Fundamentalism called a threat

February 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 4
By Stuart Colcleugh

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Louise Chappell has a lot on her plate these days. For starters, SFU's new Ruth Wynn Woodward chair of women's studies is teaching an upper-level course on women's rights as human rights during her four-month term appointment.

Then there's the symposium of women activists, academics and gender policy practitioners she's coordinating and hosting next month at Harbour Centre, entitled Working inside and outside government: Women's strategies for change.

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She also has several lectures on her agenda including one on women's rights under international law, delivered Feb. 16 at the Burnaby campus library and another planned for next month at the University of Victoria. Plus she has several research projects on the go, a second book coming out later this year on the heels of her award-winning first publication - Gendering Government: Feminist Engagement with the State (UBC Press 2002). And, oh yes, there is also a very active two-year-old to contend with.

“Yeah, it's a very busy time - but it's exciting,” sighs the soft-spoken Chappell, who researches and teaches political science at the University of Sydney's school of economics and political science in Australia, specializing in human rights, comparative Australian politics and policy, and gender and politics. “My husband Robert is with me on leave from his job with the New South Wales government, James is happily settled into daycare and we're all enjoying exploring the sites of Vancouver.”

Not that Canada is unfamiliar territory for Chappell. Her PhD thesis and the book that resulted from it are based on a comparative analysis of the parliamentary and federal systems in Australia and Canada. Gendering Government, which won the American Political Science Association's prestigious Victoria Schuck Women and Politics Prize in 2003, provides an illuminating look at why Canada and Australia's feminist movements have evolved along such different lines, despite the countries' cultural and historical similarities.

“Both states have had a comparable degree of progress,” explains Chappell. “It's just that the strategies that women's activists have used to gain that progress have been quite different.”

Like most feminists, Chappell is troubled by the emergence of numerous trends in recent years that could threaten the advancement of women's human rights, both domestically and internationally.

“I see the biggest threats coming from fundamentalism, whatever its character,” she says, “because it shuts down conversations about women's rights by emphasizing cultural, religious or state rights. But I think women in all societies are resisting attempts to keep them locked into traditional roles.”

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