Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Women's Studies and Feminist Research


Baruah, Bipasha


In this dissertation, I examine how Canada’s Muskoka Initiative discursively constructs and addresses maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) as a global development problem. I evaluate how the Muskoka Initiative aligns with, and departs from feminist articulations of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice. I do this by analyzing how the Muskoka Initiative drew on and reinforced dominant norms of motherhood, and aligned with neoliberal development frameworks. I also examine how the reproductive bodies and lives of women in the Global South were configured as sites of both development intervention and biopolitical governance. My findings are based on a critical discourse analysis of texts from the Government of Canada’s MNCH website, and of project descriptions of programs funded through the Muskoka Initiative. I also conducted semi-structured interviews with key informants within the Canadian development sector. My analysis is informed by feminist and postcolonial development theory, and by theories of biopolitics, governmentality, healthism, risk and reproductive justice. My findings demonstrate that maternal health was constructed as a problem of unmanaged risk that could be solved by increasing access to medical services. Canadian interventions sought to increase access to medical services by providing capital and technology; building the capacity of developing countries to deliver services; and promoting particular reproductive health and childcare behaviours among developing world women. Through these interventions, Canada situated itself as a global leader in MNCH. I argue that the Muskoka Initiative adopts a depoliticized, technocratic approach to MNCH that aligns with neoliberal development frameworks while leaving existing structural power relations unexamined. I also argue that MNCH interventions operate as a site of biopolitics, wherein women’s reproduction is governed through discourses of medical risk. Women are instrumentalized, and made responsible for the health of themselves, their children, and the population. I conclude that although the Muskoka Initiative contributed to reproductive justice by improving access to medical care and contraception, its contributions were constrained by its adoption of a technocratic, depoliticized approach to health and development; its exclusion of abortion and non-reproductive sex; and its promotion of particular reproductive choices, including the limiting of developing world women’s fertility.