Chapter 2. Canada’s institutional approach to gender equality

This chapter considers Canada's institutional design for gender mainstreaming from a whole-of-government perspective by assessing the roles and responsibilities of Status of Women Canada (SWC), the centre of government, federal departments and Statistics Canada in delivering Gender Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) and gender budgeting commitments. It also discusses horizontal coordination structures such as the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and modalities of collaboration between the Federal Government, Provinces and Territories. Canada's institutional design is well advanced in international terms and is broadly in line with the 2015 Recommendation. To further boost SWC's position as an institutional champion, consideration could be given to modernise its mandate to encompass gender equality and related dimensions of equality and inclusion. Further reinforcement of the challenge function of the centre of government would allow for more effective quality control and impact assessment of GBA+ and gender budgeting.


2.1. Introduction

Canada has a strong whole-of-government institutional framework for gender (plus) mainstreaming at the federal level (see Box 2.1). Encompassing clear roles for a federal agency (Status of Women Canada), the centre of government, departments and other bodies, as well as independent oversight, this comprehensive institutional approach is in line with the 2015 Recommendation and, in many respects, represents advanced international practice.

Canada's institutional design for gender mainstreaming refers to:

  • A federal gender institution (Status of Women Canada) tasked with leading and facilitating a system-wide response to gender equality gaps and needs;

  • Steering and leadership from the Centre of Government (Privy Council Office, Treasury Board Secretariat, Department of Finance) to support and challenge the administration in its implementation of gender mainstreaming;

  • Clearly assigned roles and responsibilities within departments to implement gender mainstreaming as a shared responsibility;

  • The body that collects and produces data (Statistics Canada) to ensure high-quality gender-disaggregated evidence is available to support decision-making;

  • Co-ordination structures and tools (e.g., IT) that ensure policy coherence for gender equality at all levels such as the Network for GBA+ champions; and

  • Accountability from the legislature, independent institutions (Parliament, Parliamentary Budget Office, Office of the Auditor General), and civil society.

This chapter provides a detailed examination of this institutional framework and proposes recommendations to enhance its effectiveness and impact.

Figure 2.1. Institutional design for gender mainstreaming at the federal level in Canada

Source: OECD

Box 2.1. An overview of institutional roles and responsibilities for gender equality

Federal administration:

  • Status of Women Canada is the institution responsible for leading key policy initiatives on issues affecting women and girls. It is also tasked with providing expert advice across the federal government on women’s equality issues; and leading the Government’s implementation of GBA+ through building capacity and advice.

Central agencies:

Working to achieve substantial gender equality is a complex, cross-cutting, multidimensional exercise. It requires the involvement of and buy-in from all government actors and beyond. Across OECD countries, the Centre of Government (CoG) is uniquely placed to ensure such buy-in across the government. Given its convening and steering functions in driving policy priorities (OECD, 2015[25]), the CoG also plays a key role in the governance of gender equality work.

Firstly, the central agencies can support the effective implementation of gender mainstreaming tools by clarifying expectations throughout the administration and providing a challenge function to ensure that such tools are used to inform policy and budget decisions. Secondly, the CoG – together with the gender institution – can promote a strategic vision and roadmap for the administration to deliver on its gender equality commitments. The important role of central agencies is also highlighted by the OECD Toolkit for Gender Equality in Governance.

In Canada, In 2016, when GBA+ became a mandatory assessment for all policy proposals brought before Cabinet, the quality-assurance function of these central agencies has been strengthened. As GBA+ does not have a legislative underpinning, the leadership from the central agencies has proven crucial to engage federal departments in gender mainstreaming efforts.

Detail on the individual roles of each of the central agencies is provided in the following paragraphs.

  • Privy Council Office (PCO) supports the implementation of GBA+ throughout the federal government. The PCO requires all departments and agencies consider the application of GBA+ in the development of memoranda to Cabinet (MCs) and challenges departments on the use of GBA+ through the normal policy development process.

