Justin Trudeau on courage and standing up for gender equality

‘Equality … is not a threat. It is an opportunity.’ A transcript of the Prime Minister’s remarks from the Catalyst Awards gala

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for a media availability in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March. 2, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for a media availability in Vancouver, B.C., Wednesday, March. 2, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in New York City on Wednesday night, where he announced that Canada was putting its name forward for a seat on the United Nations’ Security Council. He also received a special commendation for forming a gender-balanced cabinet from Catalyst, a non-profit focussed on the progress of women. Below were his remarks from that gala.

Thank you so much, John, for that kind introduction.

I also want to thank Catalyst—its directors, advisors, staff and volunteers—for putting on this tremendous event.

And thank you to each and every one of you for being here with me tonight.

When I was looking over the schedule for today’s conference I was impressed by the core themes that were selected. Or more specifically, by the words that were used to describe the important work that your organizations are doing, and hoping to do more of.

Words like empowerment. Accountability. Courage. And humility.

These are the kinds of words—the kinds of values—that build better communities. Whether it’s the business community and all those you serve, or the political world and the citizens that we serve.

Tonight, I’d like to talk about those four values, and the ways in which my new government is working hard to make them a reality.

Mais avant de poursuivre, je veux prendre un moment pour vous parler d’une femme qui pour moi représente ces valeurs dans tout ce qu’elle entreprend. Ma femme extraordinaire, Sophie.

Sophie is a phenomenal mother, a fearless partner, and a committed advocate for issues facing women and girls. Tomorrow, she’s speaking at the Not The Cost event, hosted by the National Democratic Institute.

Sophie inspires me to be better, and to work harder, each and every day. I would not be here in front of you tonight without her leadership and her example.

Thank you, Sophie, for sharing this journey with me.

As you know, “empowerment” is one of those concepts that’s easy to talk about, but challenging to put into practice. Anything that fundamentally shifts a power balance is going to take time, and a lot of hard work.

I know this firsthand. I’m here this evening because I helped to bring about Canada’s first-ever gender-balanced Cabinet. But we arrived at that goal only because of the years of effort that preceded it.

Yes, it’s 2016 now, and we do have progress to show for it. But we are where we are because of all the hard work we did in 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.

Here’s an interesting fact: studies have shown that women are 50% less likely than men to consider themselves potential candidates for elected office. We didn’t need a study to tell us that, though. We saw it firsthand every time we asked women to run.

When we’d ask a man if he wanted to run for office, he’d most often say, “When do I start?”

But we found that when we asked a woman the same question, her first reaction was different. Most often, it was surprise. She’d ask if we were serious. She’d want to know why we thought she was qualified for the job.

I hear from business leaders all the time that they encounter a similar reaction when they’re recruiting for executive and director positions. So it’s not just politics where this is a problem.

What we did to try to make a difference was launch a campaign called “Invite Her to Run.” We reached out through social media and other channels to ask Canadians to invite women they knew—women who were already making their mark as hard workers and community leaders—to put their name forward and run for office.

And to help interested women follow through, we had a process in place to help them figure out the next steps.

Other women came to public service after being asked… repeatedly.

Take, for example, our fantastic Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland. She and I had many long conversations about the reality of working in politics, and what the demands would be. I’m delighted that she decided to run, and she’s been an invaluable member of our team ever since.

That’s an example of one specific program that I think has made a real difference. But as I said earlier, we are all accountable to future generations for the decisions that we make today.

As many of you know, I am a feminist, and proud to call myself one. I believe that women can do – and be – anything they want. But I also know that meaningful cultural change can’t and won’t happen when only half of the population works toward that change. Men need to act, to set examples, and be role models, too.

My wife, Sophie, recently reminded me of this very point. I’ve always tried to make sure that my daughter feels empowered, that she understands that her gender does not – and should never – determine the limits of what she can accomplish. But Sophie reminded me that I need to spend just as much time and effort engaging my sons, talking to them about feminism and the importance of equality.

Men have a critical role to play in demanding and supporting this societal shift. We need to speak out in support of gender equality, and we need to get comfortable identifying ourselves as feminists.

Because at the end of the day, we are all accountable, women and men. We are all responsible for making sure that the change we want to see around the boardroom table is a topic of discussion around the dinner table.

Our daughters and sons deserve nothing less.

The third value, courage, is ostensibly why I’m here this evening. I say “ostensibly,” because while some might see establishing gender equality around the cabinet table as a courageous move, it’s not actually a frame that I’m really comfortable with.

Is it courageous to want to have government leadership that more accurately reflects the people they are elected to represent?

Is it courageous to want to diminish barriers by offering our daughters and sons effective and visible role models?

Is it courageous to want to offer Canadian citizens the best possible results, something we know happens when we have a more inclusive, representative approach to leadership?

To me, those aren’t markers of courage. Rather, they’re the right thing to do. The smart thing to do.

Now, true courage, if you ask me, is when a woman decides to throw her hat in the political arena—even after witnessing the hostile environment that so often awaits her.

True courage is fighting for that raise, because you know you deserve pay equal—or greater—to that of your male colleagues.

True courage is standing up and demanding better representation, better treatment, and better opportunities.

