From the gender wage gap to the so-called “pink tax,” symptoms of gender inequality continue to affect girls and women throughout Canada and around the world. Narratives around inequity often centre on the financial and emotional burdens placed on adult women. However, according to new data released by Plan International Canada to mark International Women’s Day, the conversation needs to focus on the lived experiences of girls transitioning into womanhood, particularly those belonging to Generation Z.
According to the survey, gender discrimination begins to intensify for young women before the age of 25. Nearly half of women in Canada said this was when they first became aware of unfair treatment in their schools and workplaces.
The fact that gender inequality is still a major roadblock for the next generation of women is an issue Plan International Canada president and CEO Caroline Riseboro says has been overlooked for too long. “Young women between the ages of 18 and 24 should be preparing to take on the world,” says Ms. Riseboro. “Instead, we’re seeing that this is the moment when they are blindsided by barriers to equality that continue to hinder them as they become women.”
Plan International Canada youth ambassador Christina Luo (21) distinctly remembers how discrimination weighed on her experiences as a young woman. “Growing up, I prided myself on being a high achiever in school, but from a young age, I was aware that I was being consistently under-estimated. It became normal for me. There was this general assumption that when I excelled at something, I was good at it for a girl. When there’s that extra qualifier based on gender, it creates competition and an understanding that there are limited spots available for girls. This definitely shaped the way I thought about things as I got older.”
The survey suggests that these early experiences of discrimination have serious implications for the next chapter in a young woman’s life, especially as she enters the workforce. For example, the survey showed women ages 18 to 34 were more likely to say they felt less equal than their male counterparts and less empowered to speak up in public settings. Only four in 10 women felt they had the same opportunities to lead as their male counterparts.
Ms. Riseboro says the survey results are not surprising in light of her own experiences of gender inequality throughout her career. “Being the only female executive in boardrooms full of men made me realize just how much more work needs to be done to empower women and elevate them into leadership roles. We keep telling girls they belong in positions of power, yet they aren’t seeing themselves in these roles still dominated by men. As they get older, they’re left to accept the barriers they face in school and professional settings as normal.”
Ms. Luo echoes that these survey results are not unexpected. “Unfortunately, I’m not surprised to hear that women experience these types of inequalities. This is still a pervasive issue in Canada, and can affect career growth and leadership opportunities. These trends are concerning because qualified women may hesitate before stepping forward – or even decline to apply – for certain opportunities. This has an impact on not only the women who are making these decisions, but the girls and women who see them as role models,” she adds.
The discrimination young women face is compounded by the lack of support systems available to them. According to the survey, 65 per cent of women reported that they have never been mentored in their career or on financial matters. Girls entering womanhood are disproportionately impacted by this void in mentorship. “I’m a firm believer that when girls see it, they can achieve it,” says Ms. Riseboro. “Mentorship is more than a learning opportunity – it’s a chance to equip young women with the confidence they need to achieve more than the generation before them ever could.”
To bring the voices of young people to the forefront, Plan International Canada and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, along with a network of 20 organizations, launched Youth for Gender Equality (YGE), a ground-breaking three-year initiative based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Youth for Gender Equality will create the first-ever youth-led SDG 5 implementation plan on gender equality in the world. Developed, written and informed by in-depth and diverse youth dialogues around the country, the implementation plan will include a series of recommendations for how people in Canada, including organizational and government leaders, can spearhead progress to end gender inequality.
“Gender inequality affects youth very directly. By participating in the Youth for Gender Equality initiative, young people are able to see themselves as part of the solution going forward,” says Ms. Luo, who has been closely involved in the design and execution of the initiative.
Ms. Riseboro adds that the Youth for Gender Equality initiative signifies history in the making. “Young people cannot effectively navigate gender inequality with outdated solutions that ignore their lived experiences. We must work to listen to and amplify their voices to find answers that work for today.”
A future with youth at the forefront is a very bright one from Ms. Luo’s perspective. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with youth throughout Canada and around the world who are passionate about this cause. Young people are growing up better informed and better able to reach a broader audience about issues that are important to them. I’m proud to be part of a generation that’s getting involved and actively helping to affect change.”
Adolescence is a critical period when young people begin to take their place in the world. To mark International Women’s Day, Plan International Canada’s survey looks at how ‘normal’ for too many girls means experiencing roadblocks that challenge their power, freedom and equality as they enter womanhood. Most Canadian women (67 per cent) first experience gender inequality before the age of 25. The survey also found that women ages 18 to 24 are:
Less empowered to lead
Only 38 per cent believe they have the same opportunity as men to lead.
Not taken seriously
Only 43 per cent believe their ideas are taken as seriously because of their gender.
Not able to voice their opinions
Six in 10 (65 per cent) women aged 18 to 24 feel less empowered to share their opinions in public.
The findings show that people must not only listen to girls, but amplify their voices and help to support their transition into empowered, confident women, ready to unleash their full potential.
Be a role model:
65 per cent of Canadian women report that they have never received mentorship.
19 per cent of women surveyed said they wished they had more support related to economic and financial matters, like their employment or pay, when transitioning to womanhood.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.