“If we are going to see real developments in the world, then our best investment is women.” – Desmond Tutu
October 11,2012 was the United Nation’s first International Day of the Girl Child. Vancouver held its first Girl Effect forum at the Vancouver Public Library to commemorate the day. This type of forum was right up my alley – as many of the people around me know, one of my passions is women’s rights . Having spent a lot of time with young teenage girls in the past and present, media representation of women worry me, as well as the dipping self-esteem of young girls, and how more and more of them seem to be so misguided. What I’ve come to the realization of is that it’s all very well for us older folk to complain about how “terrible” younger people behave, but honestly, are we doing enough to help them? The way I see it, their misbehaviour is a cry for help. How can I help? I hoped this forum would educate and inspire me.
The panel members were all great and informative. Two of the most notable were :
Suzette Amaya – A Native-Canadian radio personality who grew up in a ghetto in East Vancouver. She discussed how Native-Canadians have suffered, how the infamous Indian Act caused so much heartache among her people, how Natives are marginalized in their own land, are judged harshly, yet are constantly breaking stereotypes. She asked “How many Aboriginal women went missing before the police cared?” Indeed it is disgraceful that the RCMP did not think it worthwhile to investigate the missing Aboriginal women until much later. How disheartening it must be for a young Native girl to see the lack of police action in these cases. How will her self-esteem be affected? Is it any wonder there are so many problems among Native-Canadian youth (drugs, suicide, prostitution and so on)?
Ellen Woodsworth – A former Vancouver City councillor , who is now an activist and has done so much for women’s rights in Canada these past few decades, was the most powerful speaker, in my opinion. She urged women to get mad and organize themselves, through awareness and education, to fight the gender bias in society. As she said, many women are scared to speak up, and end up selling themselves short.It’s probably due to a result of the differing socialization methods for men and women, which also leads to her point about the glass ceiling, which is almost systemic and inherent in society.
A few minutes were also dedicated to taking about 15 year old Malala Yousafzai , who was shot by the Taliban due to her advocacy of education and women’s rights in Afghanistan.The fact that the Taliban cared enough to attempt to assassinate a 15 year old girl says a lot about girl’s potential.
The questions and comments from the audience members were all fantastic and thoughtful. It was great to hear all the young girls in their teens who are realizing there is something not quite right in the world and are not being complacent about it either. A lot of great organizations shared their platforms and what they planned to do. There is a lot being done already, and there are many volunteering opportunities out there too.
In 2011, the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) released a report card to show how British Columbia measures up in women’s rights. A link can be found here: http://www.westcoastleaf.org/index.php?newsid=201&pageID=1 .For a North American city which was the top livable city in the world until last year, the grades are very worrying. Women and access to justice – F, missing and murdered women and girls – D, women and housing – C-, violence against women and girls – C+. Obviously so much more needs to be done.
I got many things out of this dialogue. One main thing was the importance of education and further dialogue to help young girls and women realize their true potential . Everyone needs inspiration, but we mustn’t forget minorities and those living in poverty need it even more. I went to Girl Effect to be inspired to make a change. What I saw was something I rarely see; sisterhood, support for gender equality from both sexes, hope and the revelation that things don’t need to be the way they are and that they can change. That may sound trite, but that’s exactly what happened.