Brief description of the issue
Indigenous women and girls are facing serious inequalities, both because of being First Nations and because of their gender. As early as in elementary school, girls are directed towards traditionally female roles by children’s books, stories and the media, show a lower level of self-confidence, speak up in front of the class less frequently than boys and have had fewer opportunities than boys to develop the skills needed to perform certain activities, such as activities related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). To lower the gap between boys and girls on these aspects, it is important to put activities in place that will either be for all the group or specifically for girls, and that will target the development of certain abilities among girls.
Here are a few activities you can put in place to bring girls to develop certain skills they usually don’t (or less) develop if they embrace gender stereotypes a lot.
FitSpirit (3rd cycle)
We often hear about boys’ “natural” need to be active, which can encourage schools to develop active educational programs only targeted at boys. However, this belief tends to make us forget that girls also need to be active and prioritize boys’ physical activity needs. Whereas many teachers mention boys’ need to be active, the issue of physical activity for girls is often overlooked. Nevertheless, physical activity has benefits as much for boys as for girls, but we rarely talk about the benefits for girls (CSF, 2016). It is therefore important to encourage girls as much as boys to practise sport or physical activity regularly, especially since we know that around puberty, between 10 and 12 years old, girls’ self-confidence drops drastically and one girl out of two quits physical activity (Business Wire, 2016). At the end of high school, nine girls out of ten don’t meet the Canadian recommendations in terms of daily physical activity (FitSpirit, 2018). Yet, physical activity is strongly associated with academic achievement and is part of a holistic perception of global health, a vision important to many First Nations (Girard & Vallet, 2015).
It is exactly this problem that the organization FitSpirit is tackling. FitSpirit’s mission is to help teenage girls being physically active throughout their lives, to create unforgettable experiences for them and to build a community of inspirational, committed individuals around them. Following an 8 to 10-week training program, young girls (3rd cycle) are invited to participate in the FitClub, a non-competitive 5K race with hundreds of other girls from participating schools. Click here to register your school!
Indigenous Female Hockey Program
Hockey Nova Scotia put on a two-year pilot project which aims to create opportunities for Indigenous girls in Nova Scotia to learn basic hockey skills. The Female Indigenous Hockey program is being put on in three First Nation communities. These communities are Membertou, Eskasoni and Millbrook (Sullivan, 2020). While there is no such programs in Quebec or New Brunswick, the Programme de Développement Hockey École, which is already present in Innu and Inuit communities (Paradis, 2019; Royer, 2019), could be implemented in Gespeg’ewa’gi Mi’gmaq communities with a group specifically for girls.
Encouraging sports among young indigenous girls can be “a positive force in relation to a number of social issues, such as to:
- reduce crime
- rebuild community
- prevent girls and young women engaging in unhealthy and unsafe behaviours
- reduce obesity
- provide a pathway out of poverty
- provide a career path for Indigenous women to the highest level, and
- challenge negative stereotypes.” (Stronach & Maxwell, 2020)
Learn to Code
Women are underrepresented in the tech industry, a blooming sector looking for talent and offering good pay (Freslon, 2018). As for indigenous women evolving in this industry, they are “often the only woman in the room and almost always the only Indigenous woman” (Animikii, 2019). This segregation starts at university-level or even CEGEP-level, but it is possible to introduce, as early as in the elementary schools, children and especially girls to coding. Here are a few ways you can do it:
- The organization Canada learning code, with its Code Mobile, can come to your school to facilitate workshops for you, teachers, as well as for your students. This organization is particularly mindful of girls’ representation in this field.
- On the web, using mobile devices or robots, there are plenty of resources you can use to dive into this world with your students (even if you don’t know anything about coding):
- Coding in Elementary
- Best Coding Tools for Elementary
- Code.org—Elementary School
- Teaching Elementary Students to Code: Where to Start
- The organization Kids Code Jeunesse also offers to educators turnkey activities to help children learn how to code.
The Tangram puzzle is a seven-piece Chinese puzzle that has a basic square shape. There are a ton of shapes you can do with the pieces, and these “challenges” help children develop spatial awareness skills that are essential to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. Women being still a minority in these well-paid jobs, it is important to encourage girls to develop these skills as much as boys who, already in first grade, are far better at these puzzles than girls, because, among other reasons, they have played so much with games developing spatial awareness such as Legos, construction blocks, video games, etc. Playing a few minutes a day can help girls be at the same level as boys in terms of spatial awareness skills (BBC, 2018).
- How to create your own Tangram puzzle
- A ton of Tangram patterns to download
- Tangram puzzles for kindergarten: letters of the alphabet, numbers and animals
At the beginning of the elementary level, girls already have a lower level of self-confidence than boys and they underestimate more their abilities whereas boys overestimate them. Here are a few activities and strategies to boost girls’ self-confidence:
- Girls can be and Women in science posters from Élise Gravel that you can print and put on your classroom’s walls;
- Bring girls to experience successes and encourage them to try on new activities that they wouldn’t have normally tried;
- Studies have shown that girls better perform at a chosen exercise when they are told it is a drawing exercise than when they are told it is a geometry exercise, when the task is in fact the same. This is called the stereotype threat: because girls are stereotypically considered as not being “naturally” good at maths, they perform less when they believe they are doing a math exercise. Other studies have shown that the simple fact of encouraging students, especially girls, at the beginning of the exercise, by telling them they are able to succeed and that they have all the skills to succeed, helps them perform better. The moral of this story: let’s encourage girls!
Animikii (2019, March 8). Indigenous Women in Tech. Animikii. https://www.animikii.com/news/indigenous-women-in-tech
BBC (2018). No More Boys And Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?. Outline Productions. https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/33/no-more-boys-and-girls
Business Wire (2016, June 28). Half of Girls Quit Sports By the End of Puberty*: New Always® #LikeAGirl Video Examines Cause—together with Olympic gold medalist Alex Morgan—Encourages Girls Everywhere to Keep Playing #LikeAGirl, Business Wire. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160628005793/en/Girls-Quit-Sports-Puberty*-Always%C2%AE-LikeAGirl-Video
Fitspirit (2019). Inspire, motivate, Move. https://www.fitspirit.ca/
Freslon, C. (2018, January 18). Pourquoi il faut plus de femmes en technologies [Why we need more women in tech], La Gazette des femmes. https://www.gazettedesfemmes.ca/14212/pourquoi-il-faut-plus-de-femmes-en-technologies/
Girard, J. et Vallet, M. (2015). La réussite éducative : les solutions au-delà de l’école, Revue de la persévérance et de la réussite scolaires chez les Premiers Peuples, 1, 26-28.
Paradis, S. (2019, October 8). Développement hockey-école : le programme initié par Joé Juneau implanté sur la Côte-Nord. Le Soleil. https://www.lesoleil.com/sports/developpement-hockey-ecole-le-programme-initie-par-joe-juneau-implante-sur-la-cote-nord-9d2234f57640fa7d5756b11e84127074
Royer, L. (2019, November 15). Programme de Joé Juneau à Nutashkuan : quand le hockey s’invite à l’école. ICI Côte-Nord. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1391585/formation-developpement-natashquan-arena-sport
Stronach, M. & Maxwell, H. (2020). Developing Sport for Indigenous Women and Girls, In Sherry, M. & Rowe, K. Developing Sport for Women and Girls. Routledge.
Sullivan, N. (2020, February 14). New hockey program for Indigenous girls boosting enrollment in Cape Breton. The ChronicleHerald. https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/sports/regional-sports/new-hockey-program-for-indigenous-girls-boosting-enrollment-in-cape-breton-411426/