Nothing riles an audience of (mostly) women quite like a hunky male politician agitating for the advancement of women’s rights, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did at the annual Women in the World Summit on Thursday.
“We can’t just talk about how women need to be empowered without talking to the people who still have more power—the men,” Trudeau said in a wide-ranging conversation with host and Daily Beast founder Tina Brown on Thursday afternoon, presenting himself as the anti-Trump without ever mentioning the president’s name, and addressing topics that ranged from the refugee crisis to the importance of appointing women leaders in government.
While Trump continues to make an aggressive push for his immigration ban, Trudeau reiterated on Thursday that Canada welcomes refugees fleeing Syria and the Middle East. In addition to calling on the international community to condemn the actions of the Syrian government, Trudeau noted that “Canada is one of the largest donors to the U.N. body that actually investigates” war crimes.
While the Trump administration’s health care bill proposed removing maternity care from standard insurance plans and defunding Planned Parenthood, Trudeau recently announced that the Canadian government—which has offered paid family leave since 1991—will spend $650 million on reproductive and sexual health initiatives around the world in the next three years.
“We know that if you want to create success, particularly in the developing world, [you need to] empower women so that they can choose — like a man—when and with whom they can have a family and make choices around how they want to live their lives,” Trudeau said. “The money we’ve given isn’t just to maternal and reproductive health, it’s also to reproductive rights. It’s fundamentally a question of rights.”
Pressed by Brown about his “bond with Ivanka Trump” and whether she “represents a more sympathetic strand within the Trump administration,” Trudeau avoided discussing the president’s daughter specifically but emphasized that the “Canada-U.S. relationship is way bigger than a president-prime minister relationship.”
“There are lots of ways to reach out and highlight the need for women leadership,” Trudeau continued, noting that he made a point of creating a gender-balanced cabinet and, for the first time, his administration’s budget will include a “gender-based analysis” of any proposed initiative.
He also stressed that economies cannot thrive as long as women in the workforce are deprived of the opportunities afforded to men. Countries like the U.S. and Canada can only make meaningful social and economic progress when we realize that “promoting women in positions of power isn’t just the nice thing to do,” Trudeau said to cheers, “it’s the smartest possible thing to do.”