Speech: Secretary General of La Francophonie Michaëlle Jean


Kate White: I told you he meant it. So... The Right Honourable Michaelle Jean has been the elected Secretary General of La Francophonie since November 2014. In Canada we know her story well, and it is a little bit of all of our stories. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, she immigrated to Canada with her parents and set out, like Minister Sajjan, to make Canada better. And she has succeeded. As an activist for women's rights working on a Quebec network of battered women's shelters, through journalism, and - oh, yes, she was the 27th Governor General of Canada. In that role, and as the patron of ACNU, UNA Canada, I have had the honor of seeing her transformative work with those often excluded close at hand. Madame Jean has devoted her life and skills to building bridges. On behalf of all of us, welcome.


Rt. Hon. Michaelle Jean: Let me take a look at you. Minister, Minister Sajjan, General, General Dallaire, Ms. Kate White, Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Association of Canada, Lieutenant-Colonel Rachel Grimes, Military Gender Officer at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Member of Parliament Rioux, distinguished guests, dear students, dear friends, I’m thinking of a song right now. I think it will resonate with you too. It's a beautiful song that comes to my mind as we gather here. It's become a universal song. It’s sung everywhere.

I want to hear your voices, so how about if we say - we sing it together? You see me coming? Do you know which one it is? All we are saying is give peace a chance. Come on.


Isn't that what we are doing? All - come on.


Is give peace a chance. All we are saying is give peace a chance. This is what we're saying. This is what we're saying here today. I’d like to tell you that it’s an immense privilege for me, it gives me tremendous pleasure to be here with you this morning. Every time I spend time with young people, it lets me refocus. It’s a time to take one’s energy and use it. And it’s very pleasant. We need it because we live in an increasingly difficult world. We need this extra energy and hope that your bring.

And I want to thank you, Minister Sajjan, for offering me this - this great opportunity. Every moment, as you said, of sharing with young people is an uplifting moment. They never fail to - to fill my heart, to fill our hearts with hope. And I feel this everywhere -everywhere, everywhere I go, regardless of the country, regardless of the continent. It's the vibrancy, it's the creativity and determination of youth in wanting to share their thoughts, to challenge preconceived ideas, to reinvent the world, and... no borders. No borders. It's happening everywhere.

And regardless of the country or the continent, I find this same drive, creativity and willingness from young people to transform the mandate. I’ll speak to you in both English and French. Is that okay?

Audience: Yes.

Rt. Hon. Michaelle Jean: How many of you here understand French? Ooh! That’s good. That’s very, very good. I’m quite pleased.

In my - in my current position as Secretary General of La Francophonie, an international organization comprised of 84 states and governments on all five continents, including the Government of Canada and that of three Canadian provinces -Quebec, New Brunswick, and just this year Ontario - I can assure you that, just like I did during my tenure as Governor General of Canada, crisscrossing our vast country from coast to coast to coast, or as Chancellor of the University of Ottawa, or as UNESCO Special Envoy to support the reconstruction efforts in my native land, Haiti, after the devastating earthquake on January 2010, I never miss - I never miss an opportunity to reach out to and meet young people, to - to listen to them, to appreciate their achievements, to take stock of their comments and commitment to serve -commitment to serve their community, to serve their country, and to serve the world. And this is how I can really testify to a great many absolutely remarkable and highly innovative youth-led endeavours.

I can testify very well to this extraordinary youth mobilization, to these remarkable and highly innovative actions carried out everywhere by young people your age. Unfortunately, I can also testify to tremendous waste.

It's sad to say, however, I can also testify to some horrifying waste. Imagine this country's communities where over half of the population is under 30, or under 25. They should of course be able to harness the power of such precious human capital. But as - I mean, here's a scandal. Sixty percent of these young women and young men, perhaps even more, know only of chronic unemployment and job insecurity.

This is a waste of priceless human capital. In this country where more than half of the population is under the age of 25, and the chronic unemployment of youth (inaudible) and it’s a real concern. I hear their distress, I hear their feelings of impasse, their anger, their rebellion, sometimes even giving in to despair and a death wish.

I can hear the feelings of hopelessness of so many young people, their sense that the future is - is a - is a dead end. We can only imagine their distress, their anger, their outrage. No wonder some death wish continues overtakes, you know, them. And I know you can imagine because right here in Canada young people also experience the devastating effects of being shunned by society, society undermining them to such an extent that they may sometimes be driven into the fangs of criminal organizations, involved in all forms of trafficking, or succumb to the siren calls of violent radicalization. We know that. It's a global issue. Indeed, this is an absolute scandal. It is also a major risk factor for stability, for peace and security.

A situation that, yes, we know is difficult, but which isn’t a fatality. We need to respond, and urgently.

Such a predicament is not fatality. It is an emergency call, and - and we have every right to sound a powerful clarion call. Every word, every action counts, including our gathering here today.

We need, as we’re doing today by rallying together and today, we’re continuing to do so. We’ll also do it tomorrow.

We can no longer remain indifferent. Global awareness is rising. As proof, United Nations Resolution 2250 on Youth in Decision Making, Peace and Security.

UN Resolution 2250 is historic. Adopted in 2015 by the United Nations for youth, peace and security, it’s an international recognition of the key role of youth, of your role in implementing peace and fighting violent extremism.

Resolution 2050 is indeed a historical resolution that, for the very first time, recognizes the indispensable part that young people - that you - must play in peacemaking and in combating violent extremism. Youth participation in decision making is a must, especially in these frightfully hazardous times, when an estimated 600 million young women and men now live in conflict-vulnerable and conflict-affected areas.

