‘Walking Wombs’: Making Sense of the Muskoka Initiative and the Emphasis on Motherhood in Canadian Foreign Policy

  • Rebecca Tiessen School of International Development and Global Studies University of Ottawa
Keywords: Canadian foreign policy, gender essentialism, gender inequality, maternal health, mothers


The 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.


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