Liberia, March 2009
Visit to Liberia
March 7–8, 2009
"To mark International Women’s Day, it will be my privilege to speak at the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security in Monrovia, at the invitation of the President of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman on the African continent to be elected as head of State. This wonderful initiative, conceptualized by President Johnson Sirleaf and with the resolute support of the President of Finland, Her Excellency Tarja Halonen, will bring together many other heads of state and government, ministers, parliamentarians, as well as hundreds of women of action from civil society, from every generation. I will have the opportunity to share Canada’s perspective. As I travel across our country, I always take the time to speak with the women I meet, to note their concerns, challenges, difficulties and achievements. The women’s movement in Canada remains ever vigilant and has ensured that many men and institutions are now, more than ever before, joining in the fight.
I believe that while Canada has done much for the recognition of women’s rights and continues to defend these rights, particularly within the United Nations and in terms of co-operation, it is important that we learn from the experiences and practices of other countries, other cultures, other women around the world who share this sense of urgency and vigilance. As the world struggles through the current economic crisis, it is women and children who are most affected. Wherever violence and terror hold sway, women bear the scars."
— Michaëlle Jean, March 5, 2009
At the invitation of the President of Liberia Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, represents Canada at the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security, held in Monrovia, Liberia, on March 7 and 8, 2009.
The purpose of this international colloquium is to empower women to become effective leaders. It also seeks to establish international networks and to share and implement best practices for developing the economic capacities of women. The colloquium is co-convened by Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Her Excellency Tarja Halonen, President of Finland.
Short version of the speech
“International Women’s Day is a call for solidarity.
That solidarity that the President of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman to lead an African country, urged on March 8, 2006, during a keynote address to UNESCO, to reverse and dismantle the structures that continue to restrain “the full and resourceful potential of womanhood.”
It is with great emotion that, at her invitation, I am taking part in the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security.
I believe that the time that we will be spending together reflecting, consolidating our ideas and developing common strategies is priceless.
I have always thought that ignoring the plight of women is not only an inexcusable lack of responsibility, but also an unjustifiable crime against humanity.
Everywhere that I have travelled as governor general of Canada, I have met women who are individually remarkable and collectively regenerative.
I have learned so much from them.
From those survivors who, like my grandmother Dejanira who worked her fingers to the bone to sew clothing that she then sold on the sidewalks of Port-au-Prince to send her children to school, I learned that “education is freedom.”
From those fighters who have found the courage in themselves to rebuild their lives after years of violence and abuse, I learned that we should never remain silent or give up.
From those healers among North America’s first peoples who are tending the wounds of the soul, I learned that it is possible to break the circles of exclusion and oppression and to replace them with circles of sharing and healing.
From those women determined to take a stand in Algeria against fundamentalism, I learned that the fight for freedom will never be over until freedom can be enjoyed by all.
From those women who resist the restraints of oppression and who, in Afghanistan, removed the burka and looked me straight in the eyes, I learned the power of indignation.
From those daring women who, in Mali, declared that the practice of female genital mutilation is a violation of basic human rights, I learned that traditions should not be exercised to the detriment of some and with the complicity of others.
From those women who seek justice and who, like Bernadette Ntumba from the Democratic Republic of Congo, denounce the abuses wrought upon girls, sisters and mothers, I learned the madness of “[translation] a war that ends in women’s bellies.”
From those mothers whose children die in combat, I learned the words that speak of loss.
I still have much to learn from the women I meet and from those whose struggles I see, even from here, whose reversals of fortune cause me to weep, whose hopes I share.
And of all of those hopes, the one I want to share with my own daughter comes from the work of women who, though they receive only a fraction of the world’s resources, work tirelessly to improve the lives of those around them.
The work of women who measure their success in terms of what they give, rather than what they take.
Give them the means to act, and you will see a decrease in violence, hunger, illness, illiteracy.
Because women never forget that life is our most precious asset.
It is for the sake of life itself that women choose to mobilize and take action, to perpetuate in their every word and every deed—for their children and for humanity—that irrepressible and irreplaceable force that is every being who may at times suffer but who remains ever hopeful.”
— Michaëlle Jean, Monrovia, Liberia, March 7, 2009
International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment,
Leadership Development, International Peace and Security, Monrovia, Saturday, March 7, 2009 (PDF)