How Ontario politics impacts a group of 13-year-old Hamilton girls

One spoke of watching her mom work extra hours at the dollar store just to buy Christmas gifts for her and her siblings. Another spoke of having to do more chores than her brother for the same amount of allowance — because women traditionally do the housework, she says, and that tradition carries on.

The group from Hillcrest school says Ontario needs pay equity and better child care

Girls from a Hamilton elementary school held a press conference at Queen's Park Thursday as part of International Women's Day.

One spoke of watching her mom work extra hours at the dollar store just to buy Christmas gifts for her and her siblings.

Another spoke of having to do more chores than her brother for the same amount of allowance — because women traditionally do the housework, she says, and at her house, that carries on.

One by one, members of the Hillcrest Elementary School Girls' Government group took the mic at the Queen's Park media studio Thursday to talk about how they'd like Ontario to be a better place for women. They did this as part of International Women's Day.

The six-member club, accompanied by their teacher and a public health nurse, had a few suggestions. Those included issues around sexual harassment, poverty and better access to affordable child care. But their pet subject was pay equity, which they say even impacts them on a micro level at home.

"As teenage girls, we have already experienced how we are expected to do the majority of household chores in comparison to our male siblings," said Danielle Harcourt, 12.

Shannon Duquette, 13, said she's become more aware of labour issues from watching her own mother, who works at a dollar store. "It made me feel like it wasn't really fair that she works so hard and earns so little."

"At Christmas, my mother worked extra hours at the dollar store so she could buy gifts for me and my siblings," she said in a statement read by classmate Anahy Manzanares, 13. "When she got her pay cheque for $400, she cried because she had worked so hard and thought the cheque would be larger."

Girls' Government is a non-partisan initiative started by a Toronto NDP MPP, Cheri DiNovo. Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP, has been the Hillcrest group's MPP mentor since September.

But the group met with all three major parties Thursday as part of a non-partisan effort. They met with Peter Milczyn, Minister of Housing and Poverty Reduction. They also met with the chief of staff for Laurie Scott, the Ontario PC critic for community safety and women's issues.

Milczyn said he was glad to meet with "some impressive young women."

Members of the Hillcrest Elementary School girls government group gave a presentation that focused on pay equity.

"We talked about pay equity, our plan to increase Ontario's minimum wage to $15 an hour, child care and housing issues," he told CBC News. "I know there is so much more work to be done."

Milczyn said he agrees with that Ontario needs to close the gender wage gap, and points to the province's Strategy for Women's Economic Empowerment, and a proposal from the premier on pay transparency, as ways the government hopes to fix that.

Isabel Badeau, 12, said the experience emboldened her to be more vocal.

"One of my goals for the future is to stick up for my rights."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca