The Liberals are talking about gender, and that will change Ottawa

Good reporting and analysis by Campbell Clark:

In fact, it’s not easy for the Liberals to show their gender policies will change the day-to-day lives of women here, let alone around the world. And political opponents dismiss a lot of it as branding.

But there’s no doubt that this government’s focus on women will have a lasting impact on Canadian politics and government. Even the symbols: It’s hard to imagine a future prime minister appointing a cabinet where two-thirds of the ministers are men.

Some of the symbols around gender issues that delight Liberals seem to particularly irritate their opponents, such as Mr. Trudeau’s repeated assertions that he’s a feminist. “Pinkwashing,” one New Democrat called it – accusing the Liberals of mounting a marketing exercise when they won’t back substantive policies to address, for example, the gender gap for low-income women. Some Conservatives argue the Liberals spend money on bureaucracy to signal their good intentions, but their plans won’t have concrete effects.

But opponents who dismiss it as political marketing tend to admit it probably works. “Oh, they’re kicking our ass,” said one Conservative. When in power, Conservatives were often reluctant to talk about the representation of women in positions of power; on the left, touting a feminist foreign-aid policy, for example, can help the Liberals compete with the NDP for progressive voters.

And it’s clearly not motivated by just electoral politics. There are true believers, cabinet appointees such as Labour Minister Patty Hajdu and influential senior aides such as Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford. The government, under Ms. Telford’s eye, has applied gender-equity tools on matters so boringly inside the machinery of government, such as gender analysis in every department and on all initiatives before cabinet, that it can’t possibly be aimed at voters. It’s hard to say if that will really have an impact, but in theory, the government will know if infrastructure funds for hockey arenas or daycares are going to create jobs for men or women, or benefit one gender more.

When an investigation by The Globe and Mail’s Robyn Doolittle found that one in five sexual-assault complaints was dismissed as unfounded, and that the rate of this finding varied dramatically from place to place, it sparked an immediate e-mail chain between Ms. Telford, Ms. Monsef, and Ms. Hajdu. A month later, the budget set aside $100-million for a gender-based violence strategy.

The thing is, gender-based violence is a big, complex problem. Ms. Monsef called it the “greatest barrier to gender equity in this country.” The centrepiece of the government’s new strategy is collecting data, and there have been questions about whether that’s really an adequate response.

Ms. Monsef noted that figures haven’t been collected since 1993 – “We have cyberviolence. That didn’t happen in 1993,” she said. Data will help design effective prevention programs. But a key reason she offers is that they will honour the stories of survivors by collecting “evidence” for policies. Another Liberal government insider suggested that with solid numbers, it’s harder to argue about the scale of the issue.

It’s unclear what impact the strategy will have. But the Liberals have done a key thing to the politics: They’ve raised demand, and expectations.

Source: The Liberals are talking about gender, and that will change Ottawa – The Globe and Mail

Status of Women committee demands gender-based analysis bill

While requiring gender-based analysis (GBA+) makes sense, it is disappointing that the Government, despite its broad diversity and inclusion agenda, largely limited this requirement to gender (as per Minister Hajdu’s mandate letter).

GBA+ includes other diversity elements in its gender-based analysis but a broader approach would be”inclusivity-based” analysis that would look at gender, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples, and other forms of diversity:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has proudly declared he is a feminist, but now his Liberal government is being urged to back up those claims by considering how each of its decisions affects women and girls.

The Status of Women committee is recommending that gender-based analysis — a tool that helps government study how policy, legislation and program decisions might impact women and men in different ways — be mandatory across all government departments and agencies.

“Gender inequity is not something that happened by accident,” said Liberal MP Sean Fraser, surrounded by his committee colleagues, all newly elected MPs.

“It’s the result of a series of decisions that have been taken, or perhaps not taken, by elected officials over the course of our nation’s history.

“The cost of not considering gender when it comes to policy formation is too great to ignore.”

Their report recommends the federal government introduce legislation by next June requiring the gender-based lens be applied to all proposals before they arrive at the cabinet table, as well to submissions to the Privy Council Office, Treasury Board and Finance Department – who must send them back if that step was skipped.

Status of Women Minister Patricia Hajdu, who has been raising awareness about gender-based analysis and advocating for it around the cabinet table, called it one way for the Liberals to show they mean business when it comes to promoting gender equity.

“It’s a really big step towards making sure we keep gender equality at the forefront and that it’s not just window dressing,” Hajdu said in an interview.

Hajdu said she looked forward to reviewing the report.

The idea behind gender-based analysis is to think about how a certain policy might affect men and women, boys and girls in different ways, also taking age, income, culture and other intersecting factors into account.

If the analysis then reveals one gender will experience disproportionately negative impacts, policy-makers have the opportunity to make adjustments or otherwise mitigate those effects.

For example, Fraser said, applying gender-based analysis to the billions in infrastructure spending the Liberal government has promised would show that while the money could lead to a boost in employment, the jobs would be in skilled trades that disproportionately employ men.

“We should be using this information to encourage more women to get involved in the skilled trades, so when the government makes a massive investment in infrastructure, the benefits are shared equally between different genders,” he said.

Fraser also said gender-based analysis should be part of the environmental assessment process for natural resource projects.

Ottawa committed to using gender-based analysis in 1995, as part of ratifying the UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

But Auditor General Michael Ferguson revealed in his February report that relatively few departments and agencies were using it and that when they do go through the exercise, the results are often incomplete or inconsistent.

That is one reason the report recommends setting up an Office of the Commissioner for Gender Equality to give the legislation some teeth.

