During his first official visit to Liberia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated on November 24, 2016 in a roundtable discussion on women’s leadership with the attendance of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In his opening statement and during the Q & A session, Trudeau said amongt other things the following:
- “Men should be able to stand up and say proudly that they are feminists”
- “Being a feminist is recognizing that women should have the same rights and the same opportunities as anyone else”
- “Not all male ministers were based on merit”
- “Women [Female MPs and ministers] who in many cases were massively overqualified, if you look at my own level of qualifications for this job”
- “My wife Sophie who is much smarter woman than I am”
- “I have to raise my sons to be feminists”
- “Men have to be willing to stand up for women’s rights and whether it’s in favor of abortion or standing strongly against the abhorrence that is female genital mutilation”
- “The status quo or it’s the church, religious groups or it’s traditional cultures [that are] pushing back on why we can’t make changes.
- “Women in leadership positions contribute to a very positive discussion that ends up making better decisions”
- “The way society is set up is to unfairly give men more power then they deserve”
- “Parents and a society that talks to their kids about sex to the same degree of explicitness that they hear in the schoolyard, that they see on the internet every single day”
The following are excerpts from Trudeau’s statements:
“I do want to point out one thing. Throughout this visit people have been saying to me it’s wonderful prime minister that you’ve come to Liberia, but why did you come to Liberia? There are many different countries in Africa, some with greater commercial and diplomatic and economic and historical ties to Canada, many different places you could go. Why did you pick Liberia?
“And it’s very simple. Much of this sort of two parts of the same reason. One is your extraordinary president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and two, is the work that she has been doing and all of you in this room and across the country have been doing on women’s rights and on women’s empowerment.
“It’s so important to me to be part of this conversation and to contribute our own experiences in Canada in our own struggles in Canada, because I have to lay it out from the beginning that all is not rosy in Canada. We haven’t figured this out. We continue to have to work hard and fight for it every day…
“The fact is I’m always incredibly proud to be on a panel with extraordinary women and talk about women’s empowerment. I’m always dismayed however that there are never enough men in the audience who need to hear what these women have to say and that is not to say, first of all, thank you to all the men who have shown up and you are important as allies and supporters.
“But we have to pierce through the perception that women’s issues are only for women to talk about and to fight about. Women’s rights are everybody’s rights. Women’s issues are society’s issues.
“We know that when we empower women, when we respect women and we fight for the rights of our sisters, our daughters, our wives, or girlfriends, or mothers, or grandmothers, we are fighting for our entire community, and it has to be understood that men should be able to stand up and say proudly that they are feminists.
“And being a feminist is recognizing that women should have the same rights and the same opportunities as anyone else. And indeed that there is still much work to be done. If you can say yes to both of those statements, guess what? Guys you’re feminists.
“We need you to get out there and start talking about it stronger and more loudly and more assertively because fighting for rights, standing up for a better future happens when we empower women, when we respect women.
“One of the things that I took a lot of grief on when I became prime minister was that I appointed a gender equal cabinet. I’ve as many women ministers as I do men. And from the usual types the commentators and pundits and a political opponents it was all: Oh no that’s a quota system, it won’t work, everything should be based on merit.
“Well, when they actually saw the qualifications and the calibre of women on our cabinet, I was able to point out: Well, you were lucky that I guaranteed that there be 50 percent men because if not, there could be more women than men on my cabinet. So be careful about making merit-based argument.
“But what’s important is, before I could make my cabinet 50-50 men and women, I had to reach out across the country and ask great upstanding strong community leader who were women, strong lawyers, strong doctors, strong people who were women to step forward into politics, and you know when you ask a man to run for politics his first question is: What took you so long to ask me to run for politics? When you ask a woman to run for publics, her first question is: Really? Do you think I’m qualified? Do you really think I should? Do you think I can do this?
“The fact is, I was talking to women [Female MPs and ministers] who in many cases were massively overqualified, if you look at my own level of qualifications for this job, but that idea of asking her to run, of getting her to step up, of encouraging her, looking at the barriers, is it fundraising, is it is it a society that’s not giving her the opportunity or the support.
“We need to, as civil society leaders as political leaders, to take concrete measures to push thatthrough. We have to understand that within our societies there will always be interests pushing back. From society to society it depends who it is either the elites of the status quo or it’s thechurch, religious groups or it’s traditional cultures pushing back on why we can’t make changes.
“I went through that for myself within my own political party. My political party, the Liberal Party, is a fairly centrist progressive party in Canada, and when I became leader I announced that no member of the Liberal Party, who is elected as a legislator, would be able to vote in favor of banning abortions.
“And traditionally within our political party it was considered a question of conscience. It’sculture, it’s conscience. I shouldn’t be able to impose on someone to vote against their conscience and allow for abortions.
“Well, the fact is I had a very simple calculation to make. What is more important? The right of a legislator to vote against a woman’s rights or that woman’s rights to control what happens to her own body? and viewed in that lens it is very very easy. We can do it alone. It can’t just be women saying it. It can’t just be women in leadership positions, men in the legislature, men have to be willing to stand up for women’s rights and whether it’s in favor of abortion or standing strongly against the abhorrence that is female genital mutilation. We need to stand strongly and clearly in defense of our women and girls. Women will do it, you all will do it, men need to do it too, and I’m calling on the men of Liberia and Africa to do it as well…
“You can’t create peace without women and when you try and settle a conflict that doesn’t involve women in the solution it’s not going to last. That is the fundamental line. So if you’re looking at conflict, if you’re looking at a whole of society solutions, we need to make sure we’re empowering women’s voices, that they’re weighing in, that they’re being part of the solution.
“There was a number of discussions about the solutions we have to take. We have to have strong women in positions of leadership, absolutely. We have to empower marginalized voices, whether it’s women’s voices or youth voices or minority voices that can make sure that they’re being heard and they’re challenging the status quo.
“But like it or not, the way society is set up is to unfairly give men more power then they deserve, more power than women have, and therefore men have to be part of that solution, to use that extra voice they were given to say things loudly, to do putting it in service of actually sharing that power and giving that power to women.
“For all the talking we’re doing about challenging the status quo, we have to make sure that everyone understands that men have an essential role in this. So whether it’s talking to your husbands or your boyfriends or your fathers or your sons, they need to be part of the conversation and how we raise our voice is every bit as important as how we raise our girls.
“I used to say to my wife… Yes, I want to raise my daughter to be a feminist. I want her to understand she can do anything she wants, and my wife Sophie who is much smarter woman than I am, as she said, she’s a wonderful wonderful woman, she said to me: Yes, and have you told that to your sons yet? I’m like oh yes, I have to tell my sons that my daughter, their sister, can be anything they want, and I have to raise my sons to be feminists not just my daughter, and that folding in and changing of mindsets which happens through youth, which happens through strong leadership, which happens to understanding that the status quo cannot continue, is the fight that we have to continue in every society in this world, it’s one we continue to share…
“The fact is making sure that women have access to the full range of maternal health rights is extremely important. That means access to abortions and that means making sure that we’re making contraception available, but it also means being parents and a society that talks to their kids about sex to the same degree of explicitness that they hear in the schoolyard, that they see on the internet every single day.
“The fact is our kids are getting overly affected with very graphic, very explicit information all around them and unless society and parents are willing to take that extra degree of uncomfortable conversations and be as direct and explicit with our kids about what they are surrounded with as what they’re getting from around them, then we are not giving them the tools, boys and girls, to be able to make decisions about the life they want to lead and the careers they want to end up having. We have to be a lot better at how we enable our kids to make smart decisions as teenagers, that means parents, schools and society. All have a role to play…
“We have to make sure that we’re thinking about empowering women every step of the way. That starts with education… making sure that our girls are able to stay in school and able to stay in school right through. That they’re properly supported that they’re shown strong positive role models, that they’re encouraged and reminded that they can achieve, that they can succeed and more that we need them to succeed.
“Because as much as we talk about getting women in leadership positions is the right thing to do or the ethical or moral thing to do, it’s actually fundamentally a practical and smart thing to do, because women in leadership positions contribute to a very positive discussion that ends up making better decisions and we all benefit from that, and that’s why we have to think about how are empowering women every single step of the way.”