We all know that family violence is a tragedy.
But it should not be taboo to talk about it.
When I was named Governor General of Canada, I decided I would try to break down solitudes.
And I know that family violence is one of the worst solitudes.
I have learned this from experience, years of experience.
In the course of my work helping to create shelters for battered women in Quebec, I gave my support to hundreds of women and children from all walks of life trying to escape from a daily situation of terror, fear, violence, humiliation. I accompanied them as they needed to regain confidence, a sense of security and their self-esteem.
And since becoming governor general, I have met with a number of women’s groups from one end of Canada to the other, as well as in Africa, where I traveled on a State visit last fall, and in Afghanistan, on International Women’s Day.
I am sad to say that all the conversations I had revealed one thing: violence is a daily reality in the lives of many women.
But the woman who stands before you believes that the right of all women to be protected against oppression, discrimination, and violence is a fundamental right.
I would even say that this right is part of the values that define what it means to be a citizen of this country, values that are so much a part of our collective wealth. Values that I have always tried to defend.
In the course of my travels, I have been privileged to witness so many courageous actions and to hear words filled with such hope; I would like to share just a few with you now.
At a shelter in Winnipeg run entirely by Aboriginal women, I saw how these women have taken charge of their lives and—drawing on their own experiences, their own thoughts, and their own skills—how they help other women victims of violence, women from all backgrounds and all walks of life, Aboriginal, non?Aboriginal, immigrant women, to do the same.
These women are no longer victims. They are sources of strength and support.
In Iqaluit, I was uplifted by the very dignified story of an Inuit woman who was freed from the violence of her childhood. She, too, this woman from Nunavut, is no longer a victim; she is a leader in her community, where a number of groups are taking a stand against violence.
In Montreal, at the invitation of the Regroupement provincial des maisons d’hébergement et de transition pour femmes victimes de violence—which I also like to refer to as my alma mater—thirty representatives from various organizations expressed a desire to pool their resources and work together for prevention, awareness, and protection. This seemed a very wise decision, given that all those working right across the country to put an end to violence against women agree that we must join forces now.
In Regina, thirteen female Aboriginal chiefs told me of how they fill their roles, often under difficult conditions, and they spoke of their determination to confront head?on the problems of the treatment and disappearance of women in their communities.
In Toronto, the groups I met told me of the poverty facing women and their struggle to break free from economic discrimination. They also described the increasingly critical situation of immigrant women, who are often unaware of their rights, which serves only to make them even more vulnerable.
From what I have seen, I can tell you that not only are Canadians everywhere speaking out and identifying the problems, but there are also solutions coming out of every corner of this country. Even municipalities like Charlottetown are taking a stand against violence against women.
These are but a few examples of the encouraging work going on at this very moment. I cannot wait to hear about your work.
One thing is certain: we still need to acknowledge all that we have accomplished so that we can move forward in our actions and our thoughts. We must find new ways to do this.
And why not allow these exchanges to spark a national dialogue on violence against women, one that focuses on the best solutions we have found, all too often in isolation and with no means to share them?
Lately, I’ve been trying to think of the best way to expand this dialogue in Canada because I have heard that same desire everywhere I have been. The time has come to take stock of all that we have accomplished so that we can move forward toward even greater success.
That is how I envision today’s discussion; I have great hopes that our collaboration will be productive.
But I came here today to hear from you. I hope this overview will encourage the debate.
It is now your turn…
Jean, Michaëlle. 2007. "Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean - Speech on the Occasion of a Discussion with Practitioners of Family Violence Prevention." The Governor General of Canada. https://www.gg.ca/en/media/news/2007/her-excellency-right-honourable-michaelle-jean-speech-occasion-discussion-practitioners-family.