As summer ends and the school year begins, it is important to recognize some of the challenges being faced by girls and young women as they return to class.
What is it like to return to school if you are being bullied? One young girl from Saskatchewan, Shae Loosemore, told CBC News reporters “I’m just scared to go back to school.” She has been teased since kindergarten by other students in her class. She says, “They call me fat, ugly, stupid and a lot of others that I can’t explain because it will make me cry.” Sometimes, she is even afraid to talk to her mother about the bullying because other children have threatened to hurt her family if she told on them.
What does it say about our society when girls are teased about their physical appearance at such a young age? How could anyone, much less an eight-year-old, learn under such intimidating circumstances?
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recently studied bullying in Ontario and found that girls were more likely than boys to be bullied at school and were more than twice as likely to be victims of cyber-bullying. As we know bullying is not unique to Ontario, it unfortunately happens everywhere.
At the end of the last school year, one principal in our province reported students were targeting girls at a nearby junior high school, asking them to drink alcohol, pose in sexually explicit ways, kiss strangers and post the photos to Facebook. Another principal reported that students were afraid to go out at night or walk to the store alone.
Bullying even extends to victims of serious crimes. Recently, this paper reported that the Court of Appeal upheld the sentence of a 15-year-old boy charged with sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. In her victim impact statement, the girl said, “I lost all my friends, they called me names. I have trouble sleeping. Would not go outdoors without my little brother … I stay home a lot.” What does this say about this young girl’s peers — that they
re-victimize her by bullying her? A good school experience is essential for all children. They need to be able to focus on learning without being bullied or intimidated. Victims of crime in particular need support from their communities, not intimidation.
Success at school often determines what future opportunities children will have, and a safe school environment is important for children. Programs such as our Provincial Safe and Caring Schools, our Gay Straight Alliance and the Violence Prevention Initiative play a critical role in our schools being safe, healthy environments.
Fortunately, more and more people are speaking out against bullying and supporting girls like Shae Loosemore. However, there is still more to be done. We all have a role to play in ensuring that children have a good learning experience and that girls are not hampered by unreasonable expectations about their looks or pressures to behave in a sexual manner.
Parents can teach their children about appropriate behaviour and relationships. Teachers can monitor bullying and take a strong stand against it. Everyone, especially the media, can make an effort to ensure they are not reinforcing stereotypes or norms that are unhealthy and that sexualize young women.
Let’s all do our part and work towards a school year where young people have an opportunity to learn without bullying and intimidation.
Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women Newfoundland and Labrador