Speaking Notes for The Honourable Patty Hajdu, P.C., M.P. Minister of Status of Women


July 18, 2016

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Before I begin, I’d like to recognize the Mississaugas of New Credit, on whose traditional territory we are gathering.

I am honoured to join you today, along with my colleagues, Julie Dabrusin and Adam Vaughn for this conversation on what we can do to advance gender equality and fast track progress for women and girls.

As we prepare to mark 150 years since our nation’s founding next year, we know the fight for equality continues. We have made important strides over the course of our history but, as we all know, gender equality is not yet a reality.

Consider the changes we have seen over more than a century. In 1916, women achieved an important milestone in earning the right to vote starting in Manitoba; the first female MP was elected in 1921; the first woman joined the federal Cabinet in 1957; the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed in 1977 making discrimination on the basis of sex against the law; Section 28 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed in 1982; the first woman justice was named to the Supreme Court in 1982.

Fast forward to 2015, and Canadians saw the first ever gender-balanced federal Cabinet appointed along with yours truly, the first ever minister fully-dedicated to gender issues.

And while we can and should take pride in the fact that Canadian women have made such great strides, we ought to remember that these changes weren’t the result of a natural progression.

We can never take for granted that these critical milestones represent hard-won progress for women in this country. It is because of the efforts of people like you that we live in the Canada we know today and for that I thank you.

Prior to entering politics, I was the Executive Director of Thunder Bay’s largest homeless shelter. I fought for the basic rights of shelter and food for those among us who live on the margins of our society and are frequently excluded from even having the most essential of necessities of life.

And in that fight, I was often asked, and often by legislators, to explain why these folks deserved assistance. When I explained, sometimes patiently and sometimes with thinly veiled exasperation, I often received a blank stare.

My job then was to try to overcome the biases and pre-conceived notions that influenced their thinking and confront them with reality.

This is advocacy. This is activism. It is speaking truth to power. And, in its purest form, it is about seeking equality using the tools of persuasion, persistence and insistence.

Some of Canada’s greatest social advances have resulted when people stood up and spoke truth to power.

Women have the vote today because the suffragists fought for it. Same-sex marriage is legal today because gay rights advocates championed the issue. Protections for Indigenous rights were improved because Indigenous peoples stood strong together and vigorously fought for change. Although we’ve made progress – and we should be very proud – all of us here today know all too well that we still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to gender equality.

We can’t afford to be complacent. One of the most insidious challenges that we must still fight is the myth that gender equality already exists, and that feminism is no longer necessary; it’s simply not true.

That’s why I’m proud of the fact that we are having a conversation about gender equality in this country because it is an important Canadian value, and one that has been elevated as a top of mind issue by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Not only has he made gender equality a priority for the Government of Canada; it is now being woven into the work we plan to do. As your first minister fully-dedicated to gender issues, it is also my mandate to lead Status of Women Canada, an Agency that is a catalyst for change as a collaborator with groups and organizations like many of you here today, and as a centre of excellence on gender issues within government.

And because we believe that dialogue between stakeholders and decision-makers informs better government decisions, I am pleased to confirm that as of July 1st, we have restored advocacy to the scope of activities groups can undertake within projects supported by the Women’s Program. As you know and to the consternation of many in the movement, advocacy became an activity ineligible for funding under the previous government in 2007. Well those days are over. Canadians have chosen “sunny ways” and this government brings a different kind of leadership. One that believes it needs to support the movement, not starve it.

So going forward, organizations seeking to advance equality by addressing gender-based violence, advancing women’s economic security and prosperity and increasing the representation of women in leadership and decision-making roles, will now be able to include advocacy activities directed at federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments as part of their projects.

As a result of this change, groups will be in a better position to advance equality with women and girls in every region of Canada.

One of the conversations that I hope we will have, in this wider discussion of equality, is how we can accelerate change and build a society where women and girls no longer face the systemic barriers that still exist today, even though it is 2016.

Though the Government of Canada is just a piece of the puzzle, we are working on several fronts to build a healthy, more inclusive society where women and girls can fulfill their potential in all aspects of life.

We have renewed our focus on the promotion and use of Gender-based Analysis (GBA) throughout federal organizations. GBA is important because it ensures that we consider the diverse realities of all Canadians when we create policies and programs.

In addition, our new merit-based, open, and transparent approach to selecting high-quality candidates for some 4,000 Governor–in-Council and Ministerial appointments will ensure that Canada’s diversity is better reflected in these top posts.

But there is another area where we must take action, if we are to make progress for women and girls — and that is in reducing and preventing gender-based violence.

We all recognize the destructive effects that gender-based violence can have on individuals, families and communities. We also know that these impacts are magnified for marginalized populations including Indigenous women and girls, the LGBTQQI2S community, and women and girls with disabilities.

I have personally witnessed the devastating effects that violence can have on a woman’s life. When I led Shelter House in Thunder Bay, I saw how violence and lack of support for victims can exacerbate situations of poverty and inadequate housing. Far too often the result is an overwhelming cycle of poverty and violence that is difficult to overcome — a cycle that often becomes intergenerational.

For all of these reasons, the federal government is committed to finding solutions, and ending gender-based violence. That is why I have been mandated to develop a federal strategy against gender-based violence.

To develop this strategy, we need the help of experts, advocates and survivors like you to ensure that we address the diverse needs of all Canadians — especially those who are most at-risk of being victimized.

We need to reach out to the people who work on this issue every day, to get their perspectives on how progress can be made. My message to you is that we want to work together and we are ready to listen.

So, I am proud today to announce the beginning of our public consultations for the development of that strategy.

Over the next few weeks, I will meet with academics, civil society, front-line service providers and survivors from across the country to discuss ideas and best practices for preventing and addressing gender-based violence.

This public engagement process also includes the work of the Advisory Council I recently established to advise me on the development and implementation of our federal strategy.

The actions I have described today underscore the federal government’s commitment to listening to Canadians and collaborating with stakeholders as we take an evidence-based approach to the design of policies and programs. This is the kind of leadership that we intend to bring to Canadians and this is the kind partnership that we want to establish with you, the people who have been leading the fight for change, for what rightfully belongs to Canadian women and girls.

We are fortunate today to have so many amazing advocates in the room together. I am so looking forward to the thought-provoking conversations we will have today and to the panel discussion that is about to take place. I feel like we have a real opportunity here to reaffirm our relationship – government and advocates – and recommit to working together in the service of all Canadians.

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.

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.

By working together, I know that we can make progress for women and girls from coast to coast to coast, and build a healthy, inclusive society that serves all Canadians well for the next 150 years.

Thank you.

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Hon. Patricia A. Hajdu Status of Women Canada Society and Culture

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