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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

work in progress

Gender equality is an opportunity, not a threat Add to ...

This commentary is part of Work in Progress, The Globe’s look at the global struggle for gender parity.


Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister of Canada.


Equality is a core Canadian value, and I feel honoured to have this opportunity to advocate for gender equality and feminism. We have seen great advancements in Canada over the past hundred years, and I am proud to celebrate the strides we have taken toward gender equality. But there is still a lot of hard work left to do to advance these issues. Quite simply, we must do more.

I was fortunate to be raised by a mother who believed in feminism, and who chose to raise her sons to embrace feminist values. I was fortunate to have a father who raised us to respect and defend everyone’s rights. Because of my parents, I am deeply grounded in my own identity as a proud feminist. My wife, Sophie, and I are raising our children with the same values.

We should not be afraid of the word feminism. Feminism is about equal rights and opportunities for men and women, about everyone having the same choices without facing discrimination based on gender. Equality is not a threat, it is an opportunity.

We must not fear equality. It is an essential part of any society that wants to be a leader in sustainable development, clean economic growth, social justice, peace and security.

Unfortunately, gender discrimination and violence remain commonplace around the world. Far too many women and girls are still denied an education, forced into early marriage or compensated at a much lower rate than their male colleagues. The rates of gender-based violence against women – as well as men – are staggering. This violence can destroy the lives of individuals, as well as communities.

Gendered discrimination is present in our everyday lives, too. Misogyny can creep into words, jokes and the media. We need to be conscientious and vigilant to stop it in all aspects of our society. We, men and women, need to be willing to stand up against sexism when it crosses our path in any form.

Last November, we received a lot of international attention when we named a cabinet with an equal number of men and women. It is my hope that we have set an example that will be followed everywhere – from national governments all the way to student body governments in schools. After all, governments should reflect the people they are elected to represent.

Female leaders – including those women I am proud to sit with in the cabinet and in Parliament – help diminish barriers by providing other women and girls with visible role models.

I recently took part in a Progress towards Parity panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with some very strong women – Sheryl Sandberg, Melinda Gates and Zhang Xin – who are doing just that: putting themselves out there as powerful and vocal role models for others.

These women, and countless others, demonstrate on a daily basis that women belong at the management table, the corporate board, the science lab, or running large tech and engineering firms.

We also need to value work done in the home – in raising families – the same way we value work in the office. Women and men alike face judgment and discrimination for choosing to stay at home with their families instead of remaining in the work force.

Every day, I meet incredible women who inspire me to be a better feminist and a better person. Women can do (and be) anything they want. But powerful cultural change cannot happen when only half of the population works toward that change. Men need to act, set examples and be role models.

My wife, Sophie, recently reminded me of this very point. I have always been diligent in engaging my young daughter to make sure that she felt empowered, 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 gender equality. We cannot expect real change to occur if we do not teach every Canadian the same values of respect and equality.

Men have a key role to play in demanding and supporting this societal shift. We need to be a part of the conversation. We need to speak out in support of gender equality. We need to be comfortable identifying ourselves as feminists.

Let us teach our children to value equality, to practise respect and to stand up against discrimination. Let us set an example for our daughters and for our sons so that they can, in turn, set an example for their daughters and their sons.

It is time for each of us to take action in our personal and our professional lives to advance equal rights and opportunities for women and men. It is time for the full and equal participation of women in our social, political and economic worlds to be the norm, not the exception.

Because it’s 2016.

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