- Feminist Judgments of Aotearoa New Zealand: Te Rino: A Two-Stranded Rope ed. by Elisabeth McDonald et al.
This magnificent collection is the latest contribution to an international project in which feminists explore the parameters of the possible by re-imagining and rewriting significant judgments. Importantly, the feminist judge is required to operate within the same temporal, evidentiary, legal, methodological, and informational constraints as the original judge. She is obliged to accept and apply systemic norms relating to the role of the judge and the obligation of impartiality. The feminist judgment project is intended to confront the notion that the judgment is neutral by demonstrating the difference that difference actually makes. If the injection of feminist consciousness changes either the reasoning and/or the result of a case in a legally credible manner, then the claim to inevitability that legitimates the law's authority is seriously undermined.
The Women's Court of Canada (WCC), which published six rewritten Supreme Court of Canada judgments in volume 18 of the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law (CJWL), was the first feminist judgment project.1 The WCC aimed to "disrupt finality" by "rewriting equality" at a time of increasing formalism and conceptual uncertainty in constitutional equality jurisprudence in Canada.2 Since that publication, feminists in England, Australia, Northern/Ireland, and the United States have produced collections.3 Other projects are underway or nearing completion.4 [End Page 359] As the editors of the Aotearoa/New Zealand collection wryly note, "[a]ll of this activity demonstrates not only the appeal of the methodology but also the fact that there is no shortage of judgments which would benefit from a feminist rewriting."5 In fact, the WCC project continues in this volume of the CJWL, and this book review complements that larger endeavour.
This is a hefty collection, literally and figuratively, and an obvious must-have for two audiences—those who are eager to understand and engage with the feminist judgment-writing project and those who are interested in a critical feminist introduction to the law in Aotearoa (New Zealand).6 I expected the book to engage me on both levels, and I was not disappointed. But I was delighted and inspired by the relevance of the book's careful, intentional, and thorough dismantling of New Zealand's "veneer of monolegalism."7 The September 2015 call for contributors put it this way: [End Page 360]
This project is inspired by the feminist projects successfully undertaken in other jurisdictions, but will be unique given the social, cultural and legal context of Aotearoa. The use of Aotearoa in the project title is deliberate. It is essential that this work contains the critical voices of Māori scholars and those already inspired by the potential of the project are committed to exploring how this critical exercise can be undertaken from a mana wahine (the prestige and authority of women) perspective.8
Editor Māmari Stephens identifies the mana wahine strand as the project's "point of difference." For her, it meant ensuring a good representation of Māori women, scholars, and practitioners committed to an approach based on mana wahine, which is understood as
Māori women's analysis that encompasses the complex realities of Māori women's lives. It is defined within cultural terms and in a context that affirms fundamental Māori values and the ways in which they are negotiated. As such mana wahine brings to the fore a need for analysis that will reclaim Māori worldviews in terms of gender and gender relationships.9
The commitment to inclusion led to the conceptualization of the project as a rino (two-stranded rope), with a distinct strand, or muka, reflecting mana wahine. Both the image and the deliberately collaborative partnership that characterizes the collection model a practice for feminists and others who wish to engage meaningfully with Indigenous legal systems. As such, the book is profoundly relevant to Canadian legal professionals committed to reconciliation.10 [End Page 361...