Girls Action Foundation is a Canadian non-profit that has been advancing girls’ empowerment since 1995. According to a brief put out by Girls Action and Status of Women Canada, significant challenges remain especially for girls who are marginalized. In addition to those related to gender stereotypes, self-esteem, violence, mental and physical health, education and career prospects, many girls are affected each day by systemic barriers related to poverty, rural or remote location, racialization, immigration status and the colonization of Indigenous communities. At the same time, girls find ways to respond to and overcome these challenges, often through pro-active endeavors that benefit their communities as well as improve their own lives.
The brief is divided into three parts: Part A: Main Issues Facing Girls in Canada; Part B: Girls Who Face Multiple Barriers; Part C: What Do Girls Need to Succeed? Although adults often tell girls they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up-this is not reality for many. Many girls face violence, low self-esteem, contemplate self-harm, have a negative body image and face harassment, teasing and bullying by boys and other girls.
Self-esteem is a major issue, according to recent research. Among Grade 6 to 10 girls who think they are too fat, only half are actually overweight. What’s more, a tenth of Ontario teen girls think they are “no good at all.”
Self-esteem is influenced by hidden messages about how girls should look and act, and these messages are delivered by parents, peers and media.
We can’t gloss over the real challenges in girls’ lives by believing higher self-esteem will solve everything. Policies and programs to improve kids’ mental health and reduce violence must take girls into account.
We need more safe spaces for girls in our communities where they can discover their strengths. Girls tend to internalize their difficulties, but in well-designed girls’ groups, they learn that they are not alone and gain inspiration to create change. Research shows that girls-only programs that focus on assets and skills are far more effective than just reminding girls of the risks before them.
Critical thinking is perhaps the best tool a girl can gain, allowing her to uncover hidden messages about what a girl or woman is supposed to be. If provided with positive role models and given the chance to raise their voices in their communities, girls can grow into their full potential.
Girls can be whatever they want to be. They need a safe space to share, opportunities to showcase their interests and strengths, adults to listen and assist with problem solving. Girls need to be accepted for who they are, encouraged in their hobbies and studies even if it is not what the parent likes, is interested in or values. Adults should not force girls to focus on dance or art if the interest is karate or science. I find this is a fine line to walk for some parents as they want to give their children all that they can or did not have themselves. Imposing interests or missed opportunities from the parents youth onto the children often backfires. We each want to be valued and accepted for who we are along with encouraged in our areas of interest as adults, so the foundation of this begins in childhood.
Take the time to listen, offer advice and guidance when asked, accept a girl for who she is, mentor as needed and warranted, focus on skills teaching in her areas of interest, promote activities she is interested in if you are able-just be there and let her know you are available.
Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer in Canada
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