The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Presentation of the UNIFEM Canada Award

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Presentation of the UNIFEM Canada Award

Rideau Hall, Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A great many women I have met in my life have made me who I am today.

Starting with my mother and grandmother, who taught me that autonomy is the first condition of freedom.

For a time in my life, I carried the pain of women who had died inside after suffering various forms of violence and supported them on the long road to healing and freedom.

As a journalist, I helped the voices of women be heard, women who had too long been muzzled and whose cries were a call for more security, justice, solidarity and peace.

As Governor General of Canada, I have stood beside Canadian women, Aboriginal women and women of every origin in the battle they are still waging to have their rights recognized.

Their victories may seem assured, but in reality, they are very fragile and partial.

Because our country moves backwards when an Aboriginal woman is added to the already long list of Aboriginal women who have been killed or are listed as missing.

Our country moves backwards when a woman and her children are the victims of violence in the privacy of their own home.

Our country moves backwards when a female immigrant cannot have her skills recognized, or find a job or a decent place to live.

Our country moves backwards when women are paid less than men for equal work.

Our country moves backwards when women are noticeably absent from political positions and positions of power.

These situations are unacceptable, especially in a country as progressive as ours, one that purports to be a promise of hope for all women whose daily lives are a lesson in resilience and courage.

In every country I have been to for State, official and working visits, I have added as strong a voice as I can in favour of women and of their contribution to efforts being made to end conflicts and violence, to alleviate misery, to fight disease, to provide access to education and to distribute resources fairly.

I have gone to meet with Afghan women, who are seeing their most fundamental rights shamelessly abused.

I have gone to meet with Algerian women, who have stood up against the excesses of fundamentalism.

I have gone to meet with Malian women, and supported and defended their fight to eliminate female genital mutilation, before the National Assembly of Mali.

I have gone to meet with Haitian women, a few weeks after the earthquake, to stress that reconstruction must take their perspectives and endeavours into consideration.

Before the National Assembly of Congo, I condemned the sexual violence inflicted on women by armed groups with complete disregard for humanity.

In Guatemala, I denounced the assassination of hundreds of women with total impunity as a complete aberration.

And everywhere I have been during my mandate—in visits to more than 30 countries and all across Canada—, I have seen proud and courageous women who are no longer victims, but healers, builders and liberators.

And it is on behalf of all the wonderful, inspiring, courageous, ingenious, and generous women I have met in my life that I accept this award from UNIFEM Canada.

I am deeply touched by this honour.

I will say it again and repeatedly: when you give women power, you are assuring the progress of humanity.