State feminism and representation of non-geographic difference : a case study of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women (child services recommendations)


Donnan, Mary Ellen, 1965-




Between 1973 and 1995 the Canadian Advisory Council On The Status Of Women (CACSW) worked under a mandate to advise the government through the Minister Responsible For The Status Of Women on issues important to Canadian women. After the early 1980's the Advisory Council claimed the function of representing the geographic, ethnic, cultural and occupational diversity of Canadian women. Some Canadian feminists have been critical of the CACSW and of state feminism in general for being co-opted and failing to substantively criticize government policies relating to women. Social scientists have yet to systematically analyze the contribution or limitations of state feminism including the advisory council. I integrate three fields of feminist work including that of sociologists such as Daiva Stasiulis, Roberta Hamilton and Roxanna Ng who consider diverse women in relation to institutions of the state, political scientists like Jill Vickers, Janine Brodie and Sylvia Bashevkin who assess women's political roles, and political and radical democratic philosophers especially Iris Marion Young and Chantal Mouffe.

The study draws on multidisciplinary feminist frameworks to assess through the lens of their child services policies, the CACSW's representation of diverse women in Canada. My analysis looks particularly at child services needs, interests and values of Aboriginal women, ethnic and cultural minority women, low income women, women with disabilities, lesbians and bisexual women. I argue that this case study suggests state feminism is not able to effectively represent the non geographic diversity of women in Canada. The Advisory council lacked the sufficient control of their policy agenda to be able to raise many of the issues of particular importance to women of minority groups. It became less representative over time due to social, demographic, political and economic changes since 1973. Particularly since the mid-1990's the council's efforts were overdetermined by an international shift to free-market economics which shaped the policy direction of the Canadian government.

The implications of this analysis are that economic and political changes in Canada have had a significant impact on the effectiveness and potential influence of women's policy machinery in Canada. I also support the arguments of autonomous feminists who say that state feminism does not speak to the needs, interests and values of women who belong to geographically dispersed minority groups.


Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Women's Rights -- Canada
Women -- Social Conditions
Children -- Social Conditions
Women -- Political activity -- Canada
Feminism -- Canada




Carleton University

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