Évelyne Jean-Bouchard has been a volunteer aid worker in Haiti and in many countries in Africa during her university studies.
“I fell in the soup,” she said to explain her involvement with vulnerable populations. Her father worked in international development all his life and was moving the family where duty called.
It is although in 2008 along with indigenous women that she realized the complexity of certain social challenges. She concluded that doctoral studies were indispensable to find solutions.
“I wanted to sharpen my analytical ability and my research methods. The doctorate is a privileged moment to read, search the facts and reflect in an independent way.”
She decided to register at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa following a conference at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC). She was accompanying the president of the Quebec Native Women Association invited by Professor Lucie Lamarche, who was leading the Centre at the time.
“The thesis supervisor plays an extremely important role in the intellectual approach. I was looking for someone with whom I would be able to work well. That person was Prof. Lamarche. She shared my vision on working directly with people.”
Évelyne believes that the HRREC facilitated her integration at the Law Faculty by offering an office space, support for her research and a collegial environment. It enticed her to co-lead the Graduate Studies in Law Student Association for two years.
The Centre also helped obtain scholarships that were crucial for her thesis entitled: Le rapport des Congolaises au droit et à leurs droits: participer aux processus de changements normatifs à l’est de la RDC.
She earned the Doctoral Research Awards of the International Development Research Centre and the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, supporting students leadership.
“This scholarship allowed me to deepen my research on the field. I spent nine months in East-Congo where the State was failing its citizens.”
Évelyne analyzed women’s issues from the legal anthropology point of view.
“We think that African customs are fundamentally patriarchal and that women are the victims of their own culture. But looking up close, we realize that at the customary level, local chiefs are applying a negotiated order. Not an imposed one.”
She has identified strategies put forward by women’s associations to obtain from the local chiefs a piece of land and to allow single mothers to provide for their family.
“Through their networks, women can mobilise social capital and transfer it at the community level to claim their rights.”
Évelyne is now working with Aboriginal women leading a post-doctoral research on their rights.
“There is a lot at stake, like power and access to resources, in Canada or Africa. We realize that these communities, despite their specificities, are facing the same challenges.”