Monthly Archives: August 2013

Young Women Speak Up – By Chloe Sjuberg


Youth Advisory Members distributed the surveys on the early morning water taxi.

Youth Advisory Members distributed the surveys on the early morning water taxi.

SWOVA’s Salish Sea Girls’ Leadership Project (SSGLP) is paving the way for young women to share their voices. Over the spring and summer, we carried out a Needs Assessment Survey asking young women about the issues they face living in the Gulf Islands. We received a fantastic response; 17% of all the Gulf Islands women aged 15-24 completed our survey, giving us a great representation of this group.

The young women who participated went above and beyond in their engagement with the survey material, seizing the opportunity to share their thoughts. Many responded with plenty of detail to the survey’s open-ended questions, giving thoughtful commentary and great suggestions for change. Some told very personal stories about their struggles with the issues the survey brought up, from body image to bullying.

A strength of this project is the instrumental role the young women on the SSGLP’s Youth Advisory Council had in creating this survey. Rather than being a process external to the lives of young women in our community, administered to youth by adults, the YAC girls designed the survey, created its questions and worked hard to distribute it and gather responses.

In one part of the survey, participants were asked to list what they thought were the most important issues facing girls and young women living in the Gulf Islands today.


It was eye-opening and saddening to see the prevalence of body image concerns. A host of related challenges to girls’ well-being came up as well, including self-confidence, peer pressure, depression and sexual health. Youth do not feel their transportation needs are being met; although they appreciate and use Salt Spring’s public bus system. It remains difficult for them to get home safely late at night or access activities and jobs at convenient times. Other major issues included: bullying and cyber-bullying in particular; the prominent “party culture” and drug and alcohol use among youth (in part a result of the lack of alternative activities available for youth at night or on weekends); and a lack of quality spaces to get together and talk. Research says that this is one of the most important supports for fostering girls’ leadership.

On a brighter note, young women also listed the best things about living in the Gulf Islands. Over eighty percent of the survey participants described the overall positive atmosphere our communities provide. Safe, caring, supportive and accepting were just a few of the most common terms used. The high school also embodied this caring environment. It was thrilling to see so many responses about the impact SWOVA’s programs, like Respectful Relationships and Pass It On, have had on youth’s experiences. Also ranking high were the rich natural environment and the existing activities, from sports and arts to peer mentoring, that youth can get involved in.

With our survey period over, we have read the insightful responses, analyzed them to produce some fascinating results – but the action does not stop there. Our next steps are to meet and discuss the issues with community stakeholders and the members of SSGLP’s Youth Advisory Council. We hope that our community’s open and supportive nature, which was acknowledged by so many survey participants, will help us make strides towards our goals. We will develop feasible ways to take action on these issues and enrich the experiences of our islands’ youth!

The Only Openly Gay Family in Russia Flee for Children’s Safety – by Lynda Laushway

Author Masha Gessen is leaving her home in Russia and moving to the United States with her partner and three children.  Gessen is the courageous author of the book entitled The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and has been the only openly gay family in Russia.  The recent Russian crackdown on the LGBT community and rumours of taking children away from homosexual families have led to this decision.  Up until a year ago, the outspoken Gessen had vowed to remain In Russia and was quoted as saying, “This is my home, Putin can leave. I’m staying.”  Now Gessen has decided that Russia has become a place without hope.  “I can do the work in Russia, and I would do the work in Russia, but I have three kids and it’s one thing to bring up your kids in a place that’s risky and difficult; I think in many ways it’s enriching them, and I’m glad my kids have that experience. It’s another thing to bring up your kids in a place that’s hopeless. Now that I’ve lost hope, I need to take them out.”

Author Masha Gessen
Author Masha Gessen

The Russia of today is extremely homophobic.  In addition to facing widespread animosity and frequent violence, gay Russians now fear that they will be stripped of their voice and public face.  The new federal law against “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” was approved unanimously except for one abstention in June. It is another manifestation of a long-standing culture of homophobia that is fueled by the state-controlled media.

Under the new law, it is punishable by fine to speak openly about gays and lesbians among young people, which effectively outlaws gay-pride marches, speeches and the like.  Amid demonstrations to protest the controversial law, Moscow police came down hard on gay-rights activists who demonstrated in front of their parliament.

For long-time author, gay rights proponent, and openly Lesbian mother, Masha Gellen- Russia has now become a place without hope for social justice.

Gay rights activists under arrest in Russia
Gay rights activists under arrest in Moscow