Presentation of the Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case
Rideau Hall, Thursday, October 1, 2009
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Whether you are a man or a woman, there should be no limits on what you dream.
This is what we believe in this country called Canada, where everything is possible, and this is what we uphold both here and beyond our borders.
With the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games set to open soon in Vancouver, we can take great delight in seeing so many women ascending the podium and fulfilling their dream of achieving beyond their expectations, as evoked by the theme of Women’s History Month.
These supremely gifted athletes are charting a path and, by their example, inviting us to follow.
On that path, which takes them to the edge of their limits and beyond, these women are speaking to us.
And what are these tremendous role models telling us?
They are telling us not to be afraid to dream big and reach for the stars.
They are telling us never to let go, never to get dejected, but rather to carry on, no matter what and despite the obstacles.
They are telling us never to doubt our capacity to succeed, to believe in ourselves.
And ultimately, they are reminding us that we all have the power to follow our chosen path, to overcome the obstacles on that path and to free ourselves from what holds us back.
By power, I mean the strength that lies within each of us, allowing us to move forward with confidence and even to go beyond what we thought possible.
And I think that this power is especially difficult to harness for us women, since for years—if not centuries—we have been denied the right not only to do and to act, but to be.
A mere 80 years ago—two generations, at most—we weren’t even persons under the law.
It took five brave, determined and stubborn women to challenge the highest legal authorities in the land in order for us to finally be recognized as full-fledged persons, having rights, freedoms and responsibilities.
These five women, like the ones we are honouring today, did not wait to be given the power to change things.
They took the power, and that is what distinguishes them and makes them role models.
They took it not to the detriment of men, as one might have us believe.
Nor to serve their own interests.
But rather, in the name of all women who had neither voice nor rights.
And to this day, women in much of the world have no status.
They are the property of men – father, husband or son.
These women have been stripped of the means or power to exist by themselves.
Hence the need to salute the efforts of all women who leave the shadows, brave prohibitions, break the silence and denounce injustice.
Sadly, a number of them pay for their courage with their lives.
Both at home and around the world, in the most extreme situations and throughout the course of history, women have continued to think, say, act and fight for recognition of their most basic rights.
I have always been impressed by this spirit of resistance, this resiliency on the part of women.
You know, I spent years helping women who were dead on the inside, women with deep physical and psychological wounds. They and their children had suffered untold violence.
From these women I gained the conviction that in each ordeal there lies the possibility of reinventing oneself.
Empower women in regions where violence and abuse reign and you will see whole communities rise up against the outrage and demand their freedom.
Empower women where there are conflicts, misery and oppression, and watch how illiteracy, poverty and sickness recede.
Empower women where peace building is needed, and peace is what you shall see.
When you empower women, humanity can only gain.
Because when you give women power, you are giving power to the communities they belong to.
Look at how our country has gained from the efforts of our mothers and grandmothers to reduce inequality and allow those who walk in their footsteps the opportunity to choose.
To you, the bold, the peacemakers, the fighters, the resisters, the seekers of truth whom we honour today, and to you too, Pauline, who is receiving the youth award for blazing new trails for so many girls and young women, I say thank you.
Thank you on behalf of our mothers, our sisters and our daughters, and in the name of all those, both women and men, who demand justice, respect and equality.
May your dedication inspire us to go beyond our limits, beyond our dreams, beyond our possibilities, beyond our beliefs.