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June 28th, 2017
Finance • Justice

Gender Based Analysis Framework in Canada

The Government of Canada committed in 1995 to conduct a gender-based analysis (GBA) of all future legislation, policies and programmes, with the purpose of eliminating gender inequality in Canada. The initiative was administered by Status of Women Canada (SWC), a federal organisation responsible for monitoring the initiative's deployment across all the states. Yet SWC was given very limited enforcement capabilities and no clear measurement guidelines for progress, which meant that the GBA framework had only limited impact in strengthening gender equality.

The initiative

In 1995, the Government of Canada committed to conducting a GBA of all future legislation, policies and programmes, in accordance with the obligations adopted in the UN Beijing Platform for Action, which requires all member states to "seek to ensure that before policy decisions are taken, an analysis of their impact on women and men, respectively, is carried out".[2]

Such gender-based analysis was intended to help the government identify gender considerations that could be relevant to proposed policy, legislative, and programme initiatives. It aimed to analyse the impact that the adoption of public projects would have on men and women, while taking into account the different realities and needs of both genders. The framework would be carried out during project development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. In some situations, GBA would lead to different measures for women and men, in order to diminish inequalities.[3]

The challenge

One of the most important aspects of gender equality is income equality. Statistics on gender parity in Canada indicate that, since 1983, the poverty rate for women has fluctuated between 12 percent and 20 percent (it was 15.1 percent in 2006 for all women aged 19-64). While poverty rates in the country have fallen over time, the advance has been largely attributed to a strong economy and not to targeted government efforts to reduce women's poverty. When the economy has weakened, poverty rates for women have tended to rise, and women commonly reported a higher poverty rate than men.

For women, poverty was more likely to affect other aspects of inequality adversely, not just the economic ones. Low-income women were less able to protect themselves from sexual commodification and subordination, as well as being more likely to lose sexual autonomy in relationships. Their ability to care for their children could be compromised, and it would be more likely that the state would take their children from them, whether for having inadequate housing or not being able to supply proper food or ensure safe conditions. Without access to adequate social programmes, including adequate social assistance and social services, Canadian women had a higher risk of suffering subordination and violence than Canadian men.[1]

The public impact

There were a number of reasons why the GBA framework had a relatively limited impact , the first of which was that it was implemented only partially. By 2009, 6 of the 25 federal departments and agencies that had committed to implementing the Action Plan on GBA had failed to implement a framework for conducting GBA.[4] By 2015, its implementation was still limited. “In the 20 years since the government committed to applying GBA to its policy decisions, a GBA framework has been implemented in only some federal departments and agencies. In the departments and agencies that have implemented a GBA framework, we found that the analyses performed were not always complete and that the quality of the analyses was not consistent.”[5]

Even after criticisms for failing to apply GBA to decision-making, the Office of the Auditor General - the federal watchdog - found that departments still largely ignored the practice. “Where the policy has been implemented, the analysis conducted by departments was not always consistent or complete, an outcome that the auditor general found in a 2009 report on GBA.”[6]

As of 2008, women gender demographics in Canada still showed significant disparities:

  • Single mothers remained the poorest family type in Canada, with a poverty rate of 38.1 percent compared to 11.9 percent for single fathers;
  • Some 37.2 percent of unattached senior women fell below the poverty line compared to 28.9 percent of unattached men;
  • Of all senior women, 16.6 percent were considered poor compared to just 8.3 percent of senior men.[7]

After an audit in 2009 had found uneven implementation of GBA and little evidence of its influence on decision-making, SWC launched a modernisation of GBA to GBA+. The updated version emphasised the consideration of other identity factors such as age, education, language, geography, culture and income.[8]

Stakeholder engagement

Participants in a study published in 1998 by the Maritime Centre of Excellence for Women's Health (MCEWH) found that there was some resistance to the implementation of the GBA policy, and no clear agreement as to its necessity or framework. “Interview participants spoke to the fact that some policymakers don’t recognise the need for gender analysis: some are outwardly hostile and others are simply dismissive of the concept. Several participants suggested that this lack of understanding is less prevalent in social policy realms than in fields like finance and natural resources. However, participants frequently mentioned that demonstrated high-level political and bureaucratic support for gender analysis considerably mitigates attitudinal problems within the policy ranks.”[9]

Political commitment

There have been activist groups within government and civil society pushing for the consistent implementation of GBA in Canada, but clear political support has been limited. The government did not make it mandatory for federal departments and agencies to conduct GBA and nor did it give authority to SWC to enforce its implementation.[10]

The feminist alliance for international action also stated that it encountered both political unwillingness and an institutional vacuum when it came to implementing the 2003 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recommendations.[11]

