Dear colleagues, partners and friends,

Thank you for the invitation to be here today.

I congratulate AFA—the Association for Affirmation of Women’s Potential and Networking—for organizing this women’s leadership summit.  The theme you have selected – innovative leadership in an unpredictable, fast-changing world – is a very relevant one, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to share a few thoughts from the Canadian perspective.

Gender equality is an important human rights issue, but it also has significant economic implications. Women and girls of course benefit themselves when they are empowered to play full roles in their communities, their political structures and their economies, but economies and societies also benefit as a whole from having women as full participants.

A recent Canadian study shows that Canada’s provinces could add between 4 and 9% to their GDP by 2026 by advancing gender equality in the workplace. At the global level, research shows that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by the year 2025, again, by advancing women’s equality and participation in the economy.

The empowerment of women and girls is a very effective way to combat poverty and to promote sustainable development.  As powerful agents of change, women and girls have the ability to transform their households, their societies and their economies.

The inclusion of women in defence and security forces increases the capacity of these forces to promote peace and stability. Women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution can improve outcomes before, during, and after conflict, yet women are often left out of such negotations.

So let me tell you a bit about Canada’s approach to these issues.

Fifty years ago, the Canadian government launched a national study called the “Royal Commission on the Status of Women.”  Its goal was to recommend steps that might be taken by the federal government to ensure equal opportunities for men and women in all aspects of Canadian society.

Shortly afterwards—in 1971—the first Minister responsible for the status of women was appointed.

The Employment Equity Act of 1986 was designed to eliminate the disadvantages in employment faced by four groups of people: women, aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities, and members of visible minorities. It applies to all federal government ministries and agencies, as well as industries that are federally regulated, to make them more representative of Canadian society. Over the years, this law has led to significant changes in the composition of our federal public service, including many more women in senior management positions.

When our current government came to power in 2015, our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, made his position clear from the start. He openly referred to himself as a feminist, and he immediately appointed a gender-balanced Cabinet of Ministers, for the first time in Canadian history.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is now an important priority for the Government of Canada, and forms part of the core values we are seeking to apply at home and in our work abroad. This has led to a number of important initiatives.

In 2016, our minister of international development initiated consultations around the world to seek views on how Canada’s development funding should be oriented. These consultations led to the drafting of Canada’s first Feminist International Assistance Policy to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls with the goal of building a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world.  The Policy was adopted and launched in 2017.

Also in 2017, our minister of foreign affairs announced Canada’s feminist approach to foreign policy, where foreign policy is a vehicle to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. Minister Freeland stated that “Women’s rights are human rights. That includes sexual reproductive rights and the right to safe and accessible abortions. These rights are at the core of our foreign policy.”

Our head of state, the Governor General (who represents the Queen), is currently Her Excellency Julie Payette, who holds a masters degree in computer engineering and is a former astronaut.  Surely, she is a strong role model for young women to pursue careers and opportunities in non-traditional fields.

Last year, Canada also launched the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations, which is designed to include more women in peace operations, and to support UN missions in benefiting from women’s increased participation.

And Canada’s progressive trade agenda takes an inclusive and progressive approach that advocates for gender equality, environmental sustainability, and better addressing the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises.

All of these approaches have another theme in common, one which is also at the core of Canadian values – respect for diversity and inclusion. As a multicultural country, we see diversity as a source of strength. Our diversity includes cultural, ethnic, linguistic, sexual identity, and religious differences, and we strive for mutual respect and understanding, emphasising what brings us together and not what sets us apart.

We can be proud of the important progress that has been made in Canada, but we must also ask why the dream of full equality between women and men remains unfulfilled.

Our Minister of Status of Women has been asked to focus on reducing the wage gap between men and women, increasing the number of women in senior decision-making positions and progressing towards better representation of women where they have traditionally been under-represented, such as in the skilled trades.

NGOs such as the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology empower women in science, math, technology and engineering, supporting the creation of an environment for girls and young women to pursue their interest and careers in these sectors.

The Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders was created in February 2017—recognizing women’s critical role and potential impact in business.  This Council was formed to ensure that women have the means to succeed in the workforce, because female entrepreneurs and leaders are a key to driving the future economy.

The theme of the future economy brings us back to AFA and the important discussions you are having as part in this conference. AFA’s message is that “companies and the economy perform better when women are fully engaged.” This is true in Serbia, and in Canada, and around the world.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak. I hope that some of Canada’s experience will be relevant to your discussions and I wish you a successful conference.

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