History of CASWE


 A Brief History

Thank you to Sharon Cook, former CASWE – l’ACÉFÉ president and lifetime achievement award winner, for providing the following History of CASWE – l’ACÉFÉ

The Canadian Association for the Study of Women and Education (CASWE) became CSSE’s newest member Association in November 1993 and by 1996 had 111 members. CASWE’s story is useful on two levels: it illustrates the development of a new Association, and it symbolizes the emerging influence of alternative paradigms made possible through attention to contributions by women.


The beginnings of CASWE are found in the efforts of people like Naomi Hersom, the first female president of CSSE, and Jane Gaskell and Carol Crealock, later presidents, who laid the foundations for a formalized contingent of CSSE members devoted to the study of women in education (see Fisher et al. A Challenge Met 1999).

At my first CSSE conference in Victoria in 1990, I followed handbills inviting those concerned about “women’s issues” to a meeting. The excitement of finding so many women with similar interests in one room was tangible. We had no status, funding, or organization, but we had been connected by a few visionaries looking for links. WE wanted a women’s association but were unsure of procedure; Sharon Haggerty, Heidi Kass, and Margaret McKinnon (of the Universities of Western Ontario, Alberta, and Ottawa, respectively) agreed to investigate organizational options.

A letter of intent was sent to the CSSE Board of Directors. As president, Crealock responded that the group would have to establish a mandate, a constitution, procedures for membership, and an organizational structure before it could be formally accepted by CSSE. At the next CSSE conference, Haggerty presided over a business meeting at which Ann Manicom (Dalhousie), Claudia Mitchell (McGill), Beth Young (Alberta), and Sharon Cook (Ottawa) became a Steering Committee chaired by McKinnon and authorized to draft terms of reference. That November, McKinnon presented their proposal to CSSE’s Board of Directors, which supported the proposal in principle and officially recognized the Women’s Issues Committee /Comité d’étude sur le statut des femmes.

A notice announcing the formalization of the Women’s Issues Committee appeared in the CSSE News of November/December 1991. The Steering Committee sent out a draft of the Terms of Reference to all those on the women’s issues mailing list from the 1990 and 1991 meetings, and a newssheet announced the Women’s Committee activities planned for the 1992 conference. The Terms of Reference were adopted in principle at the 1992 conference and published in the September 1994 CASWE newsletter; one unusual aspect was a provision which allowed the entire executive committee to come from the same city. Thus, the new chair, Cook, supported by her colleagues Jan Ahola-Sidaway and Janice Leroux at the University of Ottawa, organized the 1993 annual meeting, social event, and several sessions, and the members authorized them to ask CSSE for full Association status.

In November 1993, CSSE conducted a mail ballot which approved the acceptance of the new Association, now called the Canadian Association for the Study of Women and Education/Association canadienne pour l’étude sur les femmes et l’éducation. Membership was growing quickly, and a two-day program was scheduled for the 1994 Conference. Terms of reference for the new Association were ratified at the CASWE business meeting, and Cook passed the leadership of the new organization on to me.


CASWE has assumed the functions associated with its sibling Associations as well as less traditional roles. In keeping with its objective “to promote exchanges of information about feminist scholarship and pedagogy” (CASWE Terms of Reference), conference sessions serve as a meeting place for alternative and traditional views of educational research and as a point of departure for research initiatives and publications. Under the programme chairs (Cecille De Pass in 1994, me in 1995, Sharon Abbey in 1996, and Rosonna Tite in 1997), each Conference has been a landmark in the development of personal and collective research directions.

CASWE has also been effective in providing “forums for social and political actions related to women and education” (CASWE Terms of Reference). One highlight of the Association’s short history was its first Summer Institute, organized by Cecilia Reynolds (Brock University), Carol Harris (University of Victoria), and me, held following the CSSE conference in 1996. The topic, Advancing the Agenda of Inclusive Education, brought together more than 100 educators, policy makers, school board staff, and academics to focus on theoretical issues and practical concerns in providing positive educational experiences and academic growth for Canada’s Charter groups: women, visible minorities, disabled persons, and Aboriginal peoples. The proceedings have been published (Harris & Depledge, 1996). A planning session for a second Summer Institute, to be held in Ottawa in 1998, was hosted by Harris in Woody Point, Newfoundland, following the CSSE Conference in 1997. The Institute topic will be Centring on the Margins: The Evaded Curriculum.

