Presentation of the Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Tuesday, November 15, 2016
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When I gave my installation address as governor general, I pointed out that my children had taught me all the important things in life.
Sharon and I have five daughters—Deb, Alex, Sharon Jr., Jen and Sam—and I could speak at length about all I’ve learned from them!
One of the most important things my daughters have helped me to understand is the persistent barriers women face, despite the legal equality that exists in Canada.
The legal equality is of course very important. It’s one of the reasons why we commemorate the Persons Case today in Manitoba, where 100 years ago, women first received the legal right to vote.
But laws alone are not enough to ensure genuine freedom and equality.
If they were, Canada wouldn’t rank 35th out of 144 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index, compiled by the World Economic Forum.
That’s down from 30th out of 144 countries last year, and from 14th a decade ago.
As everyone in this chamber knows, Canadians are free and equal under the law, but unfortunately, genuine freedom and equality have proven more elusive.
We’ve made strides in some respects—for example, in women’s educational attainment, where Canada now ranks No.1 in the world.
But we have fallen too far behind in others: 108th out of 144 countries on women’s health and survival, and 49th on political empowerment.
We need to change this. We need to do better. Preventing women from reaching their full potential is not only wrong, it’s holding our communities and our country back.
Fortunately, there are many women in Canada who, like the Famous Five before them, are challenging the status quo and leading the struggle for women’s equality and full participation.
Today we recognize six of them—six of the best—with these Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case.
Over the years, recipients of these awards have worked to improve women’s health, to end violence against women, to achieve justice in the world of work and to combat sexism and attitudes that have no place in our society.
This year’s recipients have similarly dedicated themselves and made strides on behalf of all women. It’s a privilege to be here to honour them in this milestone anniversary year.
Presenting these awards is a way of saying thank you, and it’s also a way of inspiring others to stand up and speak out for women’s rights.
I think it’s so important to celebrate excellence and achievement. By doing so, we highlight our values and help build a culture that is inclusive and open to all.
Of course, before we can celebrate, we sometimes have to nominate, and I want to encourage all of you to consider nominating an outstanding woman you may know for Canada’s top awards, prizes and honours.
The Order of Canada, the Meritorious Service Decorations, the Sovereign’s Volunteer Medal—these are just a few of the honours I confer every year, and we need to do better a job at ensuring women are fairly represented.
Who inspires you? Nominate someone, and help us recognize women across Canada!
I’m so impressed by the dedication, courage and excellence of today’s recipients. You are leaders in this most important of causes, one that transcends all categories.
As my predecessor, Adrienne Clarkson, once said, “promoting gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human issue. It is a matter of human dignity and not only fundamental justice, but natural justice.”
So thank you for helping Canada to become a more fair and just nation.
Thank you for your determined pursuit of what is good and right.
And congratulations on this well-deserved honour. I wish you continued success.