Gendering Government: Feminist Engagement with the State in Australia and Canada


212 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0965-5
DDC 320.9'0082'0971





Reviewed by Margaret Conrad

Margaret Conrad is Canada Research Chair in Atlantic Canada Studies at
the University of New Brunswick. She is the author of Atlantic Canada: A
Region in the Making, and coauthor of Intimate Relations: Family and
Community in Planter Nova Scotia, 1759–1


This book is strong testimony to the value of comparative studies in
helping scholars break free of their national blinkers. By comparing
feminist engagement with the state in Anglo-Canada and Australia,
political scientist Louise Chappell raises useful questions about
feminist movements, parliamentary systems, bureaucratic cultures,
constitutional/legal norms, and federalist structures in the two
democracies. Drawing on neoinstitutionalist and political opportunity
literature, Chappell argues that political institutions play a major
role in shaping feminist strategies. She is careful, however, not to
claim that either patriarchal structures or feminist movements
exclusively explain developments. Instead, she sees them as mutually
constructed over time.

Chappell makes a good case for supporting the view that national
differences (for example, class-based party structures in Australia and
regional/cultural cleavages in Canada) have helped to define political
obstacles and opportunities. In Australia, many feminists have attached
themselves to the powerful Australian Labor Party and pursued
bureaucratic routes to achieve their ends. Meanwhile, the lack of
success of the New Democratic Party has forced feminists in Canada to
focus on the governing party (usually the Liberals at the federal
level). Arguably, Canada’s feminists have scored their greatest
success in entrenching equality provisions in the Constitution.

Chappell’s analysis of the processes by which feminists and the
issues they champion are sidelined is elegantly constructed. At the same
time, it does not fully address the reason why these two advanced
industrial nations do not equal Scandinavia in making women’s presence
and feminist issues central to the mainstream political agenda.
Neoliberalism has had a detrimental impact on feminist strategies in
both countries, but the reasons why Canada and Australia have followed
the United States rather than northern Europe in addressing feminist
goals needs more attention. So, too, does feminist leadership in
political parties. The names of Canada’s Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa
McDonough are never mentioned, nor is that of Pat Carney, who in the
Mulroney government and as a senator really did sometimes make a


Chappell, Louise A., “Gendering Government: Feminist Engagement with the State in Australia and Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed March 3, 2024,