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  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Roundtable on the Role of Women - Demoratic Republic of the Congo

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Roundtable on the Role of Women

Kinshasa, DRC, Monday, April 19, 2010

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The role that we, women, play in societies’ development is undeniable.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as in many African countries, the entire organization of family, social and economic life is based on the daily efforts undertaken by women.

I proudly evoke here the striking image of the “woman with a thousand hands” used by Bernadette Ntumba, an activist committed to the fight against sexual violence, to illustrate the work of Congolese women. 

It is the women who till the fields.

It is the women who rear the cattle.

It is the women who draw the water and gather the firewood.

It is the women who sell the goods in the market.

It is the women who create small businesses, shops, hair salons and seamstresses' workshops.

It is the women who raise and take care of the children.

Alone, women feed the community and look after almost all its needs.

Sadly, it is also the women and the children they bring into the world who bear the brunt of poverty, malnutrition, disease, and violence, most often direct consequences of enduring conflicts.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the most dangerous countries to be born in. And I would add, to give birth in.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, for every 100,000 live births, 1,100 women die.

Every woman counts, and each of them should have the best possible conditions for giving life.

I believe that all efforts made to promote women's equitable participation in economic, political and social life will be doomed to failure if nothing is done to lower the maternal and infant mortality rate and expand access to the basic services of health care and education.

In that context, Canada is partnering with Congolese society in priority sectors like health, and focussing its activities on humanitarian assistance, especially to women and children.

This clinic, which I am told has existed for over 80 years, is a good example of what can be accomplished toward that end.

A country cannot advance by building on inequalities.

A country cannot advance if women and their children, who make up over half the population, live in fear, destitution and uncertainty.

That is well known by all those who are maintaining a climate of terror and perpetuating violence, especially in the eastern half of the country.

Attacking the dignity of women and children, humiliating them and destroying them, jeopardizes the country's future and destroys all hope for peace and reconstruction.

My friends, my sisters, it is high time that we build upon our collective strength and our power to change things.

That is what you are doing throughout the country, you who are active within organizations fighting for the recognition of the rights of women and girls in the daily battle for peace and security, and the promotion of dialogue.

Thanks to all of you, the plight of Congolese women, especially the extent of the sexual violence inflicted on them, is sparking a movement that transcends borders and is inspiring a wave of solidarity throughout the international community.

That awareness and that recognition are already a sign of hope and a promise of change.

And now I look forward to hearing from you.