  • Department of Finance (FIN) has the mandate to develop and implement economic, fiscal, tax, social, security, international and financial sector policies and programmes, and to prepare federal budget. It is also responsible for leading the implementation of gender budgeting. Since 2016, FIN has led on the development of gender budgeting as a tool of gender mainstreaming. The Department published Canada’s first gender statement as part of Budget 2017.

  • Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) ensures GBA+ is incorporated into the Treasury Board Submissions, Departmental Results Frameworks, Departmental Plans and reporting. It also has responsibility for introducing gender policies such as proactive pay equity legislation for federally-regulated workers, strategies to combat sexual harassment in federal public institutions and for increasing the number of women in senior decision-making positions across government.

  • Statistics Canada: provides gender-disaggregated data through its surveys; and facilitates instituting a GBA+ research framework. It also publishes numerous analytical reports using gender-disaggregated data and intersecting identities, including the "Women in Canada" series.

  • Federal departments and agencies are given the shared responsibility to conduct gender-based analysis and report on its outcomes.

Mechanisms for policy direction and co-ordination at the federal level:

  • Deputy Ministers Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion examines and formulates advice on how to promote inclusion, to ensure Canada fully benefits from the participation of all Canadians in our economic, social, cultural, and civic life.

  • Network of GBA+ champions seeks to engage senior officials appointed as GBA+ Champions for the implementation of GBA+ in their department or agency. The network seeks to encourage collaboration and support, and to share strategies and best practices on how to “champion” sustainable GBA+ practices.

  • The InterDepartmental Committee (IDC) serves to facilitate a common understanding of GBA+ and to support its sustainable practice in the federal government. The IDC’s activities aim to increase the federal government’s GBA+ capacity and expertise; provide a forum for sharing information and best practices; and promote collaboration amongst members to develop GBA+ tools, resources and training.

  • Public Service Management Advisory Committee provides a forum for discussion of the public service management agenda. GBA+ is discussed at this committee once per year.

Accountability structures:

  • Office of the Auditor General serves Parliament by providing it with objective, fact-based information and expert advice on GBA+, gathered through audits. The latest report of the Auditor General on GBA+ was released in fall 2015.

  • Status of Women Committee (FEWO) Parliamentary Committee: The House of Commons may refer certain matters to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women for examination and report. The Committee has broad authority to study policies, programmes, expenditures (budgetary estimates) and legislation of departments and agencies, including Status of Women Canada; and to create subcommittees to focus on particular subjects.

  • Human Rights Committee in the Senate studies issues relating to human rights and reviews the machinery of government dealing with Canada’s international and national human rights obligations including on gender equality.

  • General Courts and Supreme Court of Canada enforce the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms containing guaranteed equality rights; and the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibiting gender-based discrimination. The Supreme Court of Canada also acts as the final arbiter and contributes to the development of all branches of law applicable within Canada.

Multi-level governance and co-ordination:

  • The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers (FPT) Responsible for the Status of Women: Provincial and territorial governments are in charge of gender equality policies under their jurisdictions. The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers (FPT) Responsible for the Status of Women, an intergovernmental body, acts as a coordination mechanism between the federal and provincial/territorial levels. It meets annually to share information, exchange best practices and explore issues that affect Canadian women and girls including violence against women and girls, women’s economic security, and women in leadership.

2.2. Federal roles and responsibilities to improve gender equality outcomes

2.2.1. Status of Women Canada (SWC)

A number of agencies and departments in the federal government of Canada are responsible for issues related to different aspects of diversity and inclusion. According to the Heritage Act, the advancement of diversity and inclusion has been a core responsibility of the Department of Canadian Heritage. Its mandate includes promoting multiculturalism, human rights, Indigenous languages & cultures, and youth engagement. With the increased focus of the government on diversity and inclusion, the Privy Council Office (PCO) established an LGBTQ2 Secretariat within its Social Policy Development Unit, although its sustainability depends on continued political will. The youth engagement policy has also been addressed by the centre of government. PCO's Results and Delivery Unit is also working to establish a Diversity and Inclusion Charter with related indicators for the administration to measure progress. However, PCO's primary focus in this area has been achieving more diverse and inclusive workforce within the federal public administration. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is another federal department that works to advance diversity and inclusion. In parallel, according to its current mandate, Status of Women Canada (SWC) is the institution responsible for leading key policy initiatives on issues affecting women and girls. It is also tasked with providing expert advice across the federal government on women’s equality issues; and leading the Government’s implementation of GBA+ through building capacity and advice. Section 2.2.2 below considers the need for a co-ordinated approach to address diversity and inclusion agenda, including but also beyond gender equality.

