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The Tool Canada Uses to Assess the Gender Gap

04/29/2015 05:30 EDT | Updated 06/29/2015 05:59 EDT
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In 1995, the federal government committed itself to implementing gender-based analysis ("GBA") throughout its agencies and departments. This move was to coincide with the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995.

The GBA is an analytical tool to assess how the impact of policies and programs on women might differ from their impact on men. Used correctly and implemented consistently, it can contribute to attaining the goal of gender equality.

Failure to consider the disparate impact of policies on men and women, however, can have profoundly negative results. For example, cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer of women, was traditionally considered a men's disease. As a result, research focused on middle-aged men ignored the fact that some women with heart disease might have different symptoms.

Since 1995, the federal government has repeated its commitment to implement GBA through several announcements. Yet in 2009, when the Auditor General undertook an audit of seven departments "whose responsibilities can impact men and women differently," this audit found that there was no government-wide policy requiring departments and agencies to apply GBA. Moreover, the "existence and completeness of a GBA framework varied considerably among the departments."

This March, the international community came together for the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. Against this backdrop, it is important to examine, once again, the existing gender gap in Canada, and what is happening with respect to GBA.

Despite significant global and national attention to gender equality and women's empowerment, Canada is nowhere near achieving equality. According to the World Economic Forum, Canada ranks 19th among 142 countries regarding the gender gap, 42nd in female parliamentary representation, and a shocking 100th on health and survival.

Paradoxically, a briefing by Status of Women Canada (SWC) officials revealed the presence of a "Centre for Excellence for Gender-based Analysis." Yet when I questioned what this "centre" consists of, whether it is part of the network of centres for excellence, and whether it has dedicated funding, I was told that "it is just a name" and that it is meant to reflect that GBA+ is a core competency for the government. The "plus" contained in the name is to highlight that GBA goes beyond gender, and includes the examination of a range of other factors, such as age, culture, education, geography, income, and language.

When I questioned what funding is provided for GBA+, I was informed that there is "no funding" because it is considered a core competency, and thus everyone is expected to undertake it.

And when I questioned what‎ it cost to produce a SWC two-hour, online course intended to train civil servants, no answers were available, although the "upgrade" of this course was thought to cost about $30,000.

Some 1,500 officials were thought to have taken the interactive course and received a certificate. According to the Clerk of the Privy Council, the number of employees of the federal public service in March 2013 was close to 263,000 employees. How many of the bureaucracy's executives, deputy ministers, and associate deputy ministers, have actually taken the course and/or prescribed it to their teams? It should be noted that no further training was thought to be required beyond this initial, one-time, two-hour course.

It is disturbing that there was no tracking of whether departments had a GBA unit, or whether they had undertaken a pilot project, or what they had invested in GBA. And further questions remain: what agencies and departments can provide evidence that shows GBA+ is used in designing public policy? What agencies and departments can provide evidence to Cabinet and Treasury Board on gender impacts of policy proposals?

Today, we know that women account for 50.4 per cent of the Canadian population. We also know that gender equality can enhance productivity, improve outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions more representative.

Closing the gender gaps in Canada will require some real answers regarding the government's level of commitment to GBA.

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