The Honourable Janice Filmon, C.M., O.M.
Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – 2:00 p.m.
Fellow Canadians, members of 17 Wing and the Canadian Armed Forces, believers in equality, justice and respect for all, thank you for the opportunity to join you in celebrating International Women’s Day.
We are gathered here on Treaty One territory, on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe and the homeland of the Métis people.
We are gathered here as believers in the rights of all women to share in the opportunities afforded by life in Canada. As well, we are here as believers in the rights of all women in all nations to share in the vision expressed by International Women’s Day.
But we’re here not just to share a common belief. We’re here to be bold about it.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Be Bold for Change.
What does it mean to be bold? It means to take a stand, to speak your mind, to do the things necessary to make change happen.
We wouldn’t be here today at all if it weren’t for a lot of bold women – in Canada and around the world.
Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking at a number of events to celebrate the accomplishments of some of those women right here in Manitoba.
In 1916, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to extend the vote to women. That important change in law followed many years of activism by women in the suffrage movement who focused attention on the injustice of half of the population being denied this most basic right of citizenship.
In Canada, as in other countries, the politicians of the day felt the pressure of tens of thousands of women who joined groups like the Political Equality League and advocated for the vote.
And they heard from women like Manitoba’s Nellie McClung, who wasn’t afraid to state her mind on the subject, whether in writing or on the stage.
Nellie McClung believed that there were many, many women out there just waiting for the opportunity to use their energy, imagination, talents and passion to make a better nation and a better world.
“I am a believer in women, in their ability to do things and in their influence and power. Women set the standards for the world, and it is for us, women in Canada, to set the standards high.”
And she was right. Slowly, very slowly, the face of Canada’s elected bodies changed. A century ago, Louise McKinney became the first women elected as a member of a Legislative Assembly in Canada, elected in Alberta in 1917. Edith McTavish Rogers was the first in Manitoba, elected in 1920. By 1921 Agnes MacPhail became the first woman elected to Parliament.
And as women advanced slowly into elected office new light was shone on social, economic and legal problems.
Over the years, changes in family law addressed legal inequalities. Changes in criminal law addressed the experience of women as victims of violence.
Changes in employment law addressed practices that kept women out of some careers or ensured that they were paid less if they entered those careers.
In many countries, leaders of the campaign for the right to vote were front and centre in International Women’s Day parades and rallies in those early years.
But they weren’t just talking about the ballot box.
Those women were concerned with the plight of women and girls who had few opportunities and protections in the workplace, whose educational paths were blocked, whose lives were limited by law and custom.
In the decades that followed the women winning the vote, a small number of bold women began to show the world that quite literally the sky is the limit.
Lately, these kinds of accomplishments have been given some much-needed attention.
You may have seen the movie Hidden Figures, about the contributions of a group of black women mathematicians to the development of the American space program in the 1950s and 60s. It’s a feel-good movie and you can’t help but cheer at their determination and boldness.
It’s also a movie that inspires you to want to dismantle any existing barricades that might prevent people with talent and drive from following their dreams.
Here in Canada, we have our own pioneers who set their sights high.
Elsie McGill became the world’s first woman to be an aircraft designer, designing and overseeing production of the Maple Leaf Trainer 2 aircraft. And in the Second World War, she ran a factory – one with largely female workforce – that built more than 1,400 Hawker Hurricane fighter planes.
Around the same time, Marion Alice Powell became the first woman in Canada to operate a flying club. During the Second World War, she became one of four Canadian women to fly for the Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering new aircraft to bases in the United Kingdom and Europe.
The accomplishments of these women should – and do – inspire us. But it’s important to think about the many more women who might also have had the ability to contribute and lead but who were denied the opportunity.
This year, as we prepare to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation, we must remember the contributions of women to building a healthy, prosperous and just nation.
Those include the activists and leaders who won the right to vote and changed the laws that stood in the way of women.
And they also include all women who were determined to follow their own path in the life, to make their own decisions about what was best for themselves and for their families – women who said “Yes” to challenges and opportunities.
And so on this International Women’s Day we celebrate women like those who choose careers with the Canadian Armed Forces. Women in the Canadian Forces, including those who will be recognized later this afternoon, have blazed a path into fields that not so long ago weren’t open at all to women.
International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate all the work – paid and unpaid – that women do to keep our nation healthy, safe and happy.
Together, let’s boldly state our love for Canada and our desire to make it a country where all can contribute and be appreciated.
Merci. Meegwich. Thank you and Happy International Women’s Day!