The strong political focus on gender equality, diversity and inclusion has significantly boosted the role and influence of SWC. The federal departments and agencies are increasingly seeking SWC support for the implementation of GBA+. There is also increased coordination between SWC and the central agencies regarding the identification of overarching gender equality objectives and implementation of GBA+. These developments tend to support a well-functioning and impactful gender apparatus, and are consistent with the 2015 Recommendation.

Further clarifying and scaling up the mandate of SWC can provide a strong institutional champion to drive gender equality beyond women's status, with increasing attention to intersecting identity factors within policy making. Some areas can be identified, drawing upon the OECD Toolkit for Mainstreaming and Implementing Gender Equality, where specific improvements would be likely to have most impact in Canada.

  • While there is no blueprint for the institutional design for gender equality bodies across the OECD (see examples in Box 2.2 and Box 2.3), their level of responsibility and position within the governmental structure are indicative of their effectiveness (see Figure 2.2). From its inception, SWC was given the mandate to ''coordinate policy with respect to the status of women and administer related programmes". This mandate was not matched with full representation in the Cabinet, a factor which appears, at times, to have constrained the political influence of SWC throughout various administrations. These challenges are also recognised by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (United Nations, 2016[21]). Moreover, the OECD notes that many stakeholders, both within public administration and in civil society, retain a perception of SWC as an agency responsible for administering women's programmes, as distinct from an agency responsible for developing and coordinating a consistent federal response to gender equality needs across the country.

Figure 2.2. Central gender institutions in OECD countries, 2017

Source: 2017 OECD Survey on National Gender Equality Frameworks and Public Policies (preliminary results)

  • Having the sufficient mandate and resources for promoting gender equality and supporting a government-wide gender equality policy are also indicative of the effectiveness of gender equality institutions. Historically, SWC has experienced significant reductions in its operating budget and mandate (House of Commons Canada, 2007[26]), although its budget has been increased in recent years in keeping with its enhanced profile, and with the renewed government commitment to GBA+.

  • Transparency of GBA+ and timeframes provided for policy analysis and consultation are another set of areas where further improvements can significantly boost the impact of SWC with an increased and timely access to gender (plus) analysis by the departments (Chapter 3). While there is no formal requirement for federal departments to consult SWC, the latter is increasingly sought by the departments since GBA+ became a mandatory requirement. In the current setting, however, the departments tend to engage SWC at the late stages of policy planning, thus limiting the influence of gender analysis on the decision-making process.

There is an accelerated momentum in Canada to address these challenges, and to reinforce the authority and mandate of SWC in a way that it is enduring into the future. Some steps are already taken in this regard and the most important one include the appointment of the first-ever full Minister of Status of Women in November 2015. The Government's renewed commitment to GBA+ as reflected in the GBA+ Action Plan for 2016-2020 has also strengthened the mandate of SWC as the "go-to institution" in ensuring government policy, legislation, and regulations are sensitive to the different impacts that decisions have on men and women. Resources of SWC have been increased accordingly. Since SWC started monitoring the federal implementation of GBA+ through a Deputy Ministers Survey, an increasing number of departments are making the GBA+ training mandatory for some or all employees. Most recently, in alignment with the preliminary discussions between the Government of Canada and the OECD in the context of this Review, Budget 2018 committed to making SWC an official Department of the Government of Canada by introducing departmental legislation to solidify the roles of SWC and its Minister.

Box 2.2. The United Kingdom Government Equalities Office

The UK Government Equalities Office (GEO) operates across Government and is responsible for promoting equality for women and lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender (LGBT) individuals.  

