‘Walking Wombs’: Making Sense of the Muskoka Initiative and the Emphasis on Motherhood in Canadian Foreign Policy
AbstractThe Muskoka Initiative – or the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) Initiative has been a flagship foreign policy strategy of the Harper Conservatives since it was introduced in 2010. However, the maternal health initiative has been met with a number of key criticisms in relation to its failure to address the sexual and reproductive health needs of women in the Global South2. In this article, I examine these criticisms and expose the prevalent and problematic discourse employed in Canadian policy papers and official government speeches pertaining to the MNCH Initiative. I examine the embodiment of the MNCH and how these references to women’s bodies as “walking wombs” facilitate: the objectification and ‘othering’ of women as mothers and childbearers; a discourse of ‘saving mothers’ in a paternalistic and essentialist language; and the purposeful omission of gender equality. Feminist International Relations (IR) and post-colonial literature, as well as critical/feminist Canadian foreign policy scholarship are employed in this paper to frame these critiques.
Ahmed, S. (1998). Differences that matter. Feminist theory and postmodernism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Auld, Alison, and Michael MacDonald. 2010. ‘Canada wants flexible approach to G8 Plan on maternal and child health’. Canadian Press, April 28.
Beasley, C & Bacchi, C (2000). Citizen bodies: Embodying citizens ‘a feminist analysis'. International Feminist Journal of Politics, (2) 3.
Berthiaume, Lee. 2010. Harper’s Maternal, Child Health Speech “Political Opportunism”: Stephen Lewis”. Embassy, February 3.
Black, D. (2011). Canada, the G8, and Africa: The rise and decline of a hegemonic project. Retrieved from: http://www.nai.uu.se/ecas-4/panels/21-40/panel-22/David-Black-Full-paper.pdf.
Braidotti, R. (1994). Nomadic subjects: Embodiment and sexual difference in contemporary feminist theory. New York: Columbia University Press.
Butler, J. (1997) Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. In K. Conboy, N. Medina & S. Stanbury (Eds.) Writing on the body:
Female embodiment and feminist theory, pp 401-417. New York: Columbia University Press.
Brown, Stephen and Michael Olender. (2013). “Canada’s Fraying Commitment to Multilateral Development Cooperation”. In H. Besada & S. Kidornay (Eds.) . Multilateral
Development Cooperation in a Changing Global Order. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 159-88).
Caplan, Gerald. 2010. The sad truth about Harper and maternal health. Globe and Mail, March 26, 2010. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/the-sad-truth-about-harper-and-maternal-health/article1314279/ (accessed November 5th, 2013).
Caplan, Gerald. 2010. If the PM is serious about the plight of mothers. Globe and mail. January 29.
Carrier, Krystel and Rebecca Tiessen. (2013). ‘Women and Children First: Maternal Health and the Silencing of Gender in Canadian Foreign Policy’, in Heather Smith and Claire Turenne Sjolander: Canada in the World: Internationalism in Canadian Foreign Policy, Don Mills: Oxford University Press.
Cawthorne, Jane. 2010. The Tories’ maternal health initiative is the mother of bad policy. Globe and Mail, April 30, 2010. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-tories-maternal-health-initiative-is-the-mother-of-bad-policy/article4318565/ (accessed November 5, 2013).
CBC. (2010). G8 maternal health initiative draws flak. June 23, 2010. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/g8-maternal-health-initiative-draws-flak-1.924800
Clark, C. (2010a). Birth Control Won’t be in G7 Plan to Protect Mothers, Tories Say. Globe and Mail, March 17.
Clark, C. (2010b). Clinton’s tough diplomacy stings Ottawa. The Globe and Mail. Published March 30, 2010, Retrieved October 14, 2013.
DFATD (2010). Minister Oda Announces Global Health, Nutrition and Disease Prevention Initiatives. Retrieved from: http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/acdi-cida.nsf/eng/FRA-
DFATD (n.d.a).Project profile: Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, retrieved from:http://www.acdicida.gc.ca/cidaweb/cpo.nsf/vWebProjSearchEn/CB86056D6FC4BE
DFATD (n.d.b). Muskoka Initiative Partnership Program. Retrieved from: http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/acdi-cida.nsf/eng/NAT-9221046-JHN
DFATD (n.d.c). Fact Sheets: Canada’s actions on maternal, newborn, and child health. Retrieved from: http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/acdi-cida.nsf/eng/CAR- 1117161357-SWA
Grosz, E. (1994). Volatile bodies: Toward a corporeal feminism. Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Harcourt, W. (2009). Body politics in development: Critical debates in gender and development. London: Zed Books.
Huish, R., & Spiegel, J. (2012). First as tragedy and then on to farce: Canadian foreign aid for global health. Canadian foreign policy journal, 18(2), 244-246.
McMillan, Leah and Hany Besada. 2010. Muskoka Declaration of Health Highlights Abandoned Promises. Japan Times, July 26.
Payne, E. (2012). A weak commitment to maternal health. The Ottawa Citizen, Published May 4, 2012, retrieved October 20, 2013.
Pedwell, C. (2010). Feminism, culture and embodied practice: The rhetorics of comparison. New York: Routledge.
Percival, V. (2010). Women’s health initiative fails to inspire. The Ottawa Citizen. Published June 28, 2010, retrieved October 16, 2013.
Pettman, J. (1997). Body politics: International sex tourism. Third World Quarterly, (18) 1.
Shildrick, M. (1997). Leaky bodies and boundaries: Feminism, postmodernism and (bio)ethics. New York: Routledge.
Sjolander. C.T. & K. Trevenen. (2010) Constructing Canadian foreign policy: Myths of good international citizens, protectors and the war in Afghanistan. In M. Beier & L. Wylie (Eds.), Canadian Foreign Policy in Critical Perspective (pp. 44-57). Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Sjolander, 2013; C. T. (2013). Canada and the Afghan ‘other’: Identity, difference and foreign policy. In H. Smith & C.T. Sjolander (Eds.), Canada in the world: Internationalism in Canadian foreign policy (pp. 238-254). Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Smith, H. (2003). Disrupting internationalism and finding the others.” In C. T. Sjolander, H.
Smith, & D. Stienstra (Eds.), Feminist Perspectives on Canadian Foreign Policy (pp. 24- 39). Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Webster, Paul C. (2010). Canada’s G8 health plan receives praise and criticism. The Lancet. Volume 375, pp. 1595-1596
Wells, Paul. Abortion: Harper’s vigilant global audience. Macleans. September 22, 2011. http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/09/22/abortion-harpers-vigilant-global-audience/