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Canada 19th best place to be a girl, US ranks under Kazakhstan, Algeria

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, centre, stands with girls representing G(girls)20 FitSpirit/Fillactive and Plan International Canada after opening the market at the TSX in Toronto to celebrate International Day of the Girl, on Tuesday October 11, 2016. .
Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, centre, stands with girls representing G(girls)20 FitSpirit/Fillactive and Plan International Canada after opening the market at the TSX in Toronto to celebrate International Day of the Girl, on Tuesday October 11, 2016. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Canada has clinched a top 20 spot on the Girls’ Opportunity Index.

The index, released by Save the Children, ranks the state of girls in 144 countries by “their opportunity to control their own lives and to fulfill their potential.”

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Canada was ranked No. 19, even though the United Nations Development Program ranks our country ninth in the Human Development Index. A report called “Every Last Girl,” released for International Day of the Girl cites a low number of women in parliament and a relatively high adolescent fertility rate as reasons for the discrepancy.

The report is aiming to list the “root causes of girls’ exclusion and disempowerment” in order to allow them to reach their full potential.

Sweden has the best record, followed by its neighbours Finland and Norway.

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“The worst places to be a girl are amongst the poorest in the world,” the report states, but the opposite doesn’t seem to be true.

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With one of the biggest economies, one could expect the United States to be high on the list, but it was ranked only 32nd, beat out by countries like Kazakhstan and Algeria. The report cites a high maternal mortality rate when compared to other developed countries; it says 14 of every 100,000 women die in childbirth.

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Justin Trudeau welcomes Emma Watson to Ottawa
Justin Trudeau welcomes Emma Watson to Ottawa

Along with parliamentary representation, adolescent fertility and maternal mortality, the report also considers the number of child marriages and secondary school graduation rates.

Child marriage is listed as one major issue to be addressed by the 2016 International Day of the Girl, according to UN Women. By presenting the stark data showing the impact of child marriage, activists hope change will follow. “What gets counted, gets done,” a statement on the UN website reads.

In Nigeria, for example, the report says 60 per cent of girls who are poor were married by age 15, compared to three per cent of the richest girls. Some girls as young as 10 were forced to marry in Afghanistan, Yemen, India and Somalia.

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Niger was ranked last, just after Chad and the Central African Republic.

Canada can do better

The two reasons the report gives for Canada’s place in the list is because of the ratio of male to female MPs and a high fertility rate in adolescents.

Dominique LaRochelle, senior gender adviser at Save the Children Canada, says there are ways for Canada do better.

“Canada could increase its investment in comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights and specifically education and services,” she told Global News in an email.

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She specifically stressed that the services should include “communities that have been traditionally marginalized because of geography, poverty, language, race or ethnicity.”

She also said that only 26 per cent of MPs in the House of Commons and 39 per cent of senators are female, which places Canada 64th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s rankings.

But she said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gender-equal cabinet “is an important first step in improving women’s political representation.”

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International Day of the Girl: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau uses own struggles to inspire young females
International Day of the Girl: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau uses own struggles to inspire young females
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Celebrating International Day of the Girl

Canada has celebrated International Day of the Girl since it was established by the UN in 2012. This year, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau opened the Toronto Stock Exchange in partnership with three charitable organizations — G(irls)20, Plan International Canada and FitSpirit — to illustrate how important it is for girls to have equal opportunities to boys.

With a file from the Canadian Press

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