Working with girls and young women to become environmental leaders
They are far more informed about the environment than their parents’ generation. They had no trouble understanding the complex issues I was teaching, particularly on toxic substances and hormone disrupting chemicals and their effect on human health and the environment. And they are good at making connections.
I also learned that gender dynamics have not changed much since I was in high school. The boys in the classes I was in talk much, much more than girls, act out more, jump up to be team captains during competitions, call out their answers, and generally dominate classroom interactions. Now don’t get me wrong, I really liked these guys. They came from very disadvantaged backgrounds about which they could talk clearly and with honesty. We talked a lot about health justice and environmental racism and they had a lot to say. And even now, I can remember their faces and voices as well as their points of view.
But the girls. I had to really work to try and create space for them. It was difficult and I had real trouble with this, despite understanding class dynamics and being committed to their taking their place. Most of the boys took any space as easily as they breathed. And the girls seemed accustomed to this and weren’t going to fight it.
In fact, it seemed easier for them to just keep their heads down and stay quiet.
Breast Cancer Action Quebec’s Youth Program has a long and rich history. It has taken a variety of forms. Prior to our work in schools, we had a girls’ leadership program funded by Status of Women Canada that offered unique workshops to girls in marginalized communities through partnerships with community groups.
This work revealed to us again how little space is accorded to girls from disadvantaged places. We generally hear that girls are doing much better than boys academically and it’s the boys who need help. This makes it difficult to see that not all girls are doing well and the ones who aren’t are becoming invisible. Very little is offered to them. In fact, you have to go out to find them and encourage them to come out and get involved.
That is what this year’s Youth Program aims to do. We want to reach back out to the community groups with whom we worked, encourage these girls to join our workshops and offer an environmental health curriculum combined with leadership activities.
People in disadvantaged and marginalized communities face much higher levels of environmental health problems and often lack the knowledge and/or resources to take them on. We want to help girls from these communities become the environmental health leaders of their communities. They deserve it and their communities deserve it.
As a women’s health organization dedicated to prevention, we think it is essential to work with young people to change things for their future. Unfortunately, finding funders for our Youth Program remains a challenge. It seems that many funders see the name Breast Cancer Action Quebec and can’t wrap their minds around why we are doing this. To them, breast cancer means pink ribbons and runs and middle-aged women and not much else. (They have told us this.) They seem to have missed the news on the environmental links to cancer and that prevention is more than recommending that people eat their vegetables and exercise.
Now we do actually talk to young people about vegetables (among much else). But we talk more about ultra-processed foods, food deserts and food security with the aim of finding collective answers to these social problems. Our work on prevention empowers girls from very marginalized communities to take on the structural changes needed to allow them to take care of their themselves.
We are very fortunate to benefit from funding from the exceptional Betty Averbach, Solstice and Abe and Ruth Feigelson Foundations for this work, but this does not cover the full costs.
This is why our next fundraising activity is dedicated to our Youth Program. It’s a zumbathon, and it is really fun. It is for people of any age -- even children – and any physical condition.
There is so much to be done. We are keen to do our part. You can help make it happen.
Thank you so much
If you are interested in seeing the results of our work in high schools, check out this infographic.
BCAQc relies on membership dues and private donations to stay in operation. Membership entitles you to advance notice of seminars and workshops as well as a subscription to our electronic newsletter— BCAQc Connected.
A strong membership also helps to substantiate our financial applications for government grants and private foundations. Please consider joining us today!
For twenty five years — with your support — BCAQc has been working hard to get vital information about environmental and chemical links to breast cancer to the public, and we now know that our message is being heard.
We ask you to consider a financial gift to Breast Cancer Action Quebec to help us to continue to get this vital information to the public.
There are many ways you can be involved: volunteer, write a letter to the editor, book an educational workshop for your school, community group or work place.
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