Speaking Your Mother Tongue: Language as a Women’s Issue

Posted 2009-12-09 by Rachel Cox | Jurisfemme Publications – Volume 19, No. 2, Winter 2000

Working in coalition with Action travail des femmes and the Table féministe francophone de concertation provinciale de l’Ontario, NAWL played a role in the cross-Canada consultation process on reform to the Canadian Human Rights Act. NAWL submitted a comprehensive brief to the Panel, (see article, "CHRA Review Panel About to Submit Report") and also a discussion paper on the question of including language as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Language rights are situated on the border between collective and individual rights, which makes their inclusion as an individual right in the CHRA a complex issue. Any reform of the Act should serve to uphold the rights of people belonging to linguistic minorities, and not the rights of individuals belonging to linguistic majorities who might, for example, want to contest the provisions of the Official Languages Act.

Language is also closely related to culture, ethnicity and national origin. Increasingly, French or English is no longer the second-most important language spoken in any given geographical area of Canada.

Women have traditionally played a key role in the transmission of language to future generations, as witnessed by the expression “mother tongue”. NAWL’s research reveals that in the international law arena, language rights are increasingly being seen as fundamental human rights. More research and, especially, consultation with Canada’s minority language communities is needed to develop a feminist analysis of how to best articulate the notion of language as a human right in Canadian law.

Rachel Cox is a community organizer with ‘Action travail des femmes” in Montreal, Quebec. She worked with NAWL for the preparation of the Human Rights Brief for the CHRA Review Panel
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