Strengthening ties with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

L to R: Gail Stephens, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Museum for Human Rights; Dr. Annette Trimbee, President and Vice-Chancellor, UWinnipeg; Dr. Neil Besner, Provost and Vice-President, Academic, UWinnipeg. Marilou McPhedran, Director, Institute for International Women’s Rights, UWinnipeg’s Global College, May 7, 2015.

MOU May 6


The University of Winnipeg and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to deepen collaboration between the two institutions.

Today’s MOU builds on the existing successful partnership between UWinnipeg and CMHR.

On May 11, 2011 UWinnipeg agreed to develop and offer the “Adventures in Global Citizenship,” summer course, with CMHR contributing guest instructors. It is a popular course with students, newly renamed  Emerging Issues in Human Rights.

UWinnipeg and CMHR also partner on an on-going basis by co-sponsoring speakers and events.

UWinnipeg has strong commitment and expertise related to human rights through our BA in Human Rights, along with substantial human rights content in a variety of programs, including International Development, Indigenous Studies, Women and Gender Studies, and the Masters in Development Practice with a focus on Indigenous Development.

BRINGING HUMAN RIGHTS TO LIFE – FACULTY PROFILE – Prof. Marilou McPhedran, Director, Institute for International Women’s Rights, Global College

Marilou McPhedran is an alumna of UWinnipeg, a Manitoba-born human rights lawyer who served as the founding Principal of UWinnipeg’s Global College from 2008-2012. She was then seconded to the Geneva office of the United Nations Population Fund as senior human rights specialist and taught in the Masters program at the UN-affiliated University for Peace in Costa Rica. She currently teaches human rights and directs the Institute for International Women’s Rights (IIWR-GC) at Global College. She has received numerous awards: in 1985 she was named to the Order of Canada for her contributions to strengthening the equality provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; in 1992 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by The University of Winnipeg; and in 2012 she received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. In December 2014, McPhedran was appointed co-chair of the Ontario task force to review legislation to prevent sexual abuse of patients.

Marilou McPhedran by Austin Grabish

photo by Austin Grabish

Every August, Professor McPhedran directs and teaches the intensive ‘jump start’ course associated with the education program of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights – a human rights summer institute that she designed in collaboration with the Museum and Rotary World Peace Partners, moving classes around the city and introducing students to the realities of working locally on the global vision of universal human rights.

1)     The University of Winnipeg is one of the only places in North America to offer a Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights, which you helped to found.  What makes this degree so unique?

The design of this human rights major has been geared to building skills in comprehension of technicalities in human rights systems that operate in contemporary global governance but also in bringing the skills home to address local human rights issues and communities of concern – that’s why we tell our students that they are studying at the “Human Rights UniverCity”.  This is truly an inter-disciplinary program that offers many opportunities for students, not only in the arts but also in science and business, to infuse their learning with an understanding of and ability to integrate human rights analysis into their studies and their work – regardless of the field they choose.

2)     What is it like watching so many young minds – and hearts – open to the human rights of others?

It’s a great honour. It is always exciting to be part of the learning journey that students are on. I designed the human rights summer institute for students to benefit from rich diversity — in every sense of that word — among the students and the faculty. Powerful learning occurs when students are in dialogue with each other and with faculty.

The human rights summer course in August 2014 was our largest since we launched it with the Museum and Rotary in 2011 — with 30 students, of whom about 20% were of Aboriginal origin and over 40% were students from outside Canada, including China, Egypt, Nicaragua, Syria, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and four were former lost boys and girls of South Sudan. In the course evaluations, most students commented on how much they learned from each other in dialogue. At Global College, we stress the necessity of skill in respectful listening and dialogue to search for common ground, and how dialogue is substantially different from debate – often moving everyone to a different, more open place, where differences can be respectfully understood and sometimes reconciled.

3)     What impact do you think UWinnipeg’s human rights degree and graduates are having in the broader community?

The UWinnipeg human rights BA launched in 2010, so our graduates are just now finding their place. Many have gone on to professional degrees and graduate school and the clearest trend is that this has become a degree for students going into law. We hear back from many of our students that they are working in the field they chose, including Aboriginal rights, social services and government positions related to global citizenship while some are working in other countries, some with international NGOs. In addition, several UWinnipeg students were funded for UN internships with the International Labour Organization (ILO) through a Global College project funded by the former Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) that led to longer term international positions.

4)     How do you see Global College’s relationship with the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) evolving in the next few years?

The University of Winnipeg was the first university to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the CMHR back in 2011, beginning a formal collaborative knowledge partnership between UWinnipeg and the Museum with specific responsibility to Global College. In fact, our students had classes inside the Museum this past August, even before the official opening, and our pilot university course was the first to be taught with four CMHR colleagues as faculty. We have had a superb working relationship with CMHR personnel and we are actively developing the next phase of this knowledge partnership – with plans extending past 2017 to build more collaboration for our Human Rights UniverCity through a high degree of reciprocity with several departments of UWinnipeg, in addition to Global College.

5)     Tell me about your time at UWinnipeg and how it helped shape you….

I still remember well the day in 1969 when I arrived at UWinnipeg as a 17-year-old from a small town in rural Manitoba. All my friends chose to go to other universities and so I was starting fresh, which was scary and exciting. Some of my dearest friends today were students I met that first year, and I think we were all surprised when I was ‘crowned’ as Freshie Queen – an archaic tradition best left behind. But that led to my engagement in student politics and my election as the first woman UWSA president when I was just 19 – a complex experience, which gave me an early dose of the realpolitik of sexism that served me well when I left to go on to law school in Ontario and the hard lessons of feminist activism we applied in the constitutional negotiations* of 1981-82 that are still at the core of my ongoing research and practice as a human rights lawyer.

*One of McPhedran’s notebooks used when she was part of the negotiating team for the “ERA – Equal Rights Amendment”, which became s. 28 of the Constitution of Canada, is on exhibit in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

This article appears in the Spring 2015 edition of UWinnipeg Magazine.


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