjects differently and how they're treated in classrooms differently. I like to think of that as a very positive, unintended benefit. These are people who are going out into engineering and science careers in leadership roles who will have that kind of awareness. I think any opportunity to engage in awareness-building with men and boys is important.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

Great. Thank you for that.

Just very quickly—

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Madam Truppe—

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Susan Truppe Conservative London North Centre, ON

Oh, we're done? Okay.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

I do apologize, I am going to have to stop you; your time is up.

The members of the official opposition now have the floor.

Ms. Ashton, you have seven minutes.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Thank you very much, Ms. Turpel-Lafond, and Ms. Flanagan, for your great presentations today.

I'll be splitting my time with my colleague, Anne-Marie Day, but first I have a couple of questions. I'll start with Ms. Turpel-Lafond.

My question is with respect to some of the work you're involved with, touching on the testimony that previous witnesses have shared with this committee around the reality many aboriginal girls face when it comes to being in care. Is there the need for the federal government to step up its funding when it comes to family services, particularly on reserve and for those who work with on-reserve youth?

You would know this in the case of British Columbia, and of course, as we know, it's intricately related to the kinds of opportunities girls have later on in life. I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.

4:20 p.m.

Representative, British Columbia, Representative for Children and Youth

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

I think that's a very important issue both in British Columbia and across Canada. I also serve as the president of the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates, so I'm well acquainted with the situation for advocates across Canada pertaining to aboriginal children in the child welfare system. There is a gross overrepresentation of aboriginal children—in particular, girls as well.

The reasons for their involvement in the child welfare system tend to be very much rooted in the socio-economic disadvantage that aboriginal families experience. That has been persistent: the deep poverty, lack of opportunity, and the absence of a detailed coordinated federal strategy to support girls and women and promote their resilience. Of course, recently there was a national panel commissioned by the federal government on Indian education on reserve—K to 12—which found there were staggering inequalities and gross underfunding. That results in very poor outcomes.

I mean, childhood is short—it's not 188 weeks. If you don't invest and you don't adequately build systems and support people, they don't succeed. For aboriginal children and youth in Canada, we see this as almost a national tragedy. I'm not saying there aren't places where there are efforts under way, but there's a gross inequality in the personal and institutional supports allowing women and girls to succeed equally with their peers. It requires deliberate, focused, federal intervention to remediate that.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Thank you very much.

Ms. Flanagan, one of the points you raised was the importance of mentorship and young girls being able to see women working in science, technology, and engineering. A previous panellist shared with us that one of the challenges faced by many women in this field is in fact the work-family balance.

As we know, many women in Canada don't have access to affordable, accessible child care. You have many women who are either of child-bearing age or with young children and are leaving some of these grounds of employment, therefore taking away some of the mentors young girls could have.

Do you think, Ms. Flanagan, that ensuring there is accessible and affordable child care is critical when we're talking about encouraging women to stay in these fields and that it's also something that might allow more girls to look up to more women in these fields?

4:25 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

Although it's not particularly my area of expertise in terms of the work we do, we do look at the studies down the road, because we're very concerned about the “what's next” question. We get these girls pumped up for these fields and in this pipeline, and we want to make sure that things are looking positive or that we're working with organizations working downstream.

It used to be the case that the attrition of women in these fields would happen either in university or soon after, when they entered the workforce, but now, as you've mentioned, that is shifting more to their early thirties. I guess that's the age range when they're having families.

Do I think that's an issue? I hear a lot about it as being an issue. In the circles and networks that I am in, that is an issue. I think it's combined with a lot of issues that still exist in these fields in terms of how women are treated generally, not just as a child care issue but also more broadly in regard to some of the opportunities or the lack thereof. Again, that is from hearing stories in doing this type of work over the past 20 years. I certainly think that the child care piece is an issue and the work-life balance is an issue, but it goes a little bit beyond that.

May 28th, 2012 / 4:25 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

My question, which will be brief, is addressed to Ms. Turpel-Lafond.

We know that there is a correlation between mistreatment and economic costs—we know how much it costs. Canada committed itself to reducing and eliminating child poverty several years ago. The poverty rate has gone from 11% to 9%. So there is still a great deal of poverty.

Who funds your organization? Has the Canadian government reduced funding to alleviate youth poverty, the poverty of those who are under 19?

4:25 p.m.

Representative, British Columbia, Representative for Children and Youth

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

Well, I'm an officer of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, so I oversee the child welfare system. In British Columbia the child poverty rate is around 12% or a bit higher than the national rate.

In terms of effective interventions to reduce child poverty, I think there is a fairly broad consensus among everyone with respect to the market basket measure and allowing a parent or parents adequate social assistance to attend to the immediate needs of their children, with an adequate amount of money for housing, shelter, healthy food, and basic necessities, all of which are required.

In many places, particularly in British Columbia, social assistance rates fall below what is required to have healthy child development in terms of access to good quality food, and many children are reliant through their parent or caregiver on food banks. In terms of state direct support, there are the social assistance issues.

Quite apart from that, there is the social mobility issue of why it is that children living in low-income families are not advancing as successfully in elementary and secondary schools and not transitioning to post-secondary education. Education is a very significant leveller in the life and democratic nature of our society, but it is not working effectively. This is an additional issue of what other supports—

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Excuse me, Ms. Turpel-Lafond, I have to stop you now. Thank you very much. Ms. Day has used up all of her time.

I will now give the floor to the government members.

Ms. Ambler, you have seven minutes.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to both of our guests today for your presentations and for all of the good work you're doing with children and youth in Canada.

Ms. Flanagan, I'd like to ask if Actua works with aboriginal youth and/or girls in rural communities?

4:25 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Actua

Jennifer Flanagan

Broadly, within Actua's mandate of reaching boys and girls, we engage 225,000 youth a year in 500 communities. A major focus for us is to engage the youth that no other organizations are engaging, that is, the under-represented youth.

The biggest program we have is our national aboriginal program, which engages 30,000 aboriginal youth a year in 200 communities across the country. It's a huge geographic reach and area of focus for us, including rural and remote communities as well. A significant emphasis for us is to get into every possible tiny fly-in and boat-in community in the country.