Can Law Challenge the Public/Private Divide? Women, Work, and Family

Faculty Author Type

Emeritus Faculty [Susan B. Boyd]

Published In

Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice

Document Type


Publication Date



Canada; Law and justice; Gender; Family relations; Law and society


This article addresses the key elements of the public/private divide which predominates in western societies such as Canada. In particular, its ideological effects in constructing gendered divisions between state regulation and family relations, and between work and family are traced. The history of the divide is outlined, with attention to its differential operation according to race, class, and other social relations of power. Efforts to shift the divide through law are traced and its intransigence is demonstrated by reference to socio-economic studies. Case studies of feminist efforts to shift the divide through litigation and through legislative reform are used to illustrate both the pervasiveness of the divide, and the tension between short term and long term strategies to deal with its consequences. It is concluded that although law alone cannot shift the embedded nature of the public/private divide, and extra-legal strategies are required, neither can law be abandoned as a site of struggle.