Address by Minister Monsef at event to announce new legacy investments to support women’s rights and gender equality at home and abroad at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference

Speech

June 2, 2019 - Vancouver, British Columbia

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.

Bonjour, salam alaikum to the Muslims in the room, those observing Ramadan. What a great privilege it is to be a guest on this territory that the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh peoples have called home for generations upon generations, to be in this room with change makers, in a room teeming with excitement because we’ve done something quite exceptional together. We are united in this room by a belief that gender equality is good for everyone.

Gender equality is the right thing to do. It’s about fairness. It’s what our mothers and grandmothers and those before them have been asking for.

It’s also the smart thing to do. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, gender equality is good for the economy. Here in Canada, when we increase the participation of women in our economy, we will benefit from $150 billion over the next decade. Globally, we are talking about a $12-trillion economy.

Gender equality is good for everyone, and the fact that we have governments and prime ministers proudly saying they are feminist now, the fact that we are seeing the economic, social and political merit in gender equality, it is because of a movement that has worked hard to bring us to this moment in time.

We are all part of that movement: a movement that’s existed long before any of us got here, a movement that will continue long after we are gone. And throughout history, throughout the world, women’s organizations have been on the frontlines of the women’s movement, driving change to build a better world for all.

And yet, for most of our collective history, women have not had access to established power structures. Despite this, we have persisted, organized and made our voices heard. We have insisted on change, insisted on progress, insisted on equality.

More than two centuries ago, in 1789, Parisian women gathered and marched on Versailles to protest the price of bread.

In 1956, 20,000 women marched in Pretoria, South Africa, to protest against the “pass” laws that limited the movement of Black people.

In my own lifetime, the women of Afghanistan started an underground educational network to ensure that despite what the Taliban wanted, their daughters got an education.

In 2012, “idle no more” began right here in Canada, and those women and their allies continue to persist.

In 2016, 30,000 women dressed in black gathered in Warsaw’s Castle Square to protest a proposed ban on abortion.

A few days later, tens of thousands of women marched in Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo to protest violence against women.

Then came the women’s marches all over the world and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

These are not just isolated moments in time. This is what a movement looks like: growing numbers of women, men, people of all gender identities and expressions mobilizing and saying, “enough.”

The sustainability of this movement has been my number one priority—fully supported by Prime Minister Trudeau—because women’s organizations have been the backbone of the gender equality movement. You are in every province and every territory. You serve women and girls who live in rural areas, in city centres and in some of the most remote parts of our country. You support women with all life experiences and from all walks of life. You work tirelessly, with conviction and with compassion, to advance the rights of women and girls all across Canada. We owe you so much more than just our thanks.

All of these women-led movements and organizations have changed history, are writing our stories and are continuing to change history.

You are the driving force of action on all kinds of issues—from abortion rights, to environment, to racism, to violence, to economic development and leadership, to reconciliation and everything in between.

You are the best way to advance gender equality. And yet, for far too long—and we’ve heard this from women’s organizations and equality seekers here in Canada and around the world—the sustainability of your efforts have been dependent on the whims and the values of the sitting governments of the day. When funds have existed, they have come with strings attached that have prevented far too many from being able to plan—to have strategic plans in place that allow the attraction and retention of the very best of talents—and, more often than not, cause burnouts because you are overwhelmed working on grant application after grant application instead of focusing on the people who depend on you.

Women’s organizations have been chronically underfunded, under-resourced, undervalued and undermined. And what has this spread? Silos and competition instead of cooperation.

So, I’m here to say, “enough,” or “basia” as my mother would tell me.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that Canada is reshaping how we invest in women’s organizations and movements—here in Canada and around the world.

So let’s start at home. We are entering into three innovative funding partnerships to support women’s organizations in Canada. Combined with a federal investment of up to $30 million, each of our partners has committed to match and effectively double the government’s investment for a total of up to $60 million. They are the Community Foundations of Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada.

What will these organizations do?

The Community Foundations of Canada will receive and match up to $10 million to support gender equality initiatives across Canada. They have over 190 partners across the country who will engage people across cultures, languages and generations.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation will receive and match up to $10 million to help women living in rural, remote and Northern areas of Canada to address emerging issues.

Grand Challenges Canada will receive and match up to $10 million to host and incubate an Indigenous-led, -designed and -delivered platform that will empower Indigenous women, innovators and communities to identify and solve challenges in their communities. This will transform lives and create economic growth for everyone.

These collaborative, cross-sector funding initiatives will create new opportunities to help to ensure that women’s organizations across Canada have access to stable, secure and sustainable funding.

So to recap, these organizations are receiving $30 million from the Government of Canada to support women’s organizations, including those who serve Indigenous, rural, remote and Northern women. We invite you to donate to these organizations, and they will match you dollar for dollar.

But we don’t want to stop there: we also invite other organizations who are working to advance gender equality here in Canada to reach out and to work with us under this new matched funding model.

