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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

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Yes. Could you also just elaborate on why access is important for this study, and for this committee. Why is having access important?

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Native Youth Sexual Health Network

Jessica Danforth

It's extremely important to have access. One, it's supposed to be a legally protected right in Canada, but as I said, if it's a law in Canada, it doesn't actually mean that it's something that's accessible. So it can't actually be something that you have a right to if it's not accessible, or if you can't have access to it no matter how hard you try, because of the economic injustices I mentioned, but also because of your geographic location and so on and so forth.

It's important particularly for this study, though, because we can't look at economic prospects and development for Canadian women and girls without understanding that without having control of your own reproductive health, your own body, and your own choices, having full, true economic justice and economic prospects will never be achieved. We can't be worrying on the one hand about whether we're going to have control over planning our families or getting out of a violent or abusive relationship on the ground and also be trying to plan all of the other economic prospects that we say we want.

We have to actualize this stuff on the ground. I speak from the experience of being in northern, rural, and remote communities, where so much of the focus of these studies is urban based and doesn't speak to the reality that it might be a right but it's not accessible, and it's not happening on the ground.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Thank you, Jessica.

I'm going to give the rest of my time to Ms. Ashton. Thank you.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Thank you very much, Ms. Danforth, and Ms. Mitchell, for your great testimony.

My question is for Ms. Mitchell.

You spoke about the bold idea, which I thought was quite interesting, of working with the SSHRC and giving some direction in terms of its research and a vision when it comes to girls' futures in Canada. However, in the broader spectrum, over the last six years we've seen numerous cuts to both research and advocacy when it comes to women's programs under this government, and in fact, most recently, to the women's health networks, which are all across the country. Some years ago actually, some of the first programs to be cut were ones that did advocacy work around HIV and AIDS. I know there was a program in northern Manitoba, where I come from, that was cut, and of course at the same time we have seen rates of HIV and AIDS go up.

Could you please tell us what impact we will see on the futures of women and girls in Canada from the loss of research and advocacy funding?

5:15 p.m.

James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Dr. Claudia Mitchell

There's no question that researchers go after the money that exists in the priority areas. There has been some criticism of SSHRC right now, in terms of what its priority areas are, but I think we have everything to gain by really promoting the idea of special areas. Right now there is one on sport that has made a huge difference in relation to what researchers are able to build into their work.

The other side of that is that if we don't have these priority areas, we really will lose out.

I don't know what else to say other than that I think this study has a tremendous role to play in bringing some pressure on organizations like SSHRC. I know the cuts are going to be absolutely detrimental, and so I think having the kind of study you're doing and showing these kinds of economic possibilities is critical.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you, Ms. Mitchell.

I now yield the floor to the government members.

Mr. Albas, you have seven minutes.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'd like to thank both of our guests for being here to offer their testimony today.

I'd like to start with Madam Mitchell.

I do appreciate your expertise in this area, particularly around girlhood. I actually have three beautiful daughters, so this is an issue that is quite important to me. I'd like to ask a few questions, though, based on what some of my colleagues brought up earlier in regard to some of the current trends.

In 2006, there was a labour force profile of youth by the Canadian Council on Social Development, which stated that the gender gap had reversed and that the employment market had improved more for girls than for boys.

In your opinion, what would this probably be attributed to? Is it that industries girls traditionally worked in have done better? Are girls entering non-traditional industries at increasing rates? Is something happening with boys that we're not aware of?

5:20 p.m.

James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Dr. Claudia Mitchell

I can speak for Quebec, where boys are dropping out at a much greater rate and much earlier, but I think there was a recent study done in Quebec—and again, I'm speaking particularly about that province—that looked at what actually happens to boys who drop out and girls who drop out. It was found that there are many more possibilities at a later point for boys to come back in again. And regardless of the findings of that one particular study, we still know that there are far more men in key positions in organizations in Canada.

So I think that it's the type of work perhaps—maybe semi-skilled labour—but we're not seeing the gains for women that this kind of a study would allude to. I think we still have a long way to go.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

So you're saying there's a greater context as far as a learning cycle goes—

5:20 p.m.

James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Dr. Claudia Mitchell

Yes, yes, absolutely.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

—in which there would be reintegration further downstream.

I appreciate hearing that.

Now according to the sixth edition of Women in Canada, “The majority of...women continue to work in occupations in which they have been traditionally concentrated.” The report goes on to say that young women entering the workforce are choosing non-traditional industries.

Is it just a matter of time before we see some of these remaining gaps close, and have you been able to identify reasons why girls are growing up to enter more non-traditional industries?

