London West Girls give the Ford government an earful

A group of grade 8 girls from the London West Girls' Government group travelled to Queen's Park Thursday to tell the Ford government what they want to see to improve equity in education.

Eleven grade 8 girls went to Queen's Park to talk equity in education and give the government recommendations.

Eleven grade 8 girls from three London schools made several recommendations to the provincial government around equity in education at Ontario schools. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

A group of grade 8 girls from the London West Girls' Government group travelled to Queen's Park Thursday to tell the Ford government what they want to see to improve equity in education.

The program is non-partisan and is designed to teach girls how to advocate for issues that are important to them. This is the third year London West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler has worked with the girls. 

Taking turns at the microphone, they made several recommendations ranging from teaching healthy relationships in schools to providing free menstrual products to students.

Arianna Richardson and Isabelle Gilbert were two of 11 girls to make recommendations to the provincial government at Queen's Park. Genevieve Harvey looks on. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

"Our first recommendation is to increase funding for sexual assault centres," said Arianna Richardson, a grade 8 student from St. Martin Catholic School in London.

"Imagine being a young victim of sexual assault but having to wait up to a year to receive support."

Several recommendations fell into the category of responding to sexual and dating violence. 

They included increasing funding for sexual assault centres across the province and improving resources and teacher training to ensure a student in need has someone to turn to. 

"Students feel more comfortable talking to their teacher if they've experience sexual assault," said Isabella Gilbert, from Wortley Rd. P.S. "We believe that it's important to have teachers trained to know how to respond when a student comes asking for their help."

The students said it would help if the government cancelled its plans to increase class sizes for high school students. 

"This would ensure there would be more teachers to talk about consent, healthy relationships, sexual identity, sexual orientation and understanding of self," said Shelby Hayes from St. Martin Catholic School. 

"We heard that one-in-three women experience sexual assault before they graduate high school. That girls aged 15-24 are at the highest risk and that 47% of violence against girls under 12 is sexual in nature." said Isabella Gilbert from Wortley Rd. P.S.

"This violence needs to be stopped."

Free menstrual products

Another key recommendation for the government is to offer free menstrual products to all students who may require them. 

"Nearly one in seven Canadian girls has either left or missed school because she did not have access to period products," said Maya Hall-Hinds, from Tecumseh P.S.

"This is putting them at a disadvantage to their peers."

Sex ed and consent

The students also want the curriculum to address issues around consent, gender identity and sexual orientation so that children's questions can be answered.

"Students should be able to freely talk about who they are and what they believe they are without feeling judged or different from any other person," said Julia Harvey from Wortley Rd. P.S. 

Her school mate, Laila Seif added: "If we were to exclude this topic from the curriculum across Ontario we would be excluding them, as well. The more we learn about each other, the better we become."

The girls said keeping the issue of consent in the curriculum would help keep young people safe.

"We need to create a better curriculum for consent and sexual education in elementary schools as well as high schools," said Genevieve Harvey from Wortley Rd. P.S.

"This will not only help teach people that it's not okay to touch another person's body without their consent but it also allows a person to comfortably speak up when they're in a situation they don't like."

Dress codes

The girls also pointed out some problems they have with dress codes and how they feel they're more strictly regulated, disproportionately judged for dress code violations and that they're being held morally responsible for the conduct of boys.

"Though the rules don't target gender specifically, the terminology used applies more to female clothing than to male clothing," said Hall-Hinds. 

The girls met with government and opposition MPPs. They also presented a petition to the legislature calling on the Ford Conservatives to act on their recommendations.