GEO is responsible for:

  • Gender equality

  • LGBT equality

  • Equalities legislation including the Equality Act 2010

  • Sponsoring the Equality and Human Rights Commission

  • Other government departments are responsible for policy around:

  • Race

  • Disability

  • Age

  • Religion

  • Pregnancy & maternity

GEO works closely with other government departments to deliver its priorities, maintain the equalities framework, and promote equality. It also works with a range of stakeholders external to government, including businesses, third sector organisations, and academics.

GEO's commitments include:

  • Take measures to close the gender pay gap

  • Continue to work for parity in the number of public appointments going to women

  • Increase female representation on FTSE 350 boards to 33% by 2020

  • Publish a response to the findings of the national LGBT survey

  • Consult on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act in order to streamline and de-medicalise the legal gender recognition process

  • Carry out an internal review of gender markers in official documents

  • Track commitments made in response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee reports, and respond to future inquiries

Source: UK Government Equalities Office 2018

Box 2.3. The Women’s Institutes of Spain and Mexico


The Women’s Institute of Spain was created under Law 16/1983 of 24 October as an autonomous body and the first governmental structure devoted specifically to foster gender equality (EIGE 2018). Article 2 of the law established that the Institute’s primary mandate was to promote conditions that favour true equality between men and women and the government later charged the Institute with the mandate to elaborate a plan to promote equality. The Institute is now affiliated to the Directorate General of Equal Opportunities and includes two observatories: the Observatory for Equal Opportunities between Men and Women, which reviews and assesses gender gaps in socio-economic life and makes policy proposals to protect and improve women’s rights; and the Observatory of Women’s Image, created in 1994 to foster attitudinal change by promoting a non-stereotyped image of women (EIGE 2018). Additionally, ten autonomous communities in Spain have independent agencies comparable to the Women’s Institute at the national level, which are institutionalised by law and have their own budget and staff and similar goals and tasks (EIGE 2018).

Sources: (EIGE, 2018[27])


The federal Government of Mexico has developed an elaborated legal framework to advance gender equality and mainstreaming. The 2001 Law of the National Women’s Institute establishes INMUJERES as an autonomous body that acts as central gender institution and has as its objectives to promote women’s rights, to coordinate, monitor and evaluate gender equality policies, to promote a non-violent and non-discriminatory culture and to monitor compliance with international treaties. The 2006 General Act on Equality between Women and Men lays out a blueprint for building a gender-equality framework (both across government and at the secretariat level). It establishes three national policy instruments: the National System for Equality, the National Programme for Equality and the Observance. The Equality Act devotes specific chapters to the roles of all parties engaged in implementation of gender equality policies, from federal government to states and municipalities.

Source: (OECD, 2017[28])

Scaling up the mandate of Status of Women Canada

Looking ahead, SWC’s role as the lead institution responsible for coordinating and facilitating the implementation of gender equality policy should be strengthened, if the on-going reform process is to be maintained and reinforced. In the context of formalising SWC as an official department, consideration could be given to scaling up the mandate to expand the focus from solely women and include the focus on broader issues related to gender equality, and align with the broad nature of Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+). This, together with the appropriate resourcing, could help SWC to become the government’s policy hub and "go-to institution" on issues of gender equality and intersecting identity factors. In addition, stronger collaboration between SWC, central agencies and Statistics Canada can ensure that gender equality (plus) is systematically considered in departmental policy development and cascades through the results and delivery framework.

2.2.2. The Cabinet and the Minister of Status of Women

In Canada, the Cabinet is the centre of political decision making. The representation of gender equality issues within the Cabinet is important for the gender equality (plus) agenda to become embedded in the daily work of the federal administration.

The top-level political commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion in Canada has resulted in three major initiatives which increase the visibility of gender equality questions at Cabinet.

