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News

Speech Before the National Assembly and Senate of DRC

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April 20, 2010

The Governor General Delivers a Vibrant Plea for African Women

OTTAWA—Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, delivered a vibrant plea for the important roles that African Women must play for the future of Africa in a speech yesterday to the National Assembly and Senate of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“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,” said Michaëlle Jean.

“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.”

Yesterday afternoon, Her Excellency visited the Ngaliema Clinic. The health centre receives funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to train midwife nurses and professionalize their practice.

The Governor General ends her visit to the DRC today when she visits Goma, in northeastern Congo, where she will meet with survivors of sexual violence and the workers who are helping them. That visit will also give the Governor General an opportunity to pay tribute to the Canadian women and men working for NGOs in the region, as well as members of the Canadian Forces serving in MONUC, the United Nations peacekeeping force in the DRC.

The public can follow the State visit to the DRC through the speeches and photos available at www.gg.ca. Blogs written by Her Excellency and the delegates will be posted on www.citizenvoices.gg.ca. 

Remarks delivered by the Governor General to Members of the National Assembly and Senate of the DRC:

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to address this noble assembly and to share a few thoughts I believe are essential to the future of this new Africa, where democracy is attempting to take root. 

This is my third trip to Africa, and I believe the winds of change are blowing across the continent of my ancestors.

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.

And 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.

Throughout my travels, from north to south, 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 opportunity to live a better, fairer life.

Let us remember 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, before you.

And I do so happily and with great insistence 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 of a country where everything is possible, Canada, a country that wants to believe in your hopes for stability, peace, justice and prosperity.

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 that traps women and children, and is creating serious concern everywhere.

Despite a genuine willingness to end the years of conflict that have had serious after-effects on the population, massacres and crime continue to occur in trouble spots around the country.

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 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 . . .”

In certain cases, this consists of serious violations of international humanitarian law, meaning, “crimes against humanity,” as the United Nations reported last month.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be born in.

Even more dangerous if you are a little girl. 

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.

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 recognizes 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.

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 sincerely want to help it progress.

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.

With organizations working on the ground with victims of sexual violence, organizations that Canada supports.

With Congolese women, whose courage we honour and who aspire to more security, justice, equality and opportunities for all.

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 2010–2014 Regional Programme of Action on Humanitarian and Social Issues, you, as a member State, 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.”

It goes without saying that these problems are being addressed by concerted efforts that transcend cultures, borders and genders, not only here, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but all across the continent and around the world.

This is a promise of hope on which we should all build.

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, happiness and prosperity.

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Media whishing to obtain photos and video footage of
this State visit should contact Julie Rocheleau.
 

Media Information:
Julie Rocheleau
Rideau Hall Press Office
613-998-7280
jrocheleau@gg.ca