That’s courage to me.

The final value I want to talk about is humility.

Now, it’s important to take stock of the things we’ve accomplished together. A gender-balanced Cabinet, for example, is a huge accomplishment—one that I’m especially proud of.

But in highlighting our victories, we must also remain mindful of the important work that has yet to be done.

Canada has a proud history of strong, ambitious women, standing up and fighting for change. And real, meaningful progress has followed.

But there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. We need to do more to address issues that negatively impact women each and every day. Issues like pay equity, access to quality child care, and achieving parity, not just in Cabinet, but Parliament as a whole.

And in our humility, we should always remember the extraordinary position of privilege we are in, simply by being gathered in this beautiful room, in this great city. We must use our privilege to be advocates for change, both within our own communities and on the international stage.

We need to remember to always challenge the status quo. It may be what got us to where we are today, but it is our responsibility to be more inclusive, to expand opportunity, and to always demand better—of ourselves and others.

These four values—empowerment, accountability, courage and humility—are not ones that we should embrace because they win us awards, or make us feel better about ourselves.

These are values that we should all seek to embody every day, because in doing so, we help to build a world that delivers on the promise of greater equality.

And equality—whether extended to an employee, a customer, a colleague, or a citizen—is not a threat. It is an opportunity.

Thank you for recognizing the work that my government has done. This recognition is not just an honour. It’s a challenge.

A challenge to create more opportunities for Canadian women and girls to realize their full potential. Tonight, I’m asking you to challenge those around you, your peers, your friends and most importantly the people who are not in this room.

After all, we’re all converts.

And if they ask you if there is truly more work to be done, tell them to ask any woman they know.



Justin Trudeau on courage and standing up for gender equality

  1. It’s a threat when your company only hires 15% engineers, when of course only 15% of engineering grads are female but you’re forced to hire 50% females or face sanctions.

    It’s a threat when you and your co-founders are on the board making 3, + 2 investors making 5, but happen to be all male, which would break some legislation and you’re forced to hire an aribtrary woman to fill a seat.

    It’s a threat when your top handful of sales staff happen to be male and earn 50% more than their female counterparts who will earn less, which runs you foul of legislation.

    It’s a threat when the men working in the gardens all day earn exactly what other gardeners do – but happens to be more than the women working in the office pool and so they sue for ‘equal pay’ for totally different work. (see: mcgill university).

    It’s a threat when it has been proven over and over that the pay gap is a function of women and men choosing different kinds of work, in different fields.

    Trudeau is a f**ing pathetic loser.

    • Oh, TB, you’re such a predictable one-note partisan. There’s an article by Matt Gurney, a self proclaimed conservative writing for the National Post, who calls upon other conservatives to have basic civility when discussing Trudeau. His point is that the office of the Prime Minister deserves respect (whatever you think about the current occupant) and that using childish insults makes conservatives look petty and extreme (hence un-electable).

      Bottom line, as long as there are Tories like you using the language you use, it will be that much easier for Trudeau to stay in power. So keep the school yard taunts and thinly disguised ant-feminist thoughts coming.

  2. Welp. I voted him in and I sure as hell am voting this politically correct bozo out. Liberals you had your shot, but this affirmative action is bullshit and needs to go.

    Equality is most definitely a threat when you have quotas. When you’re forced to hire based on gender and not merit. Equality doesn’t have to be a threat, the Liberals have just turned it into one. Look at the US navy as an example… they have lowered their standards so much because of overweight people and women. They have literally weakened their Navy for equality so much to the point that they were crying when they were captured by Iran. American soldiers, crying. How is your version of equality not a threat?

  3. I mostly agree with you guys. Having to respect gender balance while women represent not even 30% of the elected is nothing close to equality. To do so they certainly had to discriminate male cadidates. How is that equal rights, equal opportunity?

    I heard an interview with a very interesting women (which i dont remember the name but she works at a radio station in Québec) wich is also leading the fight on gender equality. She thinks Trudeau’s cabinet is a joke. She thought giving women preferencial choice to assure gender-balance augments the risk of having a less efficient candidate wich would be “proving” women are not as good as men. I think this women thinks beyond the numbers and actually sees what is realy at stakes, REAL EQUALITY.

    Promoting political and strong women figures, making them models for young women, instead of insipid popstars (pornstars), is a better way of promoting gender equality instead of giving women special treatment at the expense of male cadidates who worked just as hard to get there.

  4. Ummm, is Trudeau not the worst example of a hypocrite considering his caucus is only 28% female?

  5. I am aware that the subject of my comment is off topic but I feel that I have to make it anyways. Trudeau’s reasoning behind his decision to make good on the Saudi arms deal is incorrect. A good country such as Canada does not sell arms to such a brutal regime as the one who is currently in power in Saudia Arabia. One has to draw the line somewhere and it seems that our P.M. is failing to use good conscience. The same applies to his view of Red China. The CCP is a blood-thirsty regime and should be dealt with in that light. This is just my understanding.

  6. It’s a pretty sad state that our society is in when making comments in a room filled only with people that agree with you is considered “courage”. Quite the stone’s throw away from storming the beaches of Normandy.

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