CASWE’s conferences have not always been face to face. Much of our interaction takes place on the CASWE listserv. CASWE’s first International on-line e-mail Conference, organized by E. Lisbeth Donaldson (President, 1996-1998) and coordinated by Jagjit Singh and Judith Yurchuk (all from the University of Calgary), was held from 21 April to 2 May, 1997, with participants and contributors from five countries.


As the number of women grows in Faculties of Education, both as students and professors, in the teaching profession itself, in teachers’ federations and in senior positions in boards of education, it is important to encourage research and debate about women’s particular roles in the educational process. (CASWE Newsletter, September 1994).

In the beginning, many of us were concerned with counting female and male contributions to research noting the number of women included on membership lists, in leadership roles, and as authors of publications, as well as the importance afforded to “the female voice.” This form of enumeration can be self-defeating, but it has been done, so let the figures be known.

In 1995, the Women’s Issues Network of the Social Sciences Federation of Canada (SSFC) surveyed member organizations to do some of this counting and to gauge the “primary issues facing women in their respective disciplines and describe their policies aimed at facilitating the promotion of women, both within their Association and within their discipline” (Stark-Adamec, 1996, p.12). The counting showed both the positive and the negative. On the positive side, nearly half of CSSE’s 1995 membership was female (44%), and that number appeared to be on the increase. An identical proportion of women (44%) was found on the Board of Directors. However, only 25% of CSSE presidents had been female, and there had never been a female Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Journal of Education although 67% of the Francophone editors had been female. The female voice was measured in terms of publications and conference participation. At the Journal, 50% of editorial board members were women and half the single-authored articles in the past five years (vol. 15, no. 1 through vol. 19, no. 4) were by women.

Women were similarly represented at CSSE Conferences: 50% of session chairs were women, and 56% of presentations were by women or had women as first authors. These numbers, coupled with the fact that CASWE existed, showed CSSE in a positive light compared to other member groups of SSFC.


There is growing evidence that CASWE is more than an Association and its influences greater than can be measured by noting the balanced participation of women in activities and publications. The major contribution of CASWE is as a symbol and focal point for an alternative view of education and educational research. Its contributions are evident in more far-reaching and essential ways because attention to gendered issues in education makes a difference in how we treat each other, in the ethical considerations of doing research, and in the interpretation of research.


Initially, CASWE members sought to organize in an attempt to alleviate the perceived isolation of individual women who had chosen to do alternative research or who felt that gender issues were interfering with the support they received in their departments and the academic community.

“Incidents” were occurring, and women were concerned that the perception that women were gathering strength as a group had threatened some of the more traditional frameworks to the extent that individual women were experiencing backlash. Even as universities and departments were initiating affirmative action policies, a growing number of harassment charges were being filed. There seemed to be a link between what we wanted to do as researchers and how we wanted to treat each other as colleagues:

Feminist theory challenges the existing institutional arrangements of academic departments and of the classroom itself, as well as the assumptions and habits which underlie conduct. (Bilson & Berger, 1994, p.5).

If inquiries into the condition of women in any department are to be used to achieve a supportive environment for women faculty, staff and students, it is essential that we address the methodology to be used in such exercises, the choice of language in reporting and the need for respect for the rights of others. (Bilson & Berger, 1994, p.8).

“The way we treat each other” has often been the text of presentations at CASWE sessions, and a conscious effort is made to be fair, collegial, supportive, and inclusive at all CASWE gatherings. This “safe environment” interpretation cannot, of course, be documented, but those who have yet to attend a

CASWE session are invited to test for themselves this perception of difference.


Another element which may set CASWE apart from other CSSE Associations is its members’ preoccupation with the effects of power differentials in research. AS CSSE members are drawn into continuing debate on postmodern interpretations of research, problems of ethics in research become ever more central. CASWE members’ focus on the social impact that they believe research can have is evident in the definition of ethics in research the Association contributed, through the Women’s Issues Network, to the creation of SSFC’s new ethics document.

