Politics as If Women Mattered: A Political Analysis of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women // Review

By Vickers, Jill; Rankin, Pauline et al. | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

Politics as If Women Mattered: A Political Analysis of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women // Review


Vickers, Jill, Rankin, Pauline, Appelle, Christine, Journal of Canadian Studies


In Politics as if women Mattered, the analysis begun in Jill Vickers's contributions to Challenging Times and Women and Social Change is further developed via a detailed examination of the NAC. Co - authored with Pauline Rankin and Christine Appelle, this monograph is both theoretically sophisticated and rich in empirical detail. The key themes raised by the earlier two anthologies -- the distinctiveness of Canadian feminism; the relationship between feminist, regional and nationalist politics in English Canada Quebec and the First Nations; the tension between institutionalized and grass - root feminism; debates around feminist process and organizational structures; the challenge of integrating issues of class, race disability and sexual orientation into feminist agendas; and the implications of an increasingly conservative political climate -- all resurface here as the context and challenges that have shaped the NAC's evolution into a "parliament of women."

Vickers et al. trace NAC's development from 1971, when a coalition of 30 - odd groups came together to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, to 1988, when it acted as all umbrella organization for some 600 groups with a diverse and far - reaching agenda for social change. With great deity and precision, the authors reveal the institutionalization of the Canadian women's movement through NAC. In doing so, they reject pejorative interpretations of institutionalization as co - optation, and argue instead that:

... women need structures to sustain their projects over time just as men do. As long as we could believe that the goals of women's movements could be achieved within a single generation, this point had no great urgency. Now that it is apparent ... that we must persuade women in the future to complete our projects, it is necessary to appropriate the concept of "institution" and reconceptualize it to interpret women's political practice (4).

The NAC's emergence as the central institution of the Canadian women's movement is significant in analyzing the distinctiveness of Canadian feminism and its relationship to the broader political culture in which it has developed. As Vickers has argued elsewhere, the Canadian women's movement differs from its US and western European counterparts in both its ideological diversity, and its continued interaction with the state while at the same time maintaining its autonomy. This double dynamic is traced through three "eras" of the NAC -- the founding era (1972 - 78), the transitional era (1979 - 82), and the era of institutionalization (1982 - 88).

From its inception, the NAC was the focus of tension between different generations of feminists -- the older, more liberal wing concerned with implementation of the already formulated agenda of the Royal Commission, and an emergent younger, more radical wing with an alternative agenda. The former dominated the alliance of the founding era, shaping the NAC's initial orientation as an educational and communications link on status - of - women concerns. The largely Toronto - based founding alliance assumed the efficacy of conventional lobbying practices, and had little self - understanding of the NAC as having a policy - making potential. This was also the era of expansion in general state involvement in status - of - women concerns, as evidenced by the establishment of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the Secretary of State's Women's Program and Status of Women Canada. The centralist environment of the Liberal era shaped the NAC's links with these official political channels and focused concerns on federal issues. There was early commitment within the NAC to linkages with the Quebec women's movement and to native women's rights, but representational structures remained undeveloped (at least in part due to limited financial resources). At the same time a more radical agenda was emerging, not from within the executive, but on the pages of the NAC's first periodical, Status of Women News, which ". …

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