Speech to Members of the National Assembly and Senate of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
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Speech to Members of the National Assembly and Senate
of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Kinshasa, DRC, Monday, April 19, 2010
I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to address this noble assembly and I thank you for welcoming me so warmly.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who gathered in lashing rain all along the route from the airport to the city to welcome us with so much heart and joy. I am delighted that we have this opportunity to meet.
This first State visit by Canada to your country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is of special importance to us.
Because we believe that Africa sorely needs peace and security to prevail in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and throughout the Great Lakes region. Indeed, we believe the development of the whole African continent depends on it.
All our cooperation efforts are designed to support that dream alongside the women, men and young people who cherish it, work for it and call on it with their every wish.
I am here to tell you that Canadian women and men stand foursquare behind the efforts undertaken by Congolese women and men towards that end.
Let us remember that Canada was the first country to reopen its embassy in Kinshasa in 1997, after years of conflict.
We know how trying and difficult those years were, and what it is costing you to put them behind you.
This is my third trip to Africa, and I believe the winds of change are blowing across this continent.
In 2006, during my first State visits as Governor General of Canada—visits that brought me to Algeria, Mali, Ghana, South Africa and Morocco—I wanted to identify the strengths that represented the Africa of hope.
I saw with my own eyes that African women are at the very heart of this hope.
Last year, in Liberia, at the invitation of Africa’s first female elected head of State, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, I took part in the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development and Security.
I am arriving from Senegal, which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence this year, and I was struck by the vitality of a civil society active in all sectors and where women have their say.
Throughout my travels, from north to south, and this time from the west to the very heart of Africa, I have seen with my own eyes that African women are carrying this continent on their shoulders, and I am convinced that it is through women that Africa’s renaissance will happen.
Give women the means to live in security and in dignity.
Give women the means to act.
And, as I like to say, you will see a decrease in violence, corruption, poverty, disease, injustice and illiteracy.
By giving women these means, we are giving the families, communities and countries to which they belong, the whole nation, the opportunity to live a better, fairer life, the opportunity to advance and prosper.
I know that in the Great Lakes region, women’s voices have transcended borders, divisions and greed to re-establish dialogue and fight hatred.
I would like to honour them here today.
And I do so with great conviction because the woman who stands before you devoted several years of her life to fighting women’s exclusion and violence against women and girls because I know that this villainous societal plague is not exclusive to a single region of the world.
I am also a black woman from the Americas, born in one of its poorest countries, Haiti, a woman with deep roots in Africa, the continent from which my ancestors were torn and reduced to slavery.
I am also the mother of a ten-year-old daughter.
And I am the Governor General and Commander in Chief of a country where everything is possible, Canada, a country that wants to believe in your hopes for stability, peace, and justice and will never break faith with those goals.
It is therefore in the capacity of all these roles that I address you today, distinguished members of the National Assembly and Senate of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Gender equality is one of the values Canadians hold dear and we are delighted that women’s freedom, their right to education and their participation in politics are formally recognized in your country’s constitution.
We also applaud efforts being made to promote Congolese women’s rights in your national programs and plans.
Like you, we believe that no democratization or advancement is possible without the recognition of the role women play in the development of society or without assurance that their physical and psychological well being is protected.
But you know better than we do that there is a crisis of unimaginable horror playing out in several regions of the country.
A crisis to which we are not indifferent
A crisis that traps women and children, and is creating serious concern everywhere.
I am convinced of your willingness to end a tormented history and years of war, which have had serious after-effects on the population, but the massacres and the crime continue to occur in trouble spots around the country and continue to afflict you.
This increased violence is fertile ground for the violation—at the hands of armed groups—of fundamental human rights, especially those of the most vulnerable members of society: women, youth and children.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, whom you welcomed last October, said: “The truth is that the number and severity of attacks continue unabated and appear to be on the rise. Widespread sexual violence continues largely unabated . . .”
Particularly in the east of the country, this consists of serious violations of international humanitarian law, meaning, “crimes against humanity,” as the United Nations reported last month.
All of us here today know that the extent of sexual violence is reaching endemic proportions.
That it is used as a weapon of warfare to humiliate women and to unscrupulously destroy them. It is used to terrorize and annihilate an entire population.
That it is in part responsible for the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS, the social costs of which are immeasurable.
That children and young people—who represent over half the population—are also its victims, the very people on whom we are building our hope of a finally peaceful Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Your Constitution has tried to recognize, and I congratulate you on this, that all forms of sexual violence to any person with the intention of destabilizing them, of breaking up a family or of making an entire people disappear are crimes against humanity and punishable by law.
Like you, dear friends, Canada condemns this violence, which it finds unacceptable, shameful and dehumanizing.
I would like to salute the vigorous “Je dénonce et je dis non!” campaign the Minister of Gender, Family and Children is leading, as well as all her work on gender equality.
We have no choice but to respond to the suffering and courage of all victims with greater solidarity and better cooperation.
Solidarity and cooperation with you, who have set your country on the luminous path towards democracy and who have the responsibility to help it progress.
Solidarity and cooperation with the international community, which cannot ignore the tragedy taking place at the heart of Africa, in its beating heart, a tragedy that is too often going unchecked.
Solidarity and cooperation with organizations working on the ground with victims of sexual violence, organizations that Canada supports.
Solidarity and cooperation with the builders of Congolese civil society, all those building the peace, one step at a time, one act at a time, one action, one word at a time, the people who give their heart and soul to education, health, fairness, justice, economic development and social harmony in this country that so deserves it. This country so rich in natural resources, with so many wonderful women, men and young people. And therein lies its beauty.
Solidarity and cooperation, I say again, with Congolese women, whose courage we honour and who aspire to more security, justice, equality and opportunities not only for themselves and for their children, but for all, for the nation. And I dare say, for it is true, for a humanity that we want to be more humane.
When she was in Canada last year, Bernadette Ntumba—a well-known activist committed to the fight against sexual violence—insisted that things will change if everyone becomes involved: civil society, the government and the international community.
In this regard, I am delighted that in the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region’s Regional Programme of Action on Humanitarian and Social Issues, you agreed to: “prevent, eradicate and punish all forms of sexual violence, exploitation and abuse of women, girls and young boys, including gender-based violence . . . [and in] so doing, offer assistance to surviving victims.”
This is a promise of hope on which we should all build.
It is in that spirit that Canada has contributed and will continue to contribute to programs to help Congolese women who are victims of sexual violence recover, rebuild, participate in revenue-generating activities and, above all, bear witness, speak out, and act up.
More than 36,000 Congolese women have benefited from those programs since 2006, and we hope to reach many more in cooperation with our partners in Congolese civil society.
All the battles we fight for the recognition of women’s rights are, in my eyes, affirmations of human dignity, pure and simple.
It is therefore by working together to build on the collective strengths of women—and of the men who believe in their equality—that we will conquer the forces of destruction.
That, at least, is the wish I am making here, in friendship, the year we are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s independence.
I am looking forward to going out to meet women and female representatives from civil society in the Goma region to hear about and see the solutions they have come up with to end this unacceptable, devastating violence once and for all, and establish the peace we so fervently want for the Congo.
Thank you very much for listening. I would like to sincerely wish the Congolese people peace, security and prosperity. And we are here at your side because we believe it is possible.