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Feds to introduce budget that takes holistic approach to gender equality

A memo presented to Finance Minister Morneau last summer and recent comments from government officials provide clues as to what the government's Feb. 27 budget will look like, the first founded on gender-based analysis


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OTTAWA—The Liberal government is preparing to table the first federal budget to scrutinize all its commitments with a gender-equality microscope.

To get there, Finance Minister Bill Morneau was presented with many options on how best to subject his fiscal plan to a gender-based analysis.

The Canadian Press obtained a briefing note that lays out the choices—a “proposed gender-equality framework”—that were presented to Morneau last August.

A senior government official described the memo as an early take on the potential pillars that could be part of the Feb. 27 budget. The federal gender-budgeting blueprint has since evolved in recent months following consultations with experts, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters not yet made public.

The confidential document, obtained through the Access to Information Act, recommends “strategic objectives,” presents ways they can be measured over time and provides an assessment of how Canada has performed in each area.

Here’s a rundown of the proposed strategic objectives and some of the key indicators that could be used to gauge the government’s progress:

  1. Equal opportunities in education and skills development: The aim is to ensure different groups of women, men, girls and boys benefit from the same opportunities and conditions in terms of education, field of study choices and personal development. There are considerable gender disparities when it comes to career paths, the memo notes, with young women disproportionately represented in health and education fields. By comparison, a far greater proportion of young men are drawn to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). That gender-specific divide in educational choices has far-reaching impacts on occupational and industrial segregation in the labour market as well as the income gap between women and men, it continues.
  2. Economic equality: The goal is to make sure women and men have the same options and circumstances when it comes to quality jobs and the distribution of unpaid housework and care-giving work. The document says Canadian women are among the most educated in the world, yet they earn on average about 23 per cent less than men. It represents one of biggest gender earnings gaps among OECD countries. Women spend more of their time than men on unpaid work and their career advancement is greatly affected by parenthood, the note says.
  3. Equal opportunities in leadership and economic influence: The objective focuses on enabling men and women to have the same playing field when it comes to advancing their careers and participating in all levels of decision-making. The memo says despite increasing education levels and growing workforce participation among women, they only hold 26 per cent of senior management positions in the private sector.
  4. Ensuring physical and emotional security: The goal is to ensure women, girls and boys all have rights to dignity, integrity and the right to be safe from physical and emotional harm. Women, the document says, are at a higher risk of certain types of violence, including sexual offences.
  5. Fighting poverty and promoting equal health and well-being: The objective is for women, men, girls and boys to have the same support and opportunities to make ends meet and to maintain healthy lifestyles. The memo notes how, for example, single mothers and recent immigrants are at a higher risk of living in poverty.

By applying a gender-based analysis to the budget, the feds are trying to move beyond the obvious in their quest for gender equality, thinking outside the daycare box to more thoroughly examine how the federal budget would impact men and women in different ways.

“They definitely received the message that it needs to be not just a list of things that are true about gender inequality,” said Kate McInturff, a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“It needs to be really fundamentally integrated into their economic policy.”

The idea behind gender-based analysis is to think about how a government policy, legislation or spending might affect men and women, or boys and girls, in different ways, while accounting for other intersecting factors such as income, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.

If the analysis, which is ideally done early on in the process, reveals one gender would experience disproportionately negative impacts, then policy-makers can change course or pay added attention to other areas that could help mitigate those effects.

Last year, the Trudeau government got some on-brand attention for adding some feminist flavour to the federal budget, including a 25-page chapter that touched on how some of its commitments would benefit women, including child care spending.

This time around, government officials took a more holistic approach to gender-based analysis, including a framework that will help determine the impact on a larger scale, rather than one line item at a time.

It was no doubt a big help that the Liberal government has decided to make gender equality an overarching theme of its G7 presidency. The budget is expected to include elements that would help Canada lead by example as it hosts the June gathering of world leaders in La Malbaie, Que.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has previously said the budget would include measures to boost the participation of women in the workforce.

Several stakeholders who took part in his gender-related consultations said they heard a lot about women in leadership, but they hope the budget will also include things like dedicated leave for new fathers or non-birthing parents, funding for the pay-equity legislation the Liberals promised to introduce this year and, potentially, something more on child care.

The officials familiar with this year’s budget said the goal of the gender-based analysis is to figure out how the entire budget will move the dial on equality in Canada. They began thinking this way right at the outset, so that the analysis informed the choices made along the way before they were set in stone, they added.

The picture will not always be rosy, said the officials, and so it is also set up to track progress—or a lack thereof—into the future.

There is also a need for more and better data to make the gender-based exercise more effective, they added.

Since the Trudeau government would have already been focused on improving opportunities for women and girls in this budget, even without the more rigorous gender-based analysis, the officials said the true test of the process will be a few years down the road.

Canada committed to using gender-based analysis in 1995, as part of ratifying the UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, but two decades later the auditor general revealed relatively few departments and agencies were using it, while those that did were doing so in an incomplete and inconsistent way.

Over the past two years, Trudeau is said to have pushed his ministers for more robust gender-based analysis, and the officials say the culture has now reached the point where departments know it must be done, and done well, to be considered at the cabinet table.

The Finance Department also devoted about six months last year to consulting with gender experts on a made-in-Canada approach to the budgeting exercise, which includes a greater focus on intersectionality—including ethnicity—than seen in other countries.


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