Current Issue: April 5, 2013 Next Issue: September 2013
With the upcoming release of the federal budget, Canadians will get the chance to scrutinize the government’s spending priorities.
Many women’s advocates argue that this is the piece of national policy that should be analyzed for how it will affect men and women differently.
Over the years, the Canadian government has made several commitments to completing this type of “gender-based analysis” on all relevant federal policies and programs, including the budget. But exactly how this analysis is done, and to what degree, remains somewhat of a mystery.
To learn more about gender-based budget analysis, Capital News spoke to Kathleen Lahey, a professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University in Kingston and a well-known expert on gender equality in Canada.
CN = Capital News
KL = Kathleen Lahey
CN: How would you explain gender-based policy analysis to those who may not have heard of it?
KL: The fundamental method used to carry out gender-based analysis is to compare what shares of different government decisions are likely to benefit men and what shares are likely to benefit women.
CN: Why might this practice be especially important in preparing the federal budget?
KL: The federal budget stands out as the number one place where gender-based analysis absolutely should be done because … it involves the distribution of the single largest pot of money that will be assembled in the public sector in Canada. This federal budget is a crucial one because it is the first one that will have been prepared by a government that has had a majority now for some period of time.
While under the stewardship of the Conservative government, Canada has fallen dramatically in all of the gender equality and inequality indices that are published by international organizations, signaling that something is very wrong with both sex equality and general social equality in Canada.
CN: Since 2007, you’ve been creating your own gender-based analysis of each federal budget. Why did you start?
KL: It seems to me that the willingness on the part of governments to carry out thorough, detailed, gender-based analysis, particularly in relation to budgets, is not what it could be, so I joined the group of practitioners who have worked at demonstrating, in detail, how this can be done.
CN: What, specifically, have you learned from that process?
KL: The first thing that I’ve learned is that there is virtually nothing that does not have some sort of gender-based impact associated with it.
CN: Can you give me an example?
KL: Yes. The economic crisis infrastructure funding program that was put in place in 2009 and 2010 and was wrapped up in 2011, allocated nearly $20 billion over two years to funding infrastructure programs. These programs were almost all focused on renovations and construction, in what we call the “built environment” (roads, buildings, etc). Gender budget analysis would have attempted to identify the extent to which this would be affecting both women and men as beneficiaries.
This spending went to industry sectors that have the smallest number of women working in them. For example, something between five and seven per cent of all construction workers are women. Less than seven per cent of those working in transportation are women … This sector uses a lot of engineering time -- women are still only 22 per cent of engineers and that number is actually falling … So it could have been clearly anticipated that this would be a spending program that would bolster male employment very strongly, but would only slightly benefit women.
CN: How do Canada’s gender-based analysis practices compare to those of other countries?
KL: Far less developed countries and much smaller countries than Canada now do very thorough gender budget analyses.
The Nordic countries lead the way and publish official gender budget data with their federal budgets, but it is something that is done by a growing number of countries.
CN: What do you think it will take for Canada to adopt the kind of gender-based analysis system that you envision?
KL: I think that as people begin to understand how profoundly the high-flown phrases in the throne speech affect people’s day-to-day lives, the political will to move toward a system like this could easily take shape in Canada.
However, I think it will also take intervention on the part of the media educating itself as to just what is needed here and publication of enough examples in media and other public sector publications for people to become aware of how valuable this information is, and … just exactly how unequal and discriminatory the economic structure of (Canadian) society is today.
Who's responsible for GBA?
According to information on the Treasury Board of Canada’s website and discussions with staff of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, it is up to individual departments to complete gender-based analysis on items they submit to the federal budget.
To gain access to these analyses, a member of the public would have to file an Access-to-Information request, says Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page.
If the analysis is not sufficient, it is up to one of the central agencies, such as the Privy Council Office, to challenge the department before the item is approved for funding. There is little documentation regarding this challenge process, according to a 2009 Auditor General’s report on gender-based analysis at the federal level.
When questioned by the Auditor General, the central agencies argued that challenges of federal departments over insufficient gender-based analysis are usually completed orally, in discussion. The central agencies did not accept the Auditor General’s recommendation that the challenge function be better documented. Their reasoning was that program and policy development is a confidential and time-sensitive process and therefore does not lend itself to documentation.
A review of GBA and how it's done by DFAIT
From "Mainstreaming of a Gender Perspective", Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada:
Gender-Based Analysis (GBA) is a tool that examines gender differences. Gender-sensitive assessments are needed to determine the different impacts of policies and programmes on women and men. It takes into account important social and economic differences between men and women at all stages of the planning and implementation processes and makes it possible to identify potential differential effects before they are put into place. GBA challenges decision-makers to question the assumption that policies and programmes affect everyone in the same way.
Identifying the Issue
Are both women's and men's experiences reflected in the way issues are identified?
Defining Desired/Anticipated Outcomes
What do you want to achieve with this policy, and how does this objective fit into stated commitments to social and economic equality?
Who will be affected? How will the effects of the policy be different for women and men, girls and boys?
What types of gender-specific data are available?
How will the research you consult or conduct, address the different experiences of men and women?
Developing and Analysing Options
How will each option have a different effect on women's or men's social and/or economic situation?
How will innovative solutions be developed to address the gender issues you have identified?
In what ways is gender equality a significant element in weighting and recommending options?
How can the policy programming be implemented in an equitable manner?
Communicating the Policy
How will the communications strategy ensure that information is accessible to both women and men?
Evaluating the Analysis
How will gender equality concerns be incorporated into the evaluation criteria? How can this be demonstrated?
What indicators will you use to measure the effects of the policy/programme on women and men?
To see a fictional example of this process, visit Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's "Working Guide on Gender-Based Analysis".
Why GBA is important for gender equality
Gender-based analysis can contribute to attaining the overarching goal of gender equality. International organizations such as the Council of Europe, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization have emphasized that to have a positive impact on society, social policies and legislation in areas such as immigration, agriculture, and disease prevention need to reflect the differences in the obstacles and barriers faced by men and by women.
Failure to consider that men and women can be affected differently by similar situations can lead to policies that ignore the impacts on gender. For example, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of women. Because CVD has traditionally been considered a men’s disease, research in the field has focused on middle-aged men, ignoring the fact that some women with heart disease might have different symptoms from those typically experienced by men. This could affect the drugs and the dosages prescribed to women. It could also lead women to ignore the symptoms of heart disease and wait too long to seek medical help.