Welcome to YWCA Canada’s Rights Guide for Girls, Young Women & Gender Nonconforming Youth. Keeping girls and young women safe is very important to us at the YWCA. We created this guide to help you know your rights and responsibilities. It is an important part of being able to keep yourself safe at school, at home, online and in the community. We hope that once you know more you can become the best self-advocate you can be! What is a self-advocate, you ask?

A self-advocate is someone who

  • Can speak up for themselves
  • Can defend themselves
  • Makes their own decisions
  • Insists on being respected
  • Asks for fair work environments
  • Values their worth
  • Knows their rights and responsibilities
  • Leaves relationships that make them feel disrespected
  • Cares for their mind, body and spirit
  • Asks informed questions and gathers support

No one can be a better advocate for you than you. Like any skill, you can improve your self-advocacy over time. No matter what, the key to self-advocacy is to keep trying. Being assertive, fair, curious and passionate are also traits of self-advocacy.

Self-advocacy is a valuable tool for people who are committed to making positive change their lives and the lives of others. To be effective self-advocates in society, it is helpful to know your rights and responsibilities, understand systems and procedures, question everything and gather support.

What Are Rights and Responsibilities?

Some rights are set out in our laws, like criminal and human rights laws. Others rights are part of rules, like a school’s code of conduct or family rules. Communities can also have their own rules and value systems that they use to set standards; these can be things like religious or cultural values. Formal laws have more power than any other set of rules, but these other rules may be more important to you, depending on the situation. For example, when you are at school, those rules are likely more important to you than formal laws.

People in Canada have a number of legal rights that are set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This includes the right to equal treatment no matter your race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age or physical or mental disAbility. Even though it may not be written in formal law, you have the right to be listened to and believed. You have the right to be treated with respect by others. It does not matter who you are, how old you are, or the colour of your skin or your gender identity.

At times, you may find your rights ignored or not respected. There is not always a fair outcome when a law or a rule is broken. That is why deciding what to do when you are treated unfairly can be very difficult. You may decide that you do not always want to assert, or declare your rights, and that is fine. In some situations, it may even be unsafe to assert your rights. However, it is important to know what your rights are. When you know your rights, you can decide when, how and if you want to speak up about them. You are not to blame if someone is any way abusive or disrespects your rights.

Parents/Guardians & Trusted Adults

We invite you to share this guide with your parent(s)/guardian(s) or a trusted adult. If you feel comfortable, talk about the issues in this book. When you are trying to make difficult decisions, it can be helpful to have the opinions of people who have more experience and who have your best interests at heart.

If you cannot talk to your parent(s)/guardian(s) comfortably, talk to other adults whom you trust. This could be an older family member (like a cousin, an aunt or uncle, etc.), an Elder, a counsellor, a program/group leader, a teacher, a coach or a spiritual or religious leader.

Trust your gut. Ask yourself: Do I feel safe with this person? Can I share private information? Do I feel I can ask a difficult question?

Spread the Word

Help us get the word out by doing any (or all) of the following: