The Canadian Experience and CEDAW: Internationalisation by Default

Posted: 31 May 2011

See all articles by Lucie Lamarche

Lucie Lamarche

Université du Québec à Montréal, Département des sciences juridiques; Université d'Ottawa

Date Written: May 30, 2011


Since the first UN Decade for Women (1976-1985), Canadian feminists as well as Government representatives have undoubtedly contributed to the initial and subsequent waves of acknowledgment and of Internationalisation of women’s rights. Until recently, Canada was seen as a strong leader and an active promoter of women’s rights at home and abroad. This chapter wishes to illustrate through the CEDAW (UN Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) commitment how a vibrant Canadian women’s movement turned international law into transnational law as a domestic resource, to use the expression of Elizabeth Schneider.

Canadian feminist and womens’ NGO also clearly belong to what Kevin Boyle describes as the third force of international human rights politics. Laura Parisi would for herself describe it talk as transnational activism. In regard to women’s rights, this force clearly emerged in the wave of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (1993), followed by Beijing World Conference on Women (1995).

This paper proposes a Canadian perspective. In this context, it is appropriate to first (and as briefly as possible) put into context the relationship between constitutional and international law of human rights in Canada as well as the peculiar position of Canada as a regionally isolated State (1). The following section (2) explores the decade of 1985-1995, one for which the Canadian women’s movement believed that the brand new constitutional standard of equality provided for by section 15 of the Canadian Charter would by itself change the reality of women’s inequality. The Vienna Conference on Human Rights (1993), the Beijing Women’s Conference (1995) and a dramatic shift in domestic policies, linked to a discourse based on the fight against deficit budget, would change this dynamic. Section (3) is organized according to the three last cycles of Canada’s reporting to CEDAW Committee (1998; 2002 and 2008). We intend to characterize each of these moments by: paying attention to the different actors’ discourse related to women’s rights; by assessing the evolution of the use of the UN machinery by women’s groups in Canada; and finally, by looking at the changes, if any, in domestic institutionalized demands as they relate to the duty of Canada, as a State partie to CEDAW, to protect, promote and fulfill all women’s rights, including those specifically guaranteed by the CEDAW. In conclusion, we will raise actual challenges with regard to the domestic implications of CEDAW in Canada.

Keywords: Women’s Rights, International Law, CEDAW, Canada, NGO Participation, Transnational Activism

Suggested Citation

Lamarche, Lucie, The Canadian Experience and CEDAW: Internationalisation by Default (May 30, 2011). Available at SSRN:

Lucie Lamarche (Contact Author)

Université du Québec à Montréal, Département des sciences juridiques ( email )

Montreal, Quebec H3C 3P8


Université d'Ottawa ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5


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