Maya Angelou has said, “Every time a woman stands up for herself without knowing it, possibly without even claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

And many including Audre Lorde have said that unless all of us are free, none of us are free. And so today, we stand up for ourselves here in Canada, but we also stand with the women of the world.

Today, we are writing a new chapter in the story of the women’s movements. And I am pleased to announce that the Government of Canada will work with partners behind the Equality Fund to set up a unique self-sustaining partnership with an investment of $300 million to support women’s organizations around the world.

Allow me to honour my predecessor, Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who put the call out in the first place and to thank the women who have come together and brought others along to create a fund by women for women.

What’s the Equality Fund? It is a consortium of Canadian and international organizations who have already mobilized $100 million and have an ambitious plan to mobilize another $1 billion over the next 15 years.

This investment makes Canada the number one investor in women’s rights organizations at home and around the world.

So women’s organizations can stay focused on saving and transforming lives, and they do that best with the Equality Fund. Canadians are shifting the power to women’s rights organizations. It’s supporting women pushing back against the push back. Behind this effort is Canada’s best in philanthropy, feminist leadership, banking, social impact, investment and international development. Through our collective efforts as public and private sectors, philanthropy and civil society, Canada is now the leading donor for women’s rights organizations, women’s rights and gender equality globally.

This is a Canadian story. Part of a proud Canadian tradition of peacekeeping, international development and equality. We are seeking others who have interest in this partnership, and we know there is interest because we received about a dozen proponents who submitted proposals for this initiative. And that is proof that this partnership is going to truly work across sectors.

I want to thank the people who dreamed the big dream and approached the Government of Canada to make that dream happen. May we continue to dream big dreams because they do come true, particularly when we work together. So philanthropists, get involved. Private sector, invest. There is a high return on investment when you invest in women. And the rest of you, donate to Equalityfund.ca.

The website is live right now, and as the amazing and the Honourable Carla Qualtrough says, “This is a game changer.” You will be tapping into broader networks, investments and expertise to achieve and leverage Canada’s contributions and mobilize even more partners for the empowerment of women and girls here in Canada and globally.

And this is Canada’s legacy for gender equality.

This didn’t happen easily. It didn’t happen accidentally. This is part of the Government of Canada’s feminist approach to governance. And this is part of our plan that has seen results right here at home. Equality is a driver for economic growth. One million jobs have been created in Canada in the past three years. There are more women working now than ever before. More youth, more newcomers, more Indigenous peoples, more persons with disabilities are working in Canada now than ever before. And that is because we see equality as a driver for economic growth.

Canada has the lowest unemployment rate it’s had in over four decades. A total of 825,000 Canadians have been lifted out of poverty, which brings Canada to its lowest poverty rate on record, and a million Canadians have a safe and affordable roof over their heads. And we are just getting started. Our message is clear: Equality is the right thing to do. It is also a driver for economic growth.

If I may wrap up with a story. In the 1970s, there was a high unemployment rate in Canada, and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau decided to invest federally for the first time in community organizations. You’ve got a great idea? You want to do good? The federal government will give you money.

Among those who sought and received funding were a group of young women across the country, including a leader named Lynn Zimmer. They saw all around them that their friends, themselves, their sisters, their mothers were experiencing violence at home from their intimate partners, and there was nowhere for them to go. And when they left, there was nothing to protect them, and when there were no safety nets for them, they would often return home, or in some cases tragically lose their lives, never to be seen or heard from again. These young women decided to take this funding and create spaces where women and their children fleeing violence and abuse are going to come and be safe and piece their lives back together.

These young women, including Lynn Zimmer who is from Peterborough, Ontario, went on to become the first in Canada to start the women’s shelter movement.

Today, there are over 600 shelters in this country saving and transforming lives. And in 1996, my family moved from Afghanistan to Peterborough, Ontario. My mom, a young widow, had brought her daughters to Canada to get an education because the Taliban at the time didn’t want us to learn. We didn’t have a place to go, but where did we turn to? The YWCA shelter in Peterborough, Ontario.

These safety nets make a difference. These big dreams make a difference.

What if the next Malala is in Cox’s Bazaar [Bangladesh], right now, waiting for additional investment so that she may seek her true potential.

What if the next Steve Jobs is a young woman in an abusive relationship in Peterborough.

What if the next Christine Sinclair is somewhere waiting for someone to believe in her.

And what if the next Steve Nash is somewhere at Women Deliver right now waiting for those extra partnerships.

It is only fitting that on the eve of Women Deliver 2019, we are here to build a lasting legacy for women and girls, for organizations and movements in Canada and around the world so they can fight for their rights—and for all of our rights.

This is a legacy. A legacy of women rising. A legacy of women lifting others. A legacy of gender equality.

A legacy that truly benefits all of us.

Merci. Miigwetch, teshakwa.

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