Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case
Rideau Hall, Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I am delighted to welcome you here today to commemorate the Persons Case, one of the true landmarks in the history of Canada.
The world over, women can be found contributing to every sphere of knowledge and working towards a better future.
When women suffer or are denied full equality, lives are destroyed and progress is impossible.
That is why we gather each year to remember the Persons Case. Prior to 1929—when Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby overturned the status quo which deemed that women were not, by definition, “persons”—this country could not begin to live up to its potential.
All Canadians are indebted to the Famous Five for insisting on the right of women to participate as full partners in our society. But as Nellie McClung said following their historic victory, “The end is not yet!”
As the parents of five daughters with six granddaughters and two valiant grandsons, Sharon and I know that the struggle continues. We have seen our daughters build their careers and their families with amazement and, at times, incredulity, because they have done so in spite of a culture that often makes it very difficult for women with families to reach the top of their profession.
Of course, the reasons for this may be complex and numerous, but the problem is no more acceptable for that. If we are to draw from the entire nation’s talent pool in seizing the opportunities ahead, we must find ways to achieve a better balance that suits all members of our society.
And as each of you knows, the struggle for a reasonable work/life balance is just one of the challenges facing women today.
Women’s health, violence against women, justice and equality—these are very real and urgent matters for our attention, as Sharon and I have learned during a number of our community visits in the past year.
Such persistent and serious challenges are why—in addition to commemorating the Persons Case—we also pay tribute today to your accomplishments in the realm of justice and equality for women.
Each of you has shown remarkable dedication, courage and creativity in taking on some of the most pressing issues in Canada today.
I am grateful to each of you for showing such courage and for your dedication. I also want to say how pleased I am to be recognizing the contributions of youth to this most important of causes, and to welcome students to Rideau Hall for this occasion.
It is my hope that you will look to the example of today’s recipients in carrying on this work in the future.
And, not least, I am delighted to welcome past recipients of this award who continue to inspire us with their passion for women’s rights.
The efforts and well-being of women are central to the country of which we dream. On behalf of all Canadians, I thank and congratulate you for all you have done.