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Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, speaks at the United Nations in New York.

Pierre Trudeau wouldn't have qualified as a feminist, his son says, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has no problem calling himself one.

"I am going to keep saying loud and clearly that I am a feminist until it's met with a shrug," Mr. Trudeau told a packed council room at the United Nations on Wednesday, where he was discussing gender equality.

"We should be standing up for women's rights and trying to create more equal societies. Duh," he added, to laughter.

Mr. Trudeau's government made headlines around the world last fall when he committed to making his cabinet 50-per-cent women.

The Prime Minister is in New York until Thursday, when he will meet with the CEO of Thomson Reuters and join a roundtable with Canadian female business leaders in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau met behind closed doors with the CEOs of BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, and Xerox, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after announcing Canada will seek a temporary seat on the UN Security Council in 2021.

In the evening, Mr. Trudeau attended the Catalyst Awards dinner at the Waldorf Astoria alongside his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, whom he called "a fearless partner," and where he received a special commendation for gender equality.

"Thank you for recognizing the work that my government has done," Mr. Trudeau said to the room, which included top executives from UPS, KPMG International and Lockheed Martin.

The dinner was co-sponsored by Target – the U.S. chain that abruptly shuttered its stores in Canada last year, putting 17,600 Canadians out of work and leaving millions in unpaid tax claims from the Canada Revenue Agency.

In response to questions about Target sponsoring the dinner, a spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office simply said Mr. Trudeau was honoured to be recognized.

When asked earlier Wednesday where his views on gender equality come from, Mr. Trudeau said his father "had a deep fundamental respect for rights and freedoms."

But he was of a different generation, Mr. Trudeau said.

"He was a great guy but I don't know that he would ever be able to be qualified as a feminist," Mr. Trudeau said, citing the Charter of Rights, decriminalization of homosexuality and making divorce easier for women among the elder Trudeau's accomplishments. "They were significant steps along the way, but he wasn't where we are today on [being a feminist]."

Mr. Trudeau praised his mother, Margaret Trudeau, who suffered from bipolar disorder in her 20s, as an "extraordinary inspiration" for her advocacy on mental health.

"She has always been an amazing example of someone strong who considers herself, and considered herself even back in the early days, a feminist."

Still, Mr. Trudeau said women in politics with young children still face more barriers than men, and suggested looking at options such as paternal leave strictly for fathers.

He said his government is exploring changing the number of sitting days in Parliament, with one such suggestion being taking Fridays off.

"Can we make significant and appreciative improvements to an institution that quite frankly was designed for old white guys?" Mr. Trudeau asked.

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