Do we have the intellectual majors we deserve?

An effort to boost high school girls’ high school achievement rates gained steam this month, with the Ontario education ministry praising a pilot project at Toronto’s Trinity-Spadina high school. The school’s cross-cultural student council…

Do we have the intellectual majors we deserve?

An effort to boost high school girls’ high school achievement rates gained steam this month, with the Ontario education ministry praising a pilot project at Toronto’s Trinity-Spadina high school. The school’s cross-cultural student council is using social media to arrange meetings and social trips with female world leaders, with the ultimate goal of teaching female students to recognize the value of themselves and how to change the world.

It’s an initiative that should gain urgency across the country. When it comes to Toronto’s massive economic impact, the results should leave a mark on our leaders at all levels of government.

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Opinion: Can we launch a girls’ empowerment movement?

Read more: How the United Nations wants to embed gender equality into Canadian life

Who cares? You should care – the lack of female economic empowerment for Canadian women is embarrassing. Across Canada, only 12 per cent of federal MPs are women. In Ontario, women make up half of high school students but less than a quarter of university students. We’re having a gender debate in the middle of a global recession, and yet our approach to solving our economic crisis remains hobbled by a gender gap.

What’s the real reason why women aren’t being elected and educated at the same rate as men? There are some theories – discrimination, lack of confidence, a lack of ability to ask for things. But take the studies. Canadian women graduate with B-levels almost as frequently as men, get job interviews more often than men, participate in the labour force at a higher rate than men and, according to Statistics Canada, are more likely to get a promotion. But the world won’t care.

There are some women out there who really do make the world better. With the help of social media, their tales can be shared with large audiences. Just look at Girl Crush, the platform started by 15-year-old Clare Lamming, who changed the world’s perspective when she dropped out of college in the U.S. to work with the anti-fracking movement. Or Mara Zuckerman, a Canadian-born filmmaker whose documentaries have showcased women in what she calls the “virtuous circle” of “intellectual magnificence,” through art, science and politics.

Shared stories are an important part of change. The three young women (along with the rest of us) need to hear what these young women have to say.

But we need to celebrate these women. Just as all high school students in Canada now have access to programs in their classrooms where they can compare their results with those of other students in their country, we should give more academic opportunities to young women. Ontario announced last year that this will be expanded to include libraries and public school support networks. We should do even more.

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The Trinity-Spadina student council has succeeded in a number of areas where most girls can’t: showing up for a challenge, getting students to sign on, sharing lessons with classmates, encouraging individual leaders – and inviting young women who are activists, interviewers and thinkers to talk to students and make connections that will change not only their own lives but our world.

Ontario’s government should give real support to this effort by supporting girls’ civic engagement programs. I know that I’d like to see more of my peers get invited, or that my neighbours’ daughter isn’t just hearing about women with great stories, but also hearing about the frustrations of women doing things like making a living, being parents and taking care of a sick spouse. If our leaders were as invested in this, they would feel the sense of wanting to shift the dynamic.

For the sake of not just some girls, but the whole society, it’s time to pull together and fix this.

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