Opening Remarks for the Honourable Patricia A. Hajdu, P.C., M.P., Minister of Status of Women, for the A Word: Reclaiming Advocacy Conference hosted by Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) and Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa (EFRY)


June 3, 2016
Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with the Government of Canada’s communications policy.

Good morning. I am pleased to be with you this morning.

Before I begin, I’d like to recognize we are gathering on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation.

Let me start by saying how much I like the title of this conference: because indeed in my past work, it has often felt like advocacy was an unspeakable word. In fact, I fought for the basic rights of shelter and food for those among us who are most unseen; the folks who live at the margins and are frequently excluded from even the most essential of human needs.

And in that fight, I was often asked, and often by legislators, to explain why these folks deserved a hand up. When I explained, sometimes patiently and sometimes with thinly veiled anger, many times I received a blank stare. And I am convinced that this response results from the North American myth of individual effort as the most determinant factor of success. This myth allows us to implicitly blame those most oppressed for their misfortune. And my act of advocacy in the capacity of 'ally' was in itself not enough.

And advocacy, in its purest form is about seeking equality using the tools of persuasion, persistence and insistence.

Many of the greatest social advances in our history have occurred when people stood up and spoke truth to power.

Women have the vote today because the suffragists fought for it. Protections for Indigenous rights were improved because Indigenous peoples stood strong together and vigorously fought for change – the discussion has started and more needs to be done Same-sex marriage is legal today because gay rights advocates championed the issue.

Now the work of activism and advocacy is not easy. It is often thankless, gruelling and lonely work. Activists often face personal risk in their efforts. And many activists have expressed to me how discouraging it is to see how slow it can be to change systems and structures that are very resistant to change. But it is because of the efforts of people like you that we live in the Canada that we know today and so I thank you for your efforts.

But on this arc of change, we still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to gender equality.

Despite the advances we have made, we rarely discuss that our culture was founded on a patriarchal system. And patriarchy continues to influence every aspect of our society — including the way we look at the roles of women and men, the way we socialize our children and the assumptions we make about gender in Canada.

And one of the most insidious challenges we face is the myth that gender equality already exists and that feminist advocacy is no longer necessary. Many young women have been socialized to think that barriers do not exist based on their gender.

But women and girls continue to face significant and deeply systemic barriers — the gender wage gap, under-representation in leadership roles and unacceptably high rates of violence, to name just a few. And of course the barriers that women and girls face create a much greater risk of a life of exclusion and poverty; two conditions that you, as advocates for women engaged with the penitentiary system, are well acquainted with.

History has shown us that the voluntary sector has often led the work necessary to challenge the status quo and drive change forward.

And as the Minister of Status of Women, I look forward to working with you to amplify your efforts. Before I took on this role, I was the executive director of a homeless shelter. I recognize that organizations like yours have a lot to offer, if only you are welcomed at the table where the problems are discussed and solutions are made.

Now, as Minister, I am proud to represent a government that welcomes you to that table.

We have vowed to be open and to listen to diverse voices. And we are committed to making evidence-based decisions that are informed by the expertise and perspectives of the people they affect.

Our decision to reinstate the mandatory long-form census is one part of that commitment.

Consultation with community and stakeholders is another. As our government embarks on a number of important legislative and program reviews, we know that working with Canadians to elicit their views is critical to developing the trust of Canadians.

The Government of Canada is holding several consultations as we speak.

Last month, my colleague, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, launched consultations about how to improving work-life balance for Canadians through flexible work arrangements.

This is in addition to consultations on improving employment insurance benefits, legislation on persons with disabilities, and child care, to name a few. And I too am preparing for extensive consultations that will guide the government’s work to develop a comprehensive federal strategy to end gender-based violence. As a first step, I am engaging with experts, advocates and grassroots organizations.

We have made it a priority to consult diverse groups of people including young women, Indigenous groups, and members of the LGBT communities.

Consultations will include roundtables with non-governmental organizations, academics and experts, and meetings with provincial, territorial and international governments. Finally, I want to speak briefly about the Women’s Program of Status of Women Canada.

For many years, this program has been working closely with community organizations to advance gender equality in Canada. We do this by funding projects that address barriers to women's participation and equality in Canadian society.

This program is now undergoing its regularly scheduled five-year review. As part of this process we will be talking with organizations to determine how we can better support their work and achieve our shared goals.

The government recognizes that advocacy is a core function of many of these groups and we are looking at ways to support that function, within the terms and conditions of the Women's Program.

As non-governmental organizations, you are essential partners in the governance of our country. You help shape the policies and programs that serve Canadians and you help hold us – the government – to account for our commitments. And finally, and maybe most importantly, you mobilize support for progress by making the case to Canadians by engaging their hearts and minds. This is how we move ahead as a country.

It is important work and we all benefit when you succeed.

I look forward to many shared successes as we work together in the years to come.

Merci! Thank you. Meegwetch.

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