“We need to have someone who has the authority within government . . . to make sure that it’s implemented,” said Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, the committee chair.

Source: Status of Women committee demands gender-based analysis bill

ICYMI: Highlights from the federal auditor general’s latest report – Gender-based analysis

Not terribly surprising that the government’s implementation has been hit and miss.

Will be interesting to see how the new government, under Status of Women Minister Hajdu, implements its mandate commitment, and whether this gets broadened to include other aspects of diversity, particularly visible minorities:

Work with the Privy Council Office to ensure that a gender-based analysis is applied to proposals before they arrive at Cabinet for decision-making. –

The OAG summary:

Some 20 years after gender-based analysis was first adopted, only a relative handful of federal departments and agencies use the tool to analyze how policy decisions might impact women and men differently; for those that do, the analyses are often incomplete or inconsistent.

There is no mandatory requirement subjecting policy, legislation and program decisions to gender-based analysis.

Source: Highlights from the federal auditor general’s latest report – Macleans.ca

Ottawa falling short in assessing gender impact of policy decisions

Provides material for reflection given Minister Hajdu’s mandate letter commitment:

Work with the Privy Council Office to ensure that a gender-based analysis is applied to proposals before they arrive at Cabinet for decision-making.

Ideally, of course, this would be expanded to a broader widespread diversity lens, as I have argued in my deck, Multiculturalism – Implementing Diversity and Inclusion (example slide below):

Multiculturalism - Implementing Diversity and Inclusion.001

Two decades after pledging to assess the gender impact of federal government policies, Ottawa is still falling short in its efforts, meaning that obstacles to both men and women still stand, auditor general Michael Ferguson says.

In an audit report released Tuesday, Ferguson reported some progress on the file but cautioned that Ottawa’s commitment to assess the gender impact of its policy decisions was still haphazard.

“We observed that gender-based analysis is still not fully deployed across the federal government 20 years after the government committed to applying this type of analysis to its policy decisions,” Ferguson said.

He noted that while Status of Women Canada, Treasury Board and Privy Council Office have made progress in this area, the gender analyses done by departments and agencies were “not always complete, nor of consistent quality.”

“This means gender considerations, including obstacles to the full participation of diverse groups of men and women, are not always considered in government decisions,” he said.

New Democrat MP David Christopherson said the audit findings are evidence the federal government is not taking the issue seriously.

“Imagine, 20 years later and there (are) still six departments that don’t even have a framework for recording the information, let alone doing something about it. We’re a long, long way from where we need to be,” he told reporters.

At a 1995 United Nations conference on women, Ottawa committed to analyze the “gender-specific” impacts on women and men before making decisions on policies, legislation and programs across government.

Those considerations should include assessing the differences between men and women, which could include age, education, language, geography, culture and income.

Such analysis is meant to flag whether an initiative could have unintended impacts, or perhaps treats men and women differently.

Ferguson’s audit team examined 16 initiatives undertaken by four departments: Employment and Social Development; Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development; Industry Canada; and Natural Resources.

The audit found that the departments performed gender-based analyses for all initiatives but did not always complete them. For example, in one case, analysis of a funding program for skills training did not flag the under-representation of women in the information, communications and technology field.

In another case, the review of an apprentice loan program did not examine barriers to access training and trades for women, visible minorities and immigrant women, the audit found.

Ferguson’s report flagged a number of systemic barriers to gender-based analysis, starting with the fact that such assessments are not mandatory. As well, he noted the tight deadlines for developing policy initiatives and limited ability of some departments and agencies for doing this work.

And the report found that Status of Women Canada was unable to track whether gender-based analysis was being considered in the decision-making across government.

Ferguson’s report urges the Privy Council Office, Status of Women and Treasury Board to “take concrete actions to identify and address barriers that prevent systematic conduct of rigorous gender-based analysis.”

Still, the audit report did find progress in implementing gender-based analysis compared to 2009, the last time the auditor general’s office reviewed the issue.

Patricia Hajdu, the minister of status of women, said she agreed with the audit findings that while progress had been made, “more needs to be done.”

“Our government has been clear about its commitment to consider the gender impacts of our decisions. We will use the auditor general’s report as a renewed call for action within the federal government,” she said Tuesday.

Still, Hajdu said that the government is not considering make gender-based analysis mandatory.

Source: Ottawa falling short in assessing gender impact of policy decisions | Toronto Star

OAG Full Report

First Nations student deaths in Thunder Bay inquest raise questions about racism: Minister Hajdu

Change in language and acknowledge of issues:

A “swirling storm” of racism and discrimination is killing indigenous people in Thunder Bay, Ont., says Patty Hajdu, an MP for the northwestern Ontario city and minister for the status of women.

Hajdu said her experience running a homeless shelter in Thunder Bay, before becoming a Liberal cabinet minister last year, showed her the deadly consequences of racism.

Patty Hajdu

Thunder Bay Superior-North MP Patty Hajdu says ‘institutional racism’ sends the message to citizens that it’s OK to be racist. (Martine Laberge/Radio-Canada)

Speaking outside the inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations students in the city, Hajdu said racism is a sad reality of life, and death, for indigenous people in the city.

“There’s a swirling storm of racism and discrimination against people who use substances and people who are in poverty, and it all comes together in a perfect storm where people are actually dying, because they can’t access the services they need,” she said.

Several friends and classmates of the students who died have testified at the inquest about experiences of racism in Thunder Bay after they moved from their remote First Nations to attend high school in the city.

Source: First Nations student deaths in Thunder Bay inquest raise questions about racism – Thunder Bay – CBC News