Internal docs shows many federal departments not meeting gender analysis targets

OTTAWA — The Trudeau Liberals’ promise to examine how their plans affect women and men differently hasn’t been fulfilled across the federal government, internal documents say.

Results from an internal survey conducted by Status of Women Canada measuring the implementation of “gender-based analysis plus” (GBA+, in the government’s jargon) found fewer than half of departments and agencies have a GBA+ plan, with most departments saying they lack the internal mechanisms to apply one.

Conservatives and Liberals alike have called GBA+ a useful way to think about what they’re doing and make sure nobody is accidentally left out of government plans.

Gender-based analysis is a tool used to think about how a certain policy might affect men and women in different ways, along with taking age, income, culture, ethnicity and other intersecting factors into account. If the analysis — ideally done early on in devising a new thing for the government to do — reveals one gender would experience disproportionately negative impacts, policy-makers have the opportunity to reshape things or otherwise mitigate those effects.

Trudeau instructed Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef to make sure the government uses GBA+ more in decision-making and in 2017 the Liberals said they’d applied a gender-based analysis to a federal budget for the first time. But major gaps remain, according to the government’s own findings.

For example, in 2016, the Trudeau government made it mandatory that all memos to cabinet and Treasury Board submissions — which often form the basis of big spending or policy decisions — have a gender-based analysis. Fewer than half of departments have tracked whether this has indeed been done for these or other documents, according to the internal survey.

The findings also show 40 per cent of departments and agencies say they are not tracking how well they have implemented GBA+ and what effect it might be having.

“GBA+ is less integrated in some phases of the policy cycle,” the survey states, adding that departments and agencies reported significant barriers in getting data collected and analyzed separately for women and men in the first place.

Training in how to perform gender-based analysis is still not mandatory everywhere in the government, and is focused only on policy analysis, according to the survey results, which were presented in May 2018 to a committee of senior bureaucrats who deal with public-service management issues.

Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto, says she is not surprised to learn GBA+ has not been more widely applied, despite the Trudeau government’s oft-touted feminist agenda.

“My guess is that most of the people in the departments just see this as just an add-on to their already full schedules of things they’re supposed to be doing, so I’m guessing that’s why we’re not seeing the deeper implementation,” Kaplan said.

She pointed to the training government employees and officials are offered as one of the biggest culprits — training she says does not go far enough in offering practical tips on applying gender-based analysis early.

“The online training is really good at giving you a mindset of telling you, ‘These are some things to consider’ … but there’s much less in the training about what do you actually, technically do if you want to do this gender analysis,” Kaplan said.

The government’s struggle to apply a gender lens to policy decisions has been a long one. A plan for applying some form of gender-based analysis has been in place since 1995.

In 2016, auditor general Michael Ferguson released a report saying the government’s gender-based analyses were “not always complete, nor of consistent quality.”

A 15-year action plan was launched in response, and the government says it is working to implement GBA+.

“Our government continues to put gender at the heart of decision-making so that our policies better reflect the needs of all Canadians,” said Monsef’s spokesperson Braeson Holland.

“We are seeing significant progress across government, including seeing more staff in place to support GBA+. For example, policy analysts in 80 per cent of departments now take the online course offered through Women and Gender Equality Canada. We continue to see high uptake across government and will continue to work with our partners across government to promote uptake.”

Holland also pointed to a bill passed in December requiring that all future budgets and spending decisions undergo a GBA+ analysis.

But Kaplan said the way government has incorporated gender analysis in its budget planning needs improvement. Currently, a policy is first decided upon and then analyzed to measure impacts on gender, and then officials work out what to do about unexpected consequences.

“That’s a really impoverished way to do gender-based analysis because what you should really be doing is analysis on what are the needs out there, what are some of the inequalities, and then design your policy around those issues. And they’re not doing that at all.”

Kathleen Lahey, co-director of feminist legal studies at Queen’s University, says part of the problem is that the government doesn’t have enough people to do this work because the Conservatives eliminated many of their jobs when Stephen Harper was the prime minister, she said.

“The government has not yet re-established the tools that it needs so that the people in each of the policy modules can do the kind of analytical work that they need to do,” Lahey said. “There are significant gaps in our knowledge.”

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