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National report shows that while girls are gaining ground in education, challenges remain

Prepared by Girls Action Foundation for EvidenceNetwork.ca. Based on the report “Beyond Appearances: Brief on the Main Issues Facing Girls in Canada,” by Girls Action Foundation. Access the full report.

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What It means to be a girl: the Canadian context

Despite advances over the years, girls in Canada face pressures — new and old — that limit their potential. Canadian statistics and research findings prove that the real-life challenges of girls have not been addressed — particularly for girls who are marginalized, such as immigrant, Indigenous, racialized, or rural girls.

Canada’s nearly 3.6 million girls are important contributors to our country’s well-being and overall success. Girls already contribute to the quality of life in their families, schools and communities. Girls will soon grow into women whose leadership, choices, work, and care for family will have a significant impact on Canadian society. By starting early to support girls to fulfill their potential, Canada will be closer to reducing the gender gap.

Today’s girls receive conflicting messages. They are supposed to be both liberated and traditional, a contradiction that produces tension in their daily lives. Many girls in Canada grow up being told: “you can be anything you want to be”. While education and career opportunities have improved greatly over the past decades, gender stereotypes persist and young people in Canada still face considerable pressure to conform to traditional male and female roles. Girls today also feel increasing pressure to do everything and please everyone.

In addition, girls are impacted each day by systemic barriers caused by factors such as poverty, rural location, racialization, immigration and the colonization of Indigenous communities. These social and cultural influences form the backdrop to girls’ experiences with education and career prospects, violence, and mental and physical health.

What are the issues facing girls in Canada?

Harnessing never-before compiled information and drawing on national and provincial surveys of youth, the in-depth report Beyond Appearances: Brief on the Main Issues Facing Girls in Canada, identifies key areas that require attention (see FACTS on page 2 for statistics):

  • Violence continues to be a damaging element in many girls’ lives, whether it occurs in school, at home or elsewhere. Girls are more likely to be victims of family violence than boys.
  • Girls’ mental health is also a cause for concern, whether it is related to negative body image, depression or self-destructive behaviour. The emotional well-being of girls in Canada declines markedly during adolescence, much more sharply than that of boys.
  • Girls’ physical health, particularly related to sexually transmitted infections and alcohol consumption, is an area where girls experience challenges. Recent positive changes in girls’ physical health include an overall decline in both teen pregnancy and smoking.
  • Girls’ education and career prospects. While girls on the whole experience educational success, further progress can be achieved if schools become safer, harassment-free places and girls from diverse backgrounds are more fully supported.

While there are many commonalities among experiences of girls in Canada, some groups of girls face multiple barriers and carry specific strengths, including the following:

  • Rural girls face many challenges related to living in remote or isolated communities, such as lack of access to supports and vulnerability to violence.
  • Indigenous girls: First Nations, Inuit and Métis girls face a number of complex challenges related to colonization and intergenerational trauma, however they also show strength and resilience.
  • Racialized girls face unique challenges due to racism and its impacts on well-being and identity; they also show strengths such as higher rates of school enrolment.
  • Immigrant girls experience considerable tensions in their efforts to bridge multiple cultures, live in a new context and respond to discrimination and barriers to opportunity; they also demonstrate high aspirations and skill in cultural negotiation.

What do girls need to succeed?

When girls receive the support they need, a dramatic ripple effect can be created. Girls and young women have the potential to be leaders and change-makers. They are resilient and innovative; they can grow up to improve their own socio-economic situation and that of their communities. They can help build a stronger economy, environment and society.

Key factors that facilitate girls’ development include:

  • Social supports — role models, mentors, connections with family and peers;
  • Connection to their own culture(s).
  • Opportunities for leadership and community action.
  • Meaningful participation in discussions, policy development and action planning on issues that affect their lives.
  • Girl-specific empowerment programs, such as those offered by Girls Action Foundation and the some 300 independent organizations that are members of the Girls Action Network.

The facts

Mental health: patterns and trends in girls’ lives

Physical health: patterns and trends in girls’ lives

Education and career prospects: patterns and trends in girls’ lives

  • 25% of Grade 10 girls in Canada don’t feel safe at school. While most girls have good academic achievement, their overall school experience is marked by “everyday violence” that takes place in school settings; this includes bullying, sexual harassment, racial discrimination and homophobia, which makes studying difficult and increases the risk of dropping out.
  • Despite these challenges, racialized and immigrant girls are more likely to remain in school than their white or Canadian-born classmates.
  • Women who drop out of school are much less likely than men to enter the workforce; if they do, it is often to work part-time or in lower-paid jobs.
  • Nationally, women with less than a Grade 9 education make only $20,800, which is more than 50% less than what men with the same education earn ($40,400).
  • Girls continue to be over-represented in traditionally female fields of post-secondary education while non-traditional fields such as sciences and engineering remain less popular.
  • Many girls are not reaching their potential in their careers or income-earning when they reach adulthood:

About Girls Action Foundation

Girls Action Foundation is a Canadian national charitable organization that has been advancing girls’ empowerment since 1995. Girls Action Foundation leads and seeds girls’ programs across Canada. The organization builds girls’ and young women’s skills and confidence and inspires action to change the world. Through its innovative programs, research, and support to a national network of over 300 partnering organizations and projects, Girls Action reaches over 60,000 girls and young women. The organization prioritizes the involvement of girls and organizations in marginalized communities, including indigenous, racialized, rural, newcomer and Northern communities.


To arrange interviews with Saman Ahsan, Executive Director of Girls Action Foundation, please contact:

Myriam Zaidi, Communications Coordinator
Office: 514.948.1112 | myriam@girlsactionfoundation.ca

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.