'Fed up' Charlottetown high school students protest treatment of girls

·3 min read
Students carried signs that say they were subjected to unwanted gazes by men at school. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)
Students carried signs that say they were subjected to unwanted gazes by men at school. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)

About 200 young people lined University Avenue in Charlottetown Tuesday afternoon, speaking out against what they see as harassment of female students.

Charlottetown Rural and Colonel Gray high school students staged the walkout just after lunchtime, marching and chanting "respect ... now" as they made their way to one of the city's busiest intersections.

Many were carrying signs focusing on double standards in how male and female students are treated by some teachers. They spoke of inappropriate comments about their appearance, and being told they were violating dress code standards.

Abby Rogerson of Charlottetown Rural was one of the participants, saying she has been told to "cover myself up" because her clothing could distract her male peers.

"People feel like they're being looked down upon just for being girls," said the 17 year old. "It's really disgusting and we want change.

"This is the only way that we could get our voices heard. People have complained, people have said everything. Nothing's changed. So it's about time."

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

Plans for the walkout got started on social media when Kennedy Curley posted about her own experience at Charlottetown Rural.

"I was so fed up with it," she told CBC News. "I see it in social media all the time — like, injustices — and it's just disgusting. And women do not deserve to be treated the way that they are."

'We're not going to stop'

Other girls quickly added their own stories.

"It just makes you feel vulnerable because … we're at school for learning, we're not there for our looks," said Colonel Gray student Malilah Chambers.

Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC
Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC

In just a few days, they had more than 200 people committed to joining their walkout.

Some of the girls who spoke to CBC News said that despite telling their parents, and in some cases bringing it up directly with the school administration, nothing seemed to change.

They hoped the walkout would make a difference.

This is real and it happens, and it can't just be swept under the rug by anybody. — Abby Rogerson

They'd like to see more education on gender discrimination as part of the P.E.I. school curriculum.

They also hope this will lead to greater accountability for anyone who treats girls and women like objects — or makes them feel less capable than men.

"We used our voices to show people that we're not going to stop until there is something done about it," said Makayla Quigley of Colonel Gray. "It really is unfair. Like, we deserve the exact same as men do. We deserve that respect."

"People are realizing they're not alone," Rogerson said. "We don't have to hide behind each other. Like, this is real and it happens, and it can't just be swept under the rug by anybody."

Kirk Pennell/CBC
Kirk Pennell/CBC

They also called for more conversation around the way women and girls are mistreated in society in general.

"It's not just schools, it's everywhere," said Rogerson. "Women are so, like, looked down upon by men in general … not just P.E.I., but all over the world, and something has to be done."

CBC News contacted Charlottetown Rural principal Dale McIsaac Tuesday about Curley's initial social media post, to react to what it said about how complaints were handled. He said he had no comment, and said questions should be directed to the Public Schools Branch.

PSB says it takes concerns seriously

Later in the afternoon, the Public Schools Branch issued a statement.

"We understand that some students have recently walked out to protest concerns at Charlottetown Rural High School and may have been accompanied by students from other schools who support them," it said.

"The Public Schools Branch takes concerns from students seriously and encourages them to come forward with them. Today, the PSB has been on-site at the school to talk with both students and staff and will continue to work with them going forward."

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