The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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International Prize for Women of Courage

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Presentation of the Reporters Without Borders-Radio-Canada
International Prize for Women of Courage

Montréal, Thursday, September 24, 2009

Courage is neither male nor female.

But, let’s be realistic, it is most often women who see their basic human rights violated.

And under extremely dangerous conditions, when the forces of violence and destruction seem to be gaining the upper hand over the forces of creation, women of remarkable courage, daring and determination are defying restrictions, denouncing injustice, and standing up to the individuals, institutions and regimes that scorn them, oppress them, exploit them and would seek to reduce them to silence.  

Sadly, many pay with their lives. 

I am thinking of those women who seek the truth and who, through the strength of their ideas and their words, against ignorance and folly, report on unacceptable situations and are changing the way people think.

Melissa Fung from the CBC, who is here with us tonight, you are certainly one of them.

I am thinking of those healers among North America’s first peoples who are tending the wounds of the soul, and there are a great many, and are replacing the circles of exclusion and oppression with circles of sharing, dialogue and healing. They must be heard.

I am thinking of those women who resist the restraints of oppression and who, in Afghanistan, where I have just visited, removed the burka that left them in shadow, looked me straight in the eyes and told me that their march to freedom would be long and difficult, but that there was no turning back for them and for their daughters.

I am thinking of those daring women who, in Mali, declared before me that the practice of female genital mutilation must stop and that the time has come to put an end to traditions exercised to the detriment of some with the complicity of others.

I am thinking of those women who seek justice and who, like Bernadette Ntumba from the Democratic Republic of Congo, denounce the abuses wrought upon girls, sisters and mothers and who taught me the madness of “a war that ends in women’s bellies.”

I am thinking of those women determined to take a stand, like Aung San Suu Kyi, who denounce the fear that condemns “as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity.”

And I am thinking of those survivors, like Ingrid Betancourt, who find within themselves the strength to rebuild their lives after years of imprisonment and abuse.

Ingrid Betancourt, a leader, whose liberation sparked in us a glimmer of hope and who allows us now to believe that we must never give up.

Ingrid Betancourt, a courageous woman, who remained uppermost in our thoughts and in our actions, from the journalists who relayed the message from her children, to the citizens who wrote letter after letter and signed petitions, to the members of Parliament who used their influence to convey how urgently action was needed.

Ingrid Betancourt, a fighter, for whom we feared the worst all those years, and who stands before us now, alive and well and more determined than ever to fight so that all other hostages can at last be free.

Ingrid Betancourt, I want to express to you our joy at welcoming you here and at being able to pay such a wonderful tribute to you with the creation of this prize for women of courage.

We know that as you embark upon this new crusade, there will be many obstacles along the way.

You still need to heal the wounds that you have endured and to find the strength—and we have no doubt that it is within you—the strength to overcome the wall of indifference, the strength to overcome the resistance, the fatalistic attitudes, the feeling of helplessness as you witness what befalls your fellow captives whom you hope to see free! Finally free!

Know that we are with you, beside you every step of the way, today as we have always been.

Thank you, Ingrid Betancourt, thank you for reminding us that nothing is ever lost and that in every ordeal can be found the possibility of reinventing and rethinking the world in a new spirit of solidarity.

Thank you.