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  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Roundtable Discussion with Non Governmental Organizations Working with Ukrainian Women

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Roundtable Discussion with Non Governmental
Organizations Working with Ukrainian Women –
Ukraine from a Woman’s Perspective

Lviv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 26, 2009

It is my profound belief that women the world over must be sisters, allies, role models and sources of inspiration for one another.

In this spirit, I am delighted that we have this opportunity to open a constructive dialogue on our challenges, our accomplishments and what the future holds for us.

I am glad to see that there are also men taking part in the discussion today. I believe that the fight for the recognition of the rights of women cannot be waged without them or against them. If we are to succeed, it must be waged with them.

I am also delighted that this dialogue is taking place here, in the Salus Centre. The battle you are waging against AIDS, particularly in young women who make up the most vulnerable group, is a battle for life itself.

As you may already know, I am a Canadian woman but spent my childhood in another country. My mother left behind a regime of terror, where violence and injustice were a daily threat, so that her daughters could grow and thrive in freedom.

In Canada, where I put down roots, I found a place of unparalleled freedom.

And I have made it my mission to defend that freedom vigilantly.

To me, denying more than half of the world’s population the most basic human rights, including the right to live in security, is one of the worst scandals of our time.

Even in our democratic societies, equality is not a guarantee for women.

Women are still paid less than men for equal work.

It is women who are still underrepresented within our decision‑making bodies.

It is women who still work more unpaid hours.

It is women who are still most likely to live in poverty and who are being hardest hit by the current economic crisis.

It is women who are still at greatest risk of being attacked, behind closed doors at home or in the street.

I know this because I was once a journalist and witnessed these realities, particularly the trafficking of women, a phenomenon that is on the rise around the world.

And I know this because I helped to establish a network of shelters for battered women and because I worked with these women for nearly 10 years.

The governor general that I am today is more convinced than ever that the battles fought by women to ensure that their rights are respected are an affirmation of human dignity and a sure path to freedom.

Everywhere that I have been, from one end of Canada to the other, from countries in Africa to Afghanistan to Brazil, and other Latin-American countries, from the Czech Republic to Hungary to Slovakia to France, I have seen it with my own eyes: the future of our communities depends on the daily efforts of women.

I have often said that when you empower women, you will see a decrease in illiteracy, poverty, violence and disease. 

I believe in the power of women, in their resilience, their community spirit and their determination to put an end to inequality.

And I believe that what they have to say holds great promise for the future, particularly when their words are joined by actions that lead to profound social change, as is the case of the women involved in Ukrainian society whom we have gathered together around this table.

I hope that our discussion will be lively, generous and full of promise.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say.