  • Firstly, providing the Minister of Status of Women with a full-fledged representation in the Cabinet process has been an important step in implementing the Government of Canada's pledge to gender equality. The Cabinet is organised in form of Committees that are in charge of bringing government's agenda to fruition in their own areas of responsibility. The Minister of Status of Women is currently a member of three Cabinet Committees (CCs) including the CC on Diversity and Inclusion; the CC on Open Transparent Government and Parliament; and the CC on Growing the Middle Class. The Minister is also an alternate member of the Treasury Board which acts as the government's management board and provides oversight on financial management, spending and human resources.

  • Secondly, making GBA+ mandatory for all Cabinet submissions has created an opportunity for gender equality considerations to be regularly discussed in all Cabinet Committees.

  • Thirdly, the Cabinet committees set the tone of the government and signal top-level priorities (Flumian, 2016[29]). Accordingly, a small but increasing number of OECD countries are establishing structures to deal with gender equality issues at the Cabinet level (see Box 2.4 for the example of Iceland). In Canada, the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) sent a strong political signal about the importance of this agenda for the government.

Moving forward, there is room to maximise the impact of these initiatives by providing a more explicit mandate to one or more of the Cabinet Committees to work on gender equality. The mandate of the CCDI is to "examine initiatives designed to strengthen the relationship with Indigenous Canadians, improve the economic performance of immigrants, and promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality". However, gender equality is not at the centre of the CCDI’s mandate, and therefore the opportunities are not fully tapped for a Cabinet committee level engagement with important issues of deeply rooted gender stereotypes and multi-factorial discrimination associated with intersecting identity factors. There is scope for clarifying and focusing the mandate for the CCDI, allowing it to address more regularly and substantively the issue of gender equality both in its own right, and as a matter of intersectionality and inclusion.

Box 2.4. Ministerial Committee on Equality in Iceland

In 2017, with the renewed political commitment to gender equality in Iceland, the Prime Minister of Iceland and the Cabinet re-established the Ministerial Committee on Equality. The main role of the Committee is to coordinate equality issues among ministers and within the government. These issues include, but are not limited to, parental leave (paternity and maternity leave); the elimination of the gender pay gap (implementation of the law on the Equal Pay Standard); the rights of LGBTQ+ people; combating sexual violence; and ratification of the Istanbul Convention. The Ministers represented on the Committee are the Prime Minister; the Minister of Social Affairs and Equality; the Minister of Justice; the Minister of Health; and the Minister of Education and Culture. Other ministers participate in the meetings of the Committee on the basis of need and in accordance with the decision of the Prime Minister who chairs the meeting of the Committee.

Source: Government of Iceland 2018

There are other mechanisms at the Deputy Minister level for gender equality issues to be discussed. Notably, the Clerk of the Privy Council established a Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion (Task Force) co-chaired by the Deputy Ministers of Status of Women Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Historically, task forces led by Deputy Ministers are mandated to explore a range of important and cross-cutting policy issues. The official mandate of this Task Force is to examine and formulate advice on how to promote inclusion, and to ensure Canada fully benefits from the participation of all Canadians in economic, social, cultural and civic life. Stemming from this broad mandate, the Task Force also works to formulate advice on how to advance a feminist government. The recommendations of the Task Force are planned to be formulated by summer 2018. Looking ahead, an important role for this Task Force could be to advance reflection on strengthening a coordinated federal response to gender equality, diversity and inclusion needs that are currently being addressed by a number of departments and agencies (e.g., SWC; Department of Canadian Heritage; PCO; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada).

Another platform for discussion about gender equality issues at the Deputy Minister level is the Public Service Management Advisory Committee (PSMAC) led by the Secretary of the Treasury Board. In the framework of the Gender-based Analysis Action Plan (2016-2020), PSMAC provides a platform once a year to discuss the government wide implementation of gender-based analysis. Engagement of senior management in gender mainstreaming has been proven crucial across OECD for such tools to take root and its importance is strongly stressed by the 2015 Recommendation. Therefore, Canada must be commended for achieving such high-level engagement across the federal administration, and encouraged to further institutionalise such platforms. However, early signals point that PSMAC do not provide a platform for substantial discussion about gender equality. Moving forward, it will be beneficial to complement such process and management oriented discussions with a higher level platform for discussion about society-wide gender equality goals and targets (see Chapter 1). Cabinet Committee and Deputy Ministers Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion provide a strong basis to kick-start these discussions.

