Greta Hofmann Nemiroff and
Susan McCrae Vander Voet.

There is no doubt that Canadian feminists work hard. Most women who belong to local or national organizations are aware of at least some of the problems facing women in our country. Further to that, most of us have acquired some additional information on those matters most germane to us or our group. Many of us are active in preparing briefs in an attempt to have input into the legislative process.. either directly through the work of our own group or through the support of other groups. Yet, change is slow; often whatever changes do transpire are disappointing compromises of our recommendations and hopes. Those changes which do be- come enacted or incorporated need continual vigilance to make sure they are being implemented in a manner which will have a real impact on the lives of Canadian women.

This paper is based on a general questionnaire we administered to representatives from several women's organizations or parts of organizations which respond to or produce research related to federal government policy. The organizations are: The Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women; CEIC Women's Employment; CCLOW; CRIAW; Liberal Women's Commission; National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC); National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL); NDP research; Status of Women Canada; Women's Bureau Lab our Canada.

The questions we posed covered the following issues: who sets research priorities for the organization and on what basis? Who funds the research, or is it done by volunteers? Do you have sufficient access to information? What effect does your research have on government policy? What changes would you like to see? The underlying question was: how instrumental is women's research in forming federal policies affecting our own lives, and to what extent do Canadian women's advocacy organizations have the power to influence policy development?


Almost all the organizations interviewed claimed to set their own research agenda. There are, of course, differing mechanisms of decision-making. Some are set by Boards, some by individual research officers, some by a large membership, one or two overtly by the State. However, discussion and further questions revealed that although the organizations might set their own agenda, they were really for the most part simply arranging in priority items which did not fully originate in their own organizations. Almost all policy research agenda-setting is reactive to government: either to existent legislation, proposed legislation, or issues which demand legislation or legislative change.

Discovering the subject matter of interest to the government, involves a considerable amount of second- guessing; including attention to leaks from the Cabinet, press monitoring. Inside network information and general gossip are used as indicators of government priority, especially by non-governmental women's organizations such as the NDP, the Liberal Women's Commission, CCLOW, NAC and NAWL. Often organizations with member groups such as NAC, or with local representatives such as the Advisory Council, depend on issues coming to light through their membership. Frequently, that intervention is inspired through local private pressure on a representative because of a particular case, or through press coverage of national issues at a local level. Status of Women Canada has its agenda set by government initiatives relating specifically to women; both Status of Women Canada and the Advisory Council might be asked for

input into the speech from the Throne. This gives them a chance to draw attention to important issues affecting women. On the other hand, neither organization seemed to think that the speech from the Throne was very instrumental in establishing policy priority in the first place. CRIAW seems to be the only organization which specifically sets its own agenda; this might be due to the fact that its mandate is in the field of research methodology, and specifically non-sexist research methodology. CRIAW was, significantly, the only group to indicate that it had no influence whatsoever on Federal Policies affecting women.

Back Contents Next