All research should be based on treating others with respect. Ethical research should include the following elements:

  1. The reduction of power differentials and the abuse of power.
  2. Recognition of the implications of the application of knowledge, that is, the effects of our research.
  3. Care for individuals upon whom the research is conducted.
  4. Acknowledgment and investigation of the possible consequences of (a) actions as a researcher, that is, respecting the issues surrounding intervention as a part of research and (b) the publication of the research.
  5. Recognizing the interventionist element of the research process and the possibility of conflicts between cultural and personal beliefs of the subject, of others around the subject and the researcher; guarding against the imposition of researcher values.
  6. The acceptance of the researcher’s primary responsibility to the subject and secondary responsibility to ourselves, our disciplines, our ideology, society, funding organizations.

The ethics of teaching should contain the above elements as well as attention to issues of power and natural justice and the recognition of personal bias in the interpretation of knowledge. (Epp, 1996).


In 1994, participants at the Learned Societies Conference were invited to discuss issues of violence in society. Many papers at the CSSE Conference focused on “zero tolerance” and other methods of dealing with violence in school and violent students. CASWE sessions tended to focus on the violence of school practices and the effects of exclusionary pedagogy on students. We were concerned with violence toward students rather than with violence by students. Several of us, recognizing the similarities in our papers and the importance of this theme of “systemic violence,” decided to publish the papers as a collection (Epp & Watkinson, 1996). Interest in the topic was sustained, so we used CASWE’s newsletter to circulate a call for paper which resulted in a second volume (Epp & Watkinson, 1997).

The decision to work together was inspired by another project celebrated in a joint CASWE/CASEA book launch in 1995. Women and Leadership in Canadian Education (Reynolds & Young, 1995) featured work by 18 CASWE members. A similar collection grew out of a special CASWE double session on race and gender at the 1995 conference (De Pass & Mordecai, 1996), and Sharon Abbey (Brock University) is currently editing a book on feminist mothers and education that grew out of a 1996 CASWE session.

CASWE is off to an impressive start. It has provided a venue for alternative interpretations and collaboration among researchers, both male and female, across Canada. The emerging view of a changing research role is not limited to women, but CASWE has become the catalyst and the symbol for this change. CASWE has set out on that road to change, and we invite all members of CSSE to join us on the journey.


Bilson, B., & Berger, T.R. (1994, January 21). Report of the Review Committee into the Political Science

Department. Prepared for the President of the University of Victoria. Victoria: University of Victoria, Office of the President.

De Pass, C., & Mordecai, M. (Eds.). (1996). Confronting the issues: Race, class and gender in learning

institutions. Calgary: Sister Vision.

Epp, J.R. (1996). SSFC’s Women’s Issues Network. CASWE News, 2(2), 4-5.

Epp, J.R., & Watkinson, A.M. (Eds.). (1996). Systemic violence: How schools hurt children. London, ON:

Falmer Press.

Epp, J.R. & Watkinson, A.M. (Eds.). (1997). Systemic violence in education: Promise broken. Albany:

SUNY Press.

Harris, C. & Depledge, N. (Eds.). (1996). Advancing the agenda of inclusive education: CASWE Summer

Institute proceedings. Printed and distributed by CASWE.

McKinnon, M., Cook S., & Epp, J. (1996). A brief history of CASWE. CASWE News, 2(2), 2-3.

Reynolds, C., & Young, B. (Eds.). (1995). Women and leadership in Canadian education. Calgary: Detselig.

Stark-Adamec, C. (1996). Women in the social sciences. Ottawa: Social Sciences Federation of Canada.


In Allard, M., Covert, J. Dufresne-Tasse, C., Hilldyard, A., Jackson, M. (1999). A Challenge Met: The

Definition and Recognition of the Field of Education. Canadian Society for the Study of Education.

Where Are We Coming From? The Birth of the Canadian Association for the Study of Women and

Education/Association canadienne pour l’étude sur les femmes et l’éducation

Juanita Ross Epp

Lakehead University