Having a strong Cabinet representation and mandate is significant for gender equality and intersectionality issues to remain at the top of the political agenda. It also sends strong signals to the administration about the importance of this topic. However, additional delivery mechanisms are needed to address complex gender equality challenges. A growing body of evidence from OECD points to various challenges of having inter-ministerial mechanisms as the primary tool to resolve policy delivery issues. Given such structures are highly procedural and time sensitive, there is usually limited room for detailed discussion or data analysis (OECD, 2015[25]). To ensure a well-functioning institutional framework for gender equality in Canada, it will be equally important to work in parallel on consolidating and strengthening the roles and responsibilities across the administration (e.g., Centre of Government, Status of Women Canada, federal departments, etc.) to provide solid evidence-base and deliver on government's top commitments.

2.2.3. Centre of Government

The Canadian approach provides a good practice example of Centre of Government (CoG) involvement in gender equality governance (refer back to Box 2.1 for an overview of CoG roles and responsibilities). According to the current distribution of roles, central agencies (PCO, TBS, and FIN) provide a “gatekeeper” function, in ensuring that requirements in relation to gender-based policy analysis are upheld, as well as a “challenge” function with regard to the questions of analytical rigour and quality. In this context, the role of GBA+ as an integral element of Canada's policy making system and of the Policy on Results is increasingly important (see Chapter 3).

While the overall roles and responsibilities in central agencies for gender mainstreaming seem well allocated, there are a number of areas on the implementation side where further reinforcement will be beneficial to maximise the impact of on-going GBA+ and gender-budgeting initiatives. The following chapter will assess how the overall institutional framework can be boosted to allow for a quality control and impact assessment of gender-based analysis (Chapter 3). A particular shortcoming highlighted by the Office of the Auditor General has been the limited human resources capacity and knowledge within central agencies to exercise a meaningful challenge function (Office of the Auditor General Canada, 2016[30]). The GBA+ Action Plan 2016-2020 sets out the response of the Canadian federal administration aimed at addressing these shortcomings.

In the context of Budget 2018's commitment to introduce new GBA+ legislation, there is an opportunity to strengthen the challenge function of the central agencies by putting forward criteria for assessing the quality of GBA+ (see Chapter 3). In addition, in the context of the newly established Gender Results Framework (GRF), there is scope to identify clear roles and responsibilities for the central agencies for its implementation and accountability. Given its advisory role to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet in the implementation of government's priorities, PCO seems well placed to take on such role – in close collaboration with the other central agencies and with SWC.

2.2.4. Department of Justice

The functions of the Department of Justice (JUS) include providing legal advice, supporting the Crown in litigation, and policy-making. In its legal advisory role, the Department helps federal departments develop, reform, and interpret laws. In the preparation of draft bills, federal departments work with JUS generally from the early stages of the work. JUS continues to be involved in each step from obtaining Cabinet approval to drafting – and redrafting – the bill until it is enacted by Parliament. While JUS is not formally considered a central agency, it can play a central role in ensuring that all bills integrate a GBA+.

JUS has a GBA+ Unit since 2009 which is providing GBA+ advice and guidance to all employees, especially with respect to meeting the GBA+ requirements set out by the central agencies. With the increased political attention to gender equality, there is a greater integration of gender lens within the Department's work. In 2016, JUS sponsored a legislation to add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Acts (Bill C-16). The Bill passed the legislative process and became law in 2017. Moving forward, JUS has a strong potential to play an increasingly active role in supporting a gender lens within legislative initiatives. In 2018, JUS updated its ''Common Consideration Checklist" which is a tool to assist JUS officials to more easily and systematically fulfil high-level instructions that call for routine consideration of specific kinds of issues or implications, including gender equality. While the Checklist is not mandatory, completed checklists help JUS maintain records demonstrating due attention to these considerations. Chapter 3 discusses the need to integrate gender considerations into legislative drafting. Further strengthening GBA+ capacities among JUS employees can provide an additional quality filter for gender considerations to be duly reflected within draft bills by federal departments. Advancements are already recorded in this regard in 2018. For example government bills c-68 and c-69 incorporated the "consideration of health, social and economic effects, including with respect to the intersection of sex and gender with other identity factors" into environmental impact assessments, energy decisions and fishery decisions.