Six hundred million young men and women live in fragile areas affected by conflict.

And as I say this, I'm thinking of Canadian General Romeo Dallaire. General Roméo Dallaire, who is here with us in Vancouver and will be able to tell you, General Dallaire, who saw whole countries plunge into the abyss of horror. He saw forcibly enrolled children become, under duress, ruthless killers. General Romeo Dallaire, who now dedicates his life to helping child soldiers reintegrate, to pulling them out of hell and back into childhood. General Roméo Dallaire’s purpose in life has become helping child soldiers reintegrate society. General, pulling them out of hell, isn’t it to give them back their childhood, which was stolen from them?

So with Resolution 2250, the UN Security Council recognizes not only that young people are, along with women, the first victims of conflicts, but that they are also part of the solution in peacebuilding efforts around the world. The International Organization of La Francophonie has of course supported and continues to support this resolution, as it supported and continues to support Resolution 1325 adopted in 2000, and the seven subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security. Because as I reminded the -the United Nations Security Council on October 27, we know full well what is at stake behind those digits, one-three-two-five, two-two-five-zero; thirteen twenty-five, twenty-two fifty. First comes the ambition to stop saying war is war and conflict is conflict, and to put an end to the trivialization of the horrors inflicted by men on women, on girls, very young little girls even, on boys with utmost cruelty and most systematically in times of hostilities. When they decide to annihilate a people, a nation, they assault the females first, they assault young people.

So we have to stop trivializing the horrors cruelly inflicted by men on women, girls and boys. Those who decide to annihilate, to destroy a people, a nation, well first they attack women and children.

What is also at stake then is the absolute necessity of fully involving women and youth in all areas of crisis prevention and mediation efforts to promote peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Lieutenant Colonel, you've said it: three percent. That's the percentage of women within military personnel in peacekeeping missions: three percent. Meanwhile, it is a well-documented fact that the presence of women in these sectors contributes to improved behaviour among security forces and greater credibility, better relationships with local populations, which is so critical. So what are we afraid of? This is what I asked at the Security Council. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of being more effective? Are we afraid of being more impactful? Women and - and youth are part of the solution. You are part of the solution when it comes to forging a universal culture of peace. Because peace is not a mere absence of war; peace is cultivated.

Peace can be nurtured. It can be nurtured in people’s mind, hearts and daily actions.

Peace is a long-range process that marshals core values, principles, attitudes, behaviours, and lifestyles towards a rejection of violence, of discrimination, of inequalities of all sorts in order to prevent conflicts by striking - striking at their roots. And this is really the spirit that moves La Francophonie in taking action. This is the spirit that moves the deployment of our youth strategy, an approach based on acting with youth, and 'with' being the operative word here.

Acting with – I’m stressing with and alongside youth.

Our report is also intersectional, and informs the programs of all actors and networks within the international organization of La Francophonie: the parliamentary assembly of La Francophonie, we see 83 parliaments and inter-parliamentary organizations; the Academic Agency of La Francophonie, a network of 850 universities and institutions of higher education; the Senghor University of Alexandria, and its decentralized campuses dedicated to sustainable development in Africa; the International Association of Francophone Mayors, which brings together over 300 cities; TV5Monde, our French language net-television network that broadcasts on every continent; and finally, the conferences of francophone ministers of education, youth, and sports, and our network of civil society organizations.

And across all these sectors, La Francophonie acts in pursuit of the same objective: rooting a culture of peace in the hearts and minds by engaging each and every one of our - what I call our weapons of mass creation, mass construction, in order to promote young people's access - your access - to education and higher learning, offer you vocational training and - and employability programs geared to the needs of the labour market through the recent creation of the Institut de la Francophonie pour l'éducation et la formation based in Dakar, Senegal. And so also your entrepreneurial spirit. Such arethe aims of our support program for women's and young people's entrepreneurship. Our objective is twofold: first to support the start-up, consolidation, proliferation, and sustainability of entities that play a key role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem through greater profess - how do we say this - professionalization and assistance to young people and women entrepreneurs, helping them systemize their business and stabilize it to enter markets more competitively.

Second, we - we seek to - to help women and youth build partnerships with other economic players, establish entrepreneurial networks and communities. We want to support also your desire to be mobile and engaged at the international level through the international volunteer program - program of La Francophonie. And you know what? I was so pleased to see so many of you raising your hands and saying that you understand and speak French. Because every language opens another window on the world. The two official languages of Canada, French and English, are the only two languages spoken on all five continents. Imagine what it gives you. This represents for you twice as many opportunities to get in touch, meet, share, and engage with millions of other young people around the globe, to make a difference, to understand the world in its rich diversity, the wealth of its many cultures.

So La Francophonie offers many opportunities to join as international volunteer, one of our permanent strategic representations, be it to the United Nations, the European Union or the African Union, in New York, in Geneva, in Brussels, in Addis Ababa, in our strategic also regional off-regional offices in Bucharest, Port-au-Prince, Hanoi, Libreville, (inaudible) or in our two specialized global institutes, one for sustainable development in Quebec City and the other one for education and training, as I said, in Dakar, Senegal. I must end there, right? OK.

So I'm saying grab every opportunity. Everything that we put in place to showcase and promote your talents with initiatives such as digital innovation competition -competitions that we organize, there are so many examples that I could give you, but time is really flying. But really, I would say we - we really want to - to give you the means of getting fully involved in political life, in actions for peace. We have a huge network called Libre Ensemble - libre as in free in English, and Ensemble as in together. So let us work together. Let us come together. It's for you, it's with you, and I’m very happy that I have the chance to tell you about all this. Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.

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