5:20 p.m.

James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Dr. Claudia Mitchell

Well, I can't say that I have studied it directly, but I'm certainly familiar with some of the literature. In many high schools, there is perhaps more career guidance now than there might have been a few years ago. I don't know that this has necessarily happened everywhere.

Perhaps it is just that there are more non-traditional jobs available. If we just look at what's available, young women, actually, by virtue of what's there, are able to go into more of these non-traditional positions. Again, it may be that we're just seeing some areas in technology, science, and so on that we wouldn't have seen a few years ago.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

It could be technological innovation. It could be demographic. It's a very complex situation. Okay.

We were fortunate to have earlier the Girls Action Foundation. They appeared before us and made a few recommendations. I'll just share them with you briefly.

Number one was providing mentorship and diverse role models for girls when they are growing up. Second was educating boys and young men to think critically about gender expectations and to promote equality between the sexes. Third was implementing and expanding programs that reduce gender harassment, especially in educational institutions.

I'd like some of your thoughts on this approach. From your experience and expertise, are there any other factors, given those recommendations?

5:20 p.m.

James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Dr. Claudia Mitchell

I think I would like to maybe say a little bit more about the area of harassment. I'm not sure if you're speaking to any people who are working in the area of cyber-bullying and so on. I think there still is a great deal of harassment in institutions. At universities, unfortunately, such as my own, we have harassment committees.

I think it becomes more and more subtle. These are not areas people are easily able to report on. Once we get into areas of class, looking at perhaps elementary and secondary schools, I think harassment is still a great detriment to girls' experiences. We can't do enough to address that issue. It still remains in meetings among colleagues. People become a little more subtle as we go along. But I think that for a girl to walk across a room in a classroom, sometimes, and be in a minority, remains a really critical issue. I think we have to do a lot more than we currently are to make schools and institutions walk-safe areas.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Chair, how much time do I have?

5:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

You have one minute and thirty seconds.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

I appreciate talking about this.

From your last comments, it seems to me that technology changes, society changes, and sometimes the form in which harassment may take place—you mentioned cyber-bullying, for one—changes. We should also be looking at different ways of countering it or adjusting so that we deal with these circumstances. Is that correct?

5:25 p.m.

James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Dr. Claudia Mitchell

Yes, that's correct. It's an area that we think has passed, but we haven't passed it. We still have a lot to do. As soon as you add in race and class, these areas are still very profound in our institutions.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Thank you very much for your testimony today. Madam Chair, I appreciated the opportunity to work with the witnesses. Thank you.

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Marie-Claude Morin

Thank you.

As Ms. Sgro had to leave, we are going to move on to the second round of questions.

Ms. Bateman, you have about five minutes.

May 28th, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Thank you very much, madame la présidente. Thank you to both of our witnesses today. I very much appreciate the comments we've heard.

I just wanted to continue, Professor Mitchell, with some of your comments. I so appreciate that you came with concise and very clear statements of what you want to accomplish.

I want to zero in on one of those topics. You were talking about working with boys and young men. I have a daughter and also a son. I see the importance of their actually getting along and functioning productively in the world.

You spoke at one point about boys currently being outperformed in a number of situations by young women. Could you speak to that?

5:25 p.m.

James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

Dr. Claudia Mitchell

Yes. Certainly in a range of subject areas, girls have outperformed boys in areas around reading and language for a long time. There have been many debates about whether this is nature or nurture, and whether girls are more socialized into language so that when they go to school they do much better in language-related areas. But there is some research that suggests that it isn't just around language. I cannot settle the nurture-nature issue here. But I do think girls are outperforming boys in many of these areas, but I think that they're also outperforming them in a whole range of areas in upper elementary and secondary school. There are many arguments about this, such as that the schools are perhaps too feminized and that we have more female teachers and need more male teachers as role models. There have been many different hypotheses put forward for why this is.

It doesn't mean that then there are no biases against girls; in fact, once they finish school, we still find that males are having higher salaries. But in the school milieu, girls are actually doing better in a lot of ways—albeit not all girls and not all schools. Overall, I think there has been a great deal of leveling in terms of what's happening. And some people are arguing then that we should be doing more to support boys. And, of course, I always think that's a good idea too. I want us to learn from what we have done about girls.

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

And on that point, you made another lovely comment in my view, that you didn't want to pit boys against girls or girls against boys.

5:25 p.m.

James McGill Professor, Department of Integrated Studies in Education, McGill University

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Could you speak to how? I think in your description you used the word “allies”. If you could speak to that, just enrich us on that point.