2.2.5. Federal departments

In Canada, as in most OECD countries which implement gender mainstreaming, the main responsibility for gender-based analysis lies within the federal line departments. Federal departments are expected to put in place adequate governance structures for GBA+. These include a formal GBA+ policy statement or intent; a GBA+ responsibility centre that leads, supports, and monitors GBA+ implementation and serves as a point of liaison with the broader Government of Canada GBA+ network; an intra-departmental network or working group dedicated to GBA+; and a senior management representative to champion and lead GBA+. These processes have indeed been proven central for effective gender mainstreaming. Sweden, another OECD country that pioneering the development of gender mainstreaming and budgeting, has put in place a similar governance structure (see Box 2.5) The OECD experience shows that unless such governance elements are in place, the gender mainstreaming initiatives in line departments often stall and do not yield results.

Historically, the implementation of GBA+ across federal departments has been uneven (Office of the Auditor General Canada, 2016[30]). The different barriers that departments are facing in the implementation of GBA+ are described in detail in the 2015 Audit of the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) on implementing GBA+. The barriers identified include the limited capacity for applying gender-based analysis; and absence of quality control and limited assessment of the effectiveness of gender-based analysis practices (Office of the Auditor General Canada, 2016[30]). These findings were echoed in June 2016 by reports from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, and the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons.

Box 2.5. Role of line ministries in gender mainstreaming in Sweden

Every Minister in the Government of Sweden is responsible for gender mainstreaming in his or her areas of responsibility. The Minister for Gender Equality is responsible for coordination, development and follow-ups of the gender mainstreaming work. In addition, the Division of Gender Equality is responsible for managing and coordinating the gender mainstreaming work within the Government Offices. Since 2003, there is a gender mainstreaming coordinator within all line ministries with the Government offices of Sweden. A structured, systematic work with gender mainstreaming is conducted within all line ministries; every line ministry is to develop an Annual Action Plan for gender mainstreaming. This is the responsibility of the co-ordinator for gender mainstreaming at each line ministry. The gender focal point is responsible for coordination and support of gender mainstreaming work in his/her ministry. This person is often also the Budget Officer of the line ministry. The focal point for gender mainstreaming attends meetings of a standing intra-ministerial working group on gender mainstreaming in the Government offices. All ten line ministries and the Prime Minister's Office have a Gender Mainstreaming Coordinator.

Source: Government of Sweden 2018

The early indications show that the strong political commitment to GBA+ seems to have accelerated progress in its implementation, and in the uniformity of its implementation, by federal departments. This progress is also recorded in the findings of the SWC Annual Implementation Surveys in 2016 and 2017. Building on this momentum, and to fully implement GBA+ as a transformational tool, further progress would be beneficial in the following areas:

  • Increased access to data by federal agencies at earlier stages of policy discussions would improve policy design and lead to more complete gender assessment. SWC and Statistics Canada are already working together to support departments in boosting data-related capacities. In addition, civil society organisations, research centres and gender equality advocacy groups can be important allies in gathering information about the impact of government policies.

  • Departments would also benefit from more sector-specific policy guidance on gender equality objectives. While some federal departments have developed action plans for the implementation of GBA+, a common feature of these action plans is the focus on governance processes regarding how to implement GBA+ (e.g., a formal GBA+ policy statement or intent, appointing a senior GBA+ champion), rather than dealing with substantial gender equality objectives or goals. A broad-based departmental consultation on gender equality impacts from the outset of each government's term could support federal departments in identifying the relevance of gender equality aspects in their own areas of responsibility. The value of such a consultative exercise could also be enhanced through making the results publicly available (see Chapter 3). In addition, considering a repository of GBA+ good practices where departments can find sector-specific guidance and inspiration in a timely manner could also boost the effectiveness and impact of gender mainstreaming initiatives (see Chapter 3).

