Girls Supporting Girls at YWCA Toronto

Guest post by Jessie Guo

Six diverse teenage girls smile and pose with their arms around each other. The author, Jessie Guo, is second from left.

Jessie Guo, second from left, at the YWCA Toronto Girls’ Centre

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a tour and information session at the YWCA Toronto Girls’ Centre. I hadn’t known about the Girls’ Centre before the session, but I immediately understood the need for it.

Every day the news is filled with stories about the pressures and rights violations that girls face. I don’t need to read it in the news either – as a girl, I live it! That’s why I was pleased to learn about a community program whose mission is to help girls cope with these challenges together.

The information session after my tour focused on social media safety. The half-dozen girls in attendance looked happy and relaxed. I’m sure the delicious pasta the Girls’ Centre provided for them didn’t hurt, but I think the comfort stemmed more from the fact that they were surrounded by other girls and felt safer speaking out. I was captivated by the energy of this girls-only space, and could see that YWCA Toronto employees made the girls feel accepted and comfortable while they learned how to protect themselves on the internet.

When I think of the consequences of unsafe internet use, I immediately think of Amanda Todd. Teenage Amanda took her own life after first being extorted by a stranger she flashed on the internet, and then being bullied within an inch of her life by her peers (many of them other girls).

While discussions about these incidents are difficult and painful, they are also necessary if we want to ensure they don’t happen again. I’m glad YWCA Toronto could create a space for that conversation. Giving girls a chance to speak openly about how to treat themselves, and how to treat each other, is an important step if we want to challenge gender stereotypes.

The girls-supporting-girls method is not only a key ingredient for learning at the Girls’ Centre, but also for leadership development. I think it’s awesome that the Girls’ Centre gives older girls opportunities to mentor younger girls and shape the activities at the Centre. It means that older girls get a chance to lead and younger girls have relatable role models – plus it makes the whole experience even more fun for everyone.

I’m glad I got a chance to witness YWCA Toronto’s great work with girls my age, and I know this won’t be the last time I go to the Girls’ Centre!

Learn more about the YWCA Toronto Girls’ Centre in south Scarborough by visiting our website.