Tuesday, March 4

The Women's Court of Canada

The Women's Court is a group of Canadian lawyers, law professors and activists who have decided it's time to get serious about women's equality.

Now, what's that huffing I hear?

Must be the great collective scoff from people who think that
a) feminism is a nasty and this is clearly part of its conspiracy; or b) the battle for women's equality is over, and women are, like, so totally equal in this country.

But the scoffing is misplaced.

Sure, most civilized Canadians have a fundamental philosophical belief in gender equality (even if old-school male-chauvinist sexism seems, depressingly, to be on the rise again in our popular culture. And that's another debate). But gender equality is not a fact in Canada's courts, and the repercussions of that implicit inequality are like shock waves in the daily lives of millions of Canadian women.

It's all about substantive equality, says lawyer Diana Majury, professor in Carleton University's law department and one of the founding members of the Women's Court of Canada. "It's a more complicated notion of equality, but an exciting one."

As opposed to "formal" equality, "substantive" equality recognizes the effect on women of their own biology and accumulated social disadvantage, acknowledging that laws and policies can affect them differently than they do men -- and then correcting that imbalance.

So here's what the Women's Court has done.

It's rewritten six key decisions handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada -- decisions with powerful impact, in different ways, on the lives of women. It's looked carefully at the Supreme Court's "because I said so," and, in scrupulous legal detail, asked, "But why?"

It has, in short, honoured the legacy of Nellie McClung and those four other famous women nearly 80 years ago who refused to accept a Supreme Court ruling that women could not be legally recognized as "persons," and fought tooth and nail (and all the way to London) until they were.

So three cheers....

  • So three cheers for that gutsy bunch of legal-minded Canadian women who have decided to fix what they can in the area they know best.
  • Three cheers for all those open minds, male and female, who are willing to listen to what the Women's Court of Canada has to say.
  • And three cheers for all unabashed subversives who refuse to take "because I said so" for an answer.

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