  • Finally, investing in departmental capacities to incorporate gender considerations more systematically in strategic planning, data collection and analysis, stakeholder engagement, and evaluation functions would be beneficial for gender mainstreaming efforts to have a transformational impact on policy decisions (see Chapter 3).

2.2.6. Statistics Canada

The critical role and responsibility of statistical agencies in advancing gender equality is underlined in the 2015 Recommendation. Statistics Canada plays an increasingly important role for the government-wide implementation of gender equality goals (e.g. tracking implementation of international commitments under CEDAW). In doing so, Statistics Canada works closely with other federal government departments and agencies, often on a cost-recovery basis, to provide sex-disaggregated data; and support further data development initiatives, notably on social surveys. Statistics Canada also works to build departmental knowledge and capacity on GBA+ through data finding workshops. Most recently, through its Budget 2018, the Government of Canada proposed to invest resources for Statistics Canada to create a new Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics: "a centre that will act as GBA+ data hub to support future, evidence-based policy development and decision-making".

To support the implementation of the government's commitment to gender equality, Statistics Canada is orienting its future work towards supporting departments in the development of progress and impact indicators; and development of a gender portal in collaboration with SWC in the framework of Canada's broader open government efforts. The aim is to provide federal departments and civil society with a “one stop shop” for sex-disaggregated data. These initiatives and increasing support of Statistics Canada to gender equality work is commended. Indeed, the 2015 Recommendation highlights the critical importance of data collecting and producing bodies in providing the decision makers with tools necessary for informed and evidence-based policies, budgets and services.

Moving forward, the OECD sees multiple benefits for Statistics Canada to play an enhanced role in support of impact analysis of gender equality initiatives across different policy fields. The SDGs agenda, with its emphasis upon measurable progress in particular policy areas including gender equality, provides another institutional incentive to engage more fully with data identification and analysis. Statistics Canada is already working on data integration aimed at demonstrating social and economic impacts of policy initiatives (e.g. social determinants of health incomes), and extending this work stream to encompass gender equality impacts would be a strong support for the sustainability of this agenda into the future.

2.3. A whole-of-state aspiration for the governance of gender equality

There is growing recognition across the OECD that horizontal policy goals – such as inclusive growth, sustainable and green development, gender equality and diversity – cannot be implemented in isolation by the executive branch. In respect of constitutional frameworks and beyond accountability functions, the benefits of collaboration across the branches of power, levels of government and with non-governmental stakeholders are articulated in many OECD instruments such as the 2015 Recommendation and 2017 OECD Recommendation on Open Government. The inherently cross-cutting nature of gender equality work goes well beyond the scope of the executive branch. Indeed, all state action from laws and policies to budgets and judicial decisions can either facilitate or hinder progress in gender equality. For example, enhancing gender equality and diversity in the justice system can reduce barriers for women’s access to justice, such as stigma associated with reporting violence and abuse. Therefore, in recognition of the constitutional roles and prerogatives and independence of branches of power, Canada is encouraged to develop a collaborative approach across the executive, legislative and judiciary, and levels of government by exploring synergies and sharing examples of what works can accelerate progress in gender equality (see Figure 2.3).

Figure 2.3. A system-wide approach to gender equality

Source: OECD

While cross-branch collaboration is not yet a widespread practice across the OECD, a small but increasing number of governments have put forward such initiatives. Mexico provides an interesting example in the area of gender equality. While Mexico's National Program for Equality of Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Against Women (PROIGUALDAD) mainly addresses the executive branch, it also identifies aspirational goals for the legislature and judiciary, which include goals to promote parity in the allocation of managerial posts in the judicial and legislative branches (OECD, 2017[28]). Similar examples of cross-branch collaboration can be also found for other policy initiatives. For example, within the Open Government Partnership, the President of the Republic of