Nova Scotia has a girl problem.
We don’t have enough of them. According to a new Statistics Canada report, girls under the age of 17 in this province make up just 16.4 per cent of the female population. That’s the lowest percentage of any province or territory as of July 1, 2016, when the stats snapshot was taken for a report called The Girl Child.
“In some provinces and territories, girls made up a larger share of the female population due to differences in population age structure,” says the report.
“For example, in Nunavut, where the median age of females is about 26 years, more than one-third (36.4 per cent) of females were girls aged 17 and under. In contrast, in Nova Scotia, where the median age of the female population is about 46 years, 16.4 per cent of females were children.”
That number comes as no surprise to Thomas Storring, the province’s statistics guru.
“What’s really going on there is the story of our demography in general,” said Storring, who points out that the percentage of boys in Nova Scotia’s male population is also near the bottom of the barrel.
“This is just a specific instance of the bigger demographic trend.”
When he looks at data stretching back to the year 2000, Nova Scotia consistently has lower fertility rates than the national average.
“So that certainly contributes to that explanation (for the low numbers),” Storring said.
“We’ve got this persistent net out-migration issue (of males and females) that’s concentrated in the ages of about 20 to 34.”
That means, “at that fertile age, they’re taking the next generation with them as they go,” he said.
“That contributes to us having a much larger proportional baby boom cohort left here than the national average would have. It’s about 29 per cent here as opposed to about 25 per cent for the national average.”
Susan Brigham is making plans for about 250 young, female Nova Scotians, who will attend the Girls 2017 Conference next month at Mount Saint Vincent University.
“We need to be more attentive to the girls that we have,” said Brigham, an education professor at the Mount, and chair of the university’s Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice.
“There are so many girls out there making a difference in their communities and I don’t feel that they’re being celebrated or acknowledged or valued as they should be. They’re a smaller, yet mightier population and I think we need to be attentive to their needs, to their challenges (and) what kind of supports we can put into place.”
The keynote speaker for the March 3 event is Reeny Smith, a 24-year-old singer and pianist from North Preston.
“She’s really a fantastic young woman who’s going to be performing at the conference as well as speaking about her own life experiences,” Brigham said.
Olympic gymnast Ellie Black will also be speaking at the conference.
There will be workshops on self-esteem, self-awareness, body acceptance, bullying, and social justice issues, Brigham said.
An executive from JD Irving Ltd. will be on-hand to speak on a panel about getting women into science, technology, engineering and math careers.
“There are also (workshops on) consent; sexual relations, sexting, and sexual consent for girls to understand the legislation and case law around sexual assault and consent,” Brigham said.
According to the new Statscan report, girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were more likely than boys to report high levels of daily stress. “Specifically, 17.1 per cent of 12- to 17-year-old girls reported that, on most days, their lives were ‘quite a bit stressful’ or ‘extremely stressful.’ A smaller proportion, 9.3 per cent, of same-aged boys reported this level of life stress.”
Brigham said a lot of the girls who have attended the Mount conference in the past have reported the same thing, especially in relation to social media issues and the high expectations placed on them and the hypersexual focus in advertising.
“There’s a lot of concern around friendships, relationships with boys as well,” she said. “The workshops that we choose are based on girls’ feedback, and so that was something that girls had asked for is ‘How come we can’t talk more about sexuality and having a relationship with a boy? And when should we be sexually active and how do you say no?’”
Recent talk of female politicians being the focus of misogynistic hate mail plays into that stress, Brigham said.
“Maybe people don’t realize how much that trickles down to the younger population – young girls thinking, ‘I would love to be a leader,’” she said.
“But I think there’s a fear, not just among girls, but among women, to express their voice in different places and then to have that responded to so negatively.”
One speaker at the conference, Kardeisha Provo, a young woman from North Preston who uses her YouTube channel to get her voice heard, “despite all these efforts to exclude and silence girls and women from the public arena,” Brigham said.
Dayspring’s Stella Bowles, whose elementary school science project last year brought attention to the raw sewage flowing into the LaHave River, will also be part of the conference. Her water testing convinced the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg to attempt to put an end to the practice.
“There’s a girl, who was 12 years old at the time, who had an impact on the environment,” Brigham said.
“She’s one of many, many girls who have a concern for social justice.”