Senator Marilou McPhedran was born and raised in rural Manitoba, Canada, called to the Bar of Ontario, named a Member of the Order of Canada (1985) in recognition of her co-leadership in the successful campaign for stronger gender equality protections in the Canadian constitution and appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. See more here.
Equal Voice – Power in Parity Blog
Senator Marilou McPhedran
I have never been shy about being a feminist. As a result, activism and politics have been intersecting pillars throughout my life and career. This has not always been easy. I learned the hard way that ‘meritocracy’ does not typically extend to women. I also learned that women are not usually afforded the same credibility or authority that is given to a man when they are in a position of responsibility.
During my undergraduate studies at the University of Winnipeg, I became the first female president of the University of Winnipeg Student’s Association when I was just 19 years old. This was an interesting and complex experience. For the first time, I was confronted with the sort of sexism and patriarchal understandings of governance that were, and continue to be, prevalent in decision-making spaces. This experience supported me well as I went on to Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, where I also served as student president.
In 1981, when I was still a young lawyer, I co-founded the “Ad Hoc Committee of Canadian Women on the Constitution” and co-chaired the historic conference of over 1,300 women who made their way (unwelcome by the then Trudeau Government) to Ottawa on Valentine’s Day because we knew it was a crucial last opportunity to secure the future of women’s constitutional rights in Canada. We rejected the proposed equality clause because it duplicated the failure of the 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights, under which not one female claimant had ever succeeded. For sex equality to be a lived reality in Canada we knew that the draft Charter of Rights and Freedoms had to be strengthened to guarantee equal protection - before it became constitutionally entrenched. Go online to Constitute.ca to see how Canadian women’s constitutional activism resulted in sections 15 and 28 in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As a Senator, I am able to continue to focus on multiple dimensions of human rights - local to global. A current priority for my team and I is to raise awareness about the ongoing genocide against Rohingya people in Myanmar. Over 1.3 million Rohingya fled across the border into what is now the world’s largest camp in Bangladesh. The majority are women and children and 100 children a day are born in the camp, many the result of rape as a weapon of genocide.
The promise of lived rights is both too close and too far of a reality for me to set aside activism and “small p” politics as an independent senator and parliamentarian. As a co- founder of the new Canadian Association of Feminist Parliamentarians, I am still not shy about who I am as a feminist, I’ve just brought my feminist activism to reforms in the parliamentary context.