Canadian GG offers statement on International Women's Day

Friday, March 7, 2008

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean.

Today, Governor General of Canada Michaëlle Jean issued a statement regarding International Women's Day. The day was first designated unofficially by some in the United States in 1909, to acknowledge the economic, political and social achievements of women. In 1975, during International Women's Year, the United Nations gave official sanction to the day, and began sponsoring events.

Simone de Beauvoir would have been 100 years old this year. What a wonderful opportunity for us to measure the progress we have made since this committed woman published the iconic book that forever changed the way we see women’s roles in society. Not only did The Second Sex open our eyes to the status of women, it also laid the groundwork for the debate on freedom and responsibility that is still raging today.

Where are we, 100 years later? Although we have made enormous strides in improving women’s lives, freeing ourselves from prejudice and rejecting stereotypes, we must recognize that Simone de Beauvoir’s dream of equal of opportunity and gender equality have not yet been realized. The challenges and obstacles our sisters around the world face on a daily basis, sometimes in the cruellest way possible, are powerful reminders of this.

Although some saw it as just a passing fad or the latest craze, feminism is still a pressing issue today. I see it as society’s willingness to encourage, promote and legitimize women’s right to self-determination. Freedom and what it means in every aspect of life should not be the privilege of a select few or achieved to the detriment of others. We should remember this on this International Women’s Day.

I think it was this message of freedom—which Simone de Beauvoir incarnated so well in her words and life—that my mother wanted me to hear when she so reverently lent me her copy of The Second Sex when I was just a young girl. I never forget the lesson, and I wanted to share it with you, my fellow Canadians, as we join in the worldwide centennial celebration of a woman who changed the world, a woman who—I believe—should always be remembered for her daring.

I would also like to take this opportunity to honour the remarkable and essential work of all those organizations, groups and associations, of the thousands of professionals and volunteers all across the country, that are completely dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians women and fighting for their rights.