Since 2006, there have been a number of federal government decisions that had negative consequences for the exercise and enjoyment of women's human rights in Canada. For example:

  • “The announcement that the federal government would not introduce a new pay equity law, despite strong and repeated recommendations from the government's own Pay Equity Task Force and the Parliamentary Committee on the Status of Women.
  • “The elimination of SWC's policy research fund. SWC was the only government agency producing, and supporting, solid research specifically focused on issues pertaining to women's equality”.[12]

The President of the Canadian Federation of University Women stated in 2014 that there was a “lack of systematic GBA and research on gender inequality in Canada, resulting in policies and programmes that fail to meet the specific needs of women".[13] In 2016, the SWC committee continued to call on the Liberal government to "make sure every policy is analysed to see how it impacts women and girls before it heads to cabinet for approval”.[14]

Public confidence

There is relatively little information available on the public's response to the initiative. There is, however, some evidence that during the implementation of the GBA framework, the public perceived that the federal government was not strongly committed to the uptake of the policy, and that there was no formal consequence for non-adherence.

MCEWH organised a series of interviews in 1998, in which most participants were of the opinion that there was limited accountability for ensuring that GBA was incorporated into the policy process. “Virtually all participants expressed concern that the federal commitment is a soft one, coming in the form of guidelines with no formal consequence for non-adherence. Furthermore, compliance with the guidelines is no guarantee that the results of gender analysis will influence policy outcomes.”[15]

Clarity of objectives

The programme's objectives were defined at the outset, and they were to implement a GBA to identify the gender impacts of policies, legislation, and programmes on Canadian women and men in order to integrate them into the policy development process and to reduce inequalities. However, they were vague in their application. A lack of clear metrics and standards for implementation made it difficult to track progress or impact.

This was despite the fact that GBA's function and purpose were clearly defined. “GBA is an analysis process that promotes gender equality when applied to the orientations and actions of local, regional and national decision-making bodies. Its purpose is to detect different impacts on men and women which may result from adoption of public projects, while taking into account the different realities and needs of women and men. It is carried out during project development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. In some situations, GBA will lead to different measures for women and men, to diminish inequalities. Its goal is to attain equality.”[16]

The evolved version of GBA, GBA+, is an analytical tool with a similar goal to achieve gender equality. It can help government understand how diverse groups of women, men, girls and boys experience public policy. The “+” refers to a revision to also consider other factors in the analysis in addition to gender, e.g. sexual orientation, education, ability, geography, cultural ethnicity, income, age and language.[17]

Strength of evidence

There was some awareness at the outset that evidence and information were necessary for the development of an effective tool for GBA. Similarly, pilot projects were conducted and evaluated as examples for the smooth rollout of the policy in different agencies. However, this was done after the initiative was launched, as there were no previous examples of an initiative to be used as references of success.

The use of evidence was identified as one of the main challenges for this policy at the initial stages - as indicated in interviews with several stakeholders in 1998. “As policymaking becomes increasingly evidence-based, obtaining relevant 'sex-disaggregated' data is a basic step for building any case for gender equality… The major lesson learned by these organisations is that an effective tool must be developed by a person or group that has first-hand knowledge of the organisation's specific policy area and internal dynamics. The tool must also be presented and communicated in the local policy dialect used by the target audience.”

The evidence on the progress of the GBA framework led a number of organisations to reappraise and revise their policies. “With expertise gained through experience and hindsight, both the British Columbia Ministry for Women's Equality and the Pan-American Health Organization have redeveloped their tools to better enable policymakers to incorporate gender analysis into their regular activities.”

SWC established its Gender-based Analysis directorate in 1999 as part of efforts to speed up the progress of the initiative in the 2000 to 2005 period. Through this directorate, SWC provided various examples of pilot projects that examined relevant departmental policy issues. These included:

  • “Citizenship and Immigration Canada — since 2001, there is a memorandum of understanding between SWC and the Department to pursue training and tool development activities. As a result, an impact assessment tool is applied from that department to the legislative regulations under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In addition, there are hands-on workshops and training courses with analysts as well as the development of a GBA policy and strategic planning process.
  • “Canadian Heritage — in 2003, GBA training with a focus on the Canada Community Agreements and the issues faced by francophone minority women was delivered to the Official Languages Support Programs Branch. The programme has since reviewed its methods of operation in order to integrate a gender lens, including the evaluation of project proposals, as well as a slight change to the criteria that highlights inclusiveness of the Canada community agreements, and thus expands the process more widely for francophone minority women.”[18]


The implementation of the GBA framework in Canada was not legally binding, and the SWC did not have the authority to enforce its application. There were limited resources for implementation, and no specific timelines to roll out the policy countrywide. Federal accountability for the gender analysis mandate was also said to be compromised by the decision to implement GBA in a decentralised manner, counting on individual departments and agencies to assume responsibility to implement GBA "where appropriate".[19]

The Employment Equity Act 1995 required federally-regulated employers to implement employment equity to correct conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women and other designated groups.[20] However, the government neither made it mandatory for federal departments and agencies to conduct GBA nor gave authority to SWC to enforce its application.[21]

There were also resource limitations that made it difficult to add GBA to the day-to-day agenda. A 1998 MCEWH study, based on interviews with different stakeholders, found that the analysis constituted an extra workload which civil servants were not always willing or able to absorb. “Resources like time, money, and expertise are limited in governmental and non-governmental organisations alike. In an environment where policymakers are overworked to begin with, asking people now to enlarge their analysis... is really asking a lot. High-quality educational materials, training and access to expert consultants on an ongoing basis were suggested solutions to the heavy demands on policymakers.”[22]

In addition, a 2009 audit found significant barriers preventing the departments and agencies from embedding GBA within the development of their policy initiatives, including:

  • “The absence of mandatory government requirements, such as Cabinet directives or Treasury Board policies for federal departments and agencies to conduct GBA when developing and renewing policy, legislative, and programme initiatives or evaluating programmes;
  • “Tight deadlines for developing policy initiatives; and
  • “Limited senior management review of the completeness of GBA, and limited capacity in departments and agencies for conducting GBA.”[23]


Within the federal government, SWC is the lead organisation responsible for helping departments and agencies in implement the GBA framework. However, according to the Auditor General of Canada, it has reported only limited information about the initiative, even though it is entitled to request from departments and agencies more thorough reporting on the systematic application of GBA. SWC plays the role of "centre of expertise", providing support to departments and agencies, as well as to the central agencies - data is a basic step for building any case for gender equality… The major lesson learned by these organisations is that an effective tool must be developed by a person or group that has firsthand knowledge of the the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) and the Privy Council Office (PCO).[24]

To this end, SWC published in 1996 a step-by-step instructions entitled 'Gender-based analysis: A Guide for Policy-Making'. As a generic manual, the SWC's guide was intended to serve as a foundation that other agencies and departments could build upon when developing tools specifically relevant to their own policy areas. However, SWC has very limited coordination capacity to oversee the initiative across states, which compromises its monitoring role.[25]

The project audit revealed that it had neither measured the effectiveness of GBA practices nor yet determined the best mechanisms for tracking whether GBA is being considered in the decision-making process.[26]


Federal departments are not required by legislation to indicate what measures they are taking to work towards gender equality, and SWC has not measured the effectiveness of GBA practices, according to a 2015 report by the Auditor General of Canada. Most significantly, there was no agreement for a long time on what the right measurements should be to monitor the initiative.

SWC has monitored the implementation of GBA frameworks, but has reported only limited information about its assessments. On its role, the organisation has not yet determined the best mechanisms for tracking whether GBA is being considered in the decision-making process.[27]

A 2005 report from the Canadian Parliament indicated that, although there was consensus on the need to ensure that accountability measures were implemented to expand the use of GBA throughout the federal government, it was difficult for the Committee [on Status of Women] “to recommend which model of enforcement and accountability would best promote the goal of gender equality across all government departments”.[28]

There was no clarity on whether the goal should be to report on the government processes involved in conducting GBA, or whether it was more important to report on progress towards equality targets. In this report, the Committee determined that a dual approach was required to address both the process and the outcome of GBA, calling on all central agencies and federal departments to develop accountability mechanisms to ensure a higher level of implementation of GBA.


In the 20 years since the Canadian government committed to applying GBA to its policy decisions, a GBA framework has been implemented in only a few federal departments and agencies, and from those that have implemented a GBA framework, the analyses were not always complete or consistent. Although the country has made a commitment to gender equality, there is no clear agreement on how such an objective is to be achieved.

A report published in 2008 on women's inequality in Canada observed that: “There are no institutional spaces at federal, provincial, territorial, or intergovernmental levels where review, open public examination, and engagement with the CEDAW recommendations [on gender discrimination] takes place”.[29] Similarly, the report indicates that the United Nations Human Rights Committee also considered that many of the recommendations it addressed to the State party in 1999 remained unimplemented - its previous concluding observations had not been distributed to members of parliament nor had any parliamentary committee held hearings on issues arising from its observations.[30]

Since 2009, SWC and the central agencies - the TBS and the PCO - have made progress to promote and support GBA, according to the Auditor's report. “Despite these efforts, we noted that there were barriers to conducting GBA and integrating gender considerations into policy decision-making, including the absence of any mandatory requirement for departments and agencies to conduct GBA to inform policy, legislative, and programme initiatives.”[31]

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