McMUN Global Leadership Forum 2018: McGill Model United Nations Assembly
Remarks for the Honourable Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Montreal, January 25, 2018
Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that McGill University is located on land that includes the unceded territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg nations. These Peoples are the traditional stewards of the lands and waters on which we meet today.
Being here today to speak with you is particularly special to me because during my time as a student at McGill University, I helped organize and take part in McMUN. Here, I met some extremely smart and passionate people, engaged in important dialogue, and was given a chance to learn about important global issues.
Could I get a show of hands of folks who are here who attend McGill? Now how about those who are here from Canadian schools? Now how about those who are here from other countries? Welcome to Montreal! The diversity in this room is enough to prove that this forum offers an incredible opportunity for you to come together, learn from each other, debate and examine issues from different perspectives.
As Canada’s Minister of Democratic Institutions, my mandate is to strengthen the openness and fairness of Canada’s public institutions. While my focus is about how we can improve our democratic institutions, I also strive to increase Canadians’ trust and participation in our democratic processes.
I want to touch on the last part – participation. Sometimes I hear people – usually older people – lament that young people today are not politically engaged. As a millennial, I disagree. As Canada’s youngest Cabinet Minister, I disagree. And when I stand here and see how many of you are here this evening, I would vehemently disagree. Your attendance here is indicative of that passion, that willingness to foster change and be change agents.
You know as well as I do that our generation is doing politics differently. Different doesn’t mean wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean bad. We are using new methods and new tools, and our unique generational culture and technological experiences are helping to shape a new future. We are bold in our goals, and we incorporate our values into all that we do.
I am hopeful for our future because we have bold, new and innovative ideas. I am thrilled that you have come from all over the world to share these ideas, to discuss them with empathy and understanding, and to explore perspectives that might be different from your own.
This is how Canada approaches the challenges facing the world today. It’s an approach that serves the interests of all Canadians and respects our common values. We believe that by making Canada more secure and prosperous, we will help make the world more secure and prosperous.
To do this globally, Canada is focussing on supporting the rules-based international order; re-engaging on the world’s stage; and developing trading relationships that benefit all segments of our society. The Government of Canada embraces the connection between security, free and fair trade and human rights. For example, as part of our progressive international agenda, we are working to ensure that feminism is at the core of our foreign policy. This is an issue that is important to me, not just as a woman, not just as someone who is about to become a mother, and not just as a Cabinet minister, but as a Canadian, as a human being. Because in a diverse, pluralistic society like ours, we do not succeed unless everyone succeeds.
Our government believes that advancing universal sexual and reproductive health and rights is essential to reducing poverty and gender inequalities around the world. Last year, Canada launched the second National Action Plan for the Implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security 2017-2022. This Action Plan helps ensure our activities in fragile and conflict-affected states align with our broader commitments on gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, respect for women’s and girls’ human rights, inclusion and respect for diversity.
With our Feminist International Assistance Policy, we are taking a leadership role internationally by championing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, including those in humanitarian crises, and regions of significant need. I hope I’m not giving away too much for those of you who will be participating in the simulation of the Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women committee, or for whoever is representing Canada this weekend.
By being inclusive and by empowering women and girls to contribute to society in ways that are meaningful to them, we are building on the premise that a healthy, well-functioning democracy requires the participation of all of its members. When women have control over their bodies, they gain ownership of their lives. In my previous role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, I had the opportunity to see first-hand how empowering women not only enables them to stand up for themselves, but to lift up their families and their communities. I visited a Canadian-funded clinic in Africa where women have access to safe, effective birth control. There, a mother proudly told me that her 15 year old daughter would not be getting married until she chooses to do so, and that she would be the first woman in their family to go to school. This mother, who was only a little bit older than me, was so proud that her daughter was being trained as a nurse and a community health facilitator, because it meant that she would not only be able to create a better life for herself, but improve the lives of everyone in their community.
When I was in Ethiopia and met a young woman who was 30, a law professor and a defender of women’s rights. She was someone I identified with immediately, because she was a young women interested in governance. After we met, she said: “Karina, I’m so excited to have met you. I’m so excited to see a young woman – in a position of power – who has the chance to improve the world. But, on the other hand, I am so incredibly jealous. Because I don’t think I will ever get the chance to participate in my country like you participate in yours.” That conversation has stuck with me. It makes me appreciate every day the opportunities I have in Canada. It reminds me of the privilege that I have, and of the corresponding duty to take advantage of these opportunities and to try and open doors for other young women, both here and abroad, to take their place in positions of authority and power.
Think about yourself for a moment, and where you are today. You’re not just in Montreal for a Model UN conference. Each of us in this room is in a position of incredible privilege. Not just because of our ability to access post-secondary education, or because we are able to travel around the world to meet other young people with a passion for politics, but because we have the opportunity to participate directly in civic life. Remember that as you represent your assigned countries this weekend, and remember that when you go back to wherever you call home. Remember it as you think about what’s in store for you after university, and as you reflect on the role you can play today within your community, your culture, and your country. You are in an incredible position of privilege, and with that privilege comes the responsibility to help others achieve their full potential as well.
Remember this as you work through the issues you discuss this weekend. Change at the international level might seem to move at a snail’s pace, but these issues can have a tremendous impact on peoples’ lives. As you go through the weekend, taking on new perspectives and advocating on behalf of the people and values you represent, remember that there are real people who would be impacted by your advocacy.
I hope your passion for democracy and international relations will continue to deepen and grow. As you leave here, I ask that you reflect on the things you have learned and the different perspectives you’ll see. Continue to ask yourself how you can contribute to building a robust and thriving democracy. How will you share that passion with others? How will you participate in your community and how will you empower others to participate as well?
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