Kelly Panchyshyn is finally proud to wear pink.
As a child, she was always told she could achieve whatever she set her mind to.
And, while she knew she had equal rights to the boys in her neighbourhood, she never felt comfortable admitting she liked the colour pink, she said.
“I wasn’t proud to be a girl, because it meant admitting I was weaker – or that’s what I thought,” she said.
“Slowly I’ve come to realize it doesn’t mean I am weaker, or anything like that, and I am really proud to be a girl. That’s been my revelation in the last couple years. You can be strong and be a woman. You can still be girlie and be strong.”
That’s bold for a 17-year-old – and a concept we should continue to promote, said Julianna Scramstad, of the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre.
“There are people who are like, ‘We have equality, we’re done – like, why do you exist?’” she said, sitting down at the centre’s kitchen table.
The day before, she hardly sat down at all.
It was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.
The centre’s doors were open to the public, and the place was packed with standing room only, she said.
“The funny thing for me, was thinking about the fact that it was the 100th anniversary and looking at the origins of International Women’s Day and what they were working for then, which was labour rights, and it was born as a peace movement and it was born in women suffrage,” she said. “That was 1911. We got the vote, but we still don’t really have peace and we don’t really have equal labour rights. So it’s the same stuff. It’s violence against women. It’s housing. It still is a lot of the same stuff. But that doesn’t mean we can stop working on it.”
Criticism levelled against feminism was the focus of a paper Panchyshyn researched this year.
It was prompted by an all-too-common question – why would there ever need to be a feminist in this day in age? admitted Panchyshyn.
As of January 2011, the number of women employed in Canada was a smidge more than men, about 7.2 million to 7 million.
Yet they were paid $3.61 less an hour, on average, than men, according to Statistics Canada.
“When you really look at it, sadly, there still is much that needs to be done, even in Canada,” she said. “It’s just not as obvious. In Canada, we’re bridging the gap and us girls, we’re told we can be whatever we want and we can do whatever we want so we have that freedom. But of course, around the world it’s just not the same.”
Often, girls are in dire conditions.
This led Panchyshyn to start a movement in her school.
Panchyshyn is a member of the social justice club at Vanier Catholic Secondary School.
While a few boys come to an occasional meeting, most are young women.
Panchyshyn thought it would be a great place to talk about the Because I Am A Girl Campaign.
She came across it on MuchMusic.
It focuses on investing in young girls in developing nations, and is run by Plan Canada, an international aid organization based in Toronto.
It’s based on the belief that investing in young girls pays bigger dividends than other causes – the effects last longer and are more profound.
Invest in a girl’s education, you’ll see 90 per cent of her income flow back to her family. With a boy it will only be 35 per cent.
So, if 10 per cent of girls go to secondary school, a developing nation’s economy would increase three per cent.
It could also reduce population pressure.
If, by age 12, a girl has access to seven more years of education, she will often stave off marriage for four years longer than a girl who wasn’t offered that schooling.
Those young women will bear an average of two fewer children.
And they will be less likely to wind up in the sex trade.
“When a girl is educated, she brings that education into her family more than a boy would and she’s teaching her children this as well,” said Panchyshyn. “I guess it’s the mother factor, or just the roles these women play in these communities that makes the difference. If they are the ones that are educated, we see effects down the line.”
The Vanier club got behind the idea and immediately started spreading the theory through the school.
Banners decorate the hallways and Because I Am A Girl, videos were shown on Wednesday.
Today the group is having a pink bake sale – pink lemonade and cupcakes.
And the prices will symbolize the wage disparities across the globe: cupcakes will be $1 for boys and only 75 cents for girls.
“There’s been a lot of debate,” said Panchyshyn. “We’ve been worried this may cause some negative light on the subject, it might not help our cause – but we sort of realized we don’t have to defend ourselves. There are solid facts around this. And we do want to cause a little of that discussion, a little bit of that thought and hopefully people will be enlightened by it.”
The group has been criticized throughout the week, but they have gone out of their way to ensure boys are included.
On the Because I Am A Girl website, T-shirts can be ordered.
But the social justice club is making its own.
They had to.
The ones offered online didn’t have any sizes for boys, said Panchyshyn.
Fellow club member, Midhula Kalpak who is only 14-years-old, giggled as Panchyshyn described the opposition they have been receiving.
To her, the reasons are obvious.
“Women have less rights than men,” she said.
Kalpak has only been in Canada for a year now. She came from India.
Classmate Shanen Samynaden, who is also a part of the club, has been here for even less time.
Her family has only been in Canada for two months. They are from Mauritius, near Madagascar in Africa.
“We’re lucky here,” Panchyshyn added. “I feel like, because we are so lucky, we should help those who are less fortunate. That’s a big thing in this school.”
The club’s homemade T-shirts are also available at the bake sale, in both male and female sizes.
They are pink.
Panchyshyn is wearing hers proudly.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at