March 20 marks International Francophonie Day to commemorate the signing of the Niamey Convention in Niger on March 20, 1970 and today celebrates the French language and francophone culture around the world. The convention established the Agence de coopération culturelle et technique and its successor, The International Organization of La Francophonie (La Francophonie), whose mission is to embody the active solidarity between its 80 member states and governments (57 members and 23 observers), which together represent over one-third of the United Nations’ member states and account for a population of over 890 million people.
Globally, there are over 274 million French speakers worldwide and it is the 9th most spoken language. English and French are the only two languages to be spoken on all five continents and as we know, are the two official languages of Canada. In Canada, a Stats Can report from 2011 shows that French was the first language for 7.7 million Canadians or 23.2% of the population.
Here’s another reason to celebrate; our own former Governor General, Michaëlle Jean was recently elected Secretary General of La Francophonie on November 30, 2014 by its 57 member states. She is the first woman to hold this post, although not the first Canadian; Jean-Louis Roy was the first, and only, secretary-general of the organization from 1989 until 1997.