Women’s Activism and Constitutions

February 13 to 15, 2006 – Ottawa, Canada

February 14, 2006, marked 25 years of Canadian women’s constitutional activism. Through an unprecedented grassroots campaign in 1981, led by the Ad Hoc Committee of Canadian Women and the Constitution, women and other activists across the country fundamentally changed Canadian history to ensure stronger equality sections of the newly patriated Canadian Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (sections 15 and 28). On the same day as the conference 25 years ago, in the same room on Parliament Hill, many of the original Ad Hockers returned to the nation’s capital to join parliamentarians, students and other activists for a two-day intergenerational forum on democratic renewal, which opened with a celebratory retrospective and produced forward looking strategies in a global context for intergenerational women’s equality rights.

Original website for the conference

The International Women’s Rights Project worked in partnership with the Centre for Global Studies of University of Victoria (CFGS), members of the original Ad Hoc Committee, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Department of Justice Canada, Status of Women Canada, CIDA, the International Develoment Research Centre (IDRC), the Universities of Ottawa and Victoria, York University, Canadian parliamentarians including Senators Lucie Pépin, Nancy Ruth and Lillian Dyck, private foundations and grassroots organizations, including the Afghan Women’s Organization, Power Camp, Equal Voice, Taking IT Global, to organize this forum as a platform for ongoing strategies for change. The IWRP model includes fostering intergenerational women’s leadership; youth leaders made up almost half of the planning group, with direct responsibiity for the youth roundtable on Februay 15th. The Forum was co-chaired by Marilou McPhedran and Suzanne Boivin, two of the original “Ad Hockers”.

International women’s rights leaders from Rwanda, South Africa and Afghanistan were featured in the international strategies session, chaired by Prof. Penelope Andrews of South Africa and the City University of New York. Case studies on the three countries were produced by law students from the three Canadian law schools.

Other speakers at the forum included include Doris Anderson, Michele Landsberg, Linda Palmer Nye, Pat Hacker, Beverley Bains, Elizabeth Grey, Margaret Mitchell, Sharon McIvor, and many others, as well as a number of current Members of Parliament, including the Hon. Carolyn Bennett and former parliamentarians, such as the Hon. Flora McDonald and the Hon. Judy Erola, who supported women’s rights activists during the patriation of the Canadian Constitution and the entrenchment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the early 1980s. The program evolved from electronic meetings of a national intergenerational planning group of more than twenty members and its youth committee.

As well as the final report from the Forum, curricula for schools and universities on women’s constitutional activism are in development, with multimedia planning tools. A film project, to be created as a companion DVD to curricula for high schools and universities, is in the planning, working with the documentary team Rooney Productions.

The Forum is part of the overall Women’s Activism and Constitutions Project of the IWRP, which will include a forum on women’s constitutional activism in South Africa, Putting Women on the Agenda 2, to be held at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, from November 22 to 24, 2006. This Forum will also include an intergenerational focus with a Youth Committee organizing the Youth Forum component. Women will attend from South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Canada. Susan Bazilli is the Chair of the South African project.

The Youth Forum is continuing its work with the Youth Committee, under the leadership of the diverse youth committee with a web presence at Taking IT Global. For more information please contact IWRP at iwrp@uvic.ca at the Centre for Global Studies.

The Canadian Forum was broadcast live on the Canadian parliamentary channel, CPAC. As well, the Forum was filmed by Rooney Productions including in-depth interviews with many of the key speakers by renowned feminist journalist Sally Armstrong. A youth crew covering the youth events at the Forum was enthusiastically covered by the National Film Board of Canada’s Citizen Shift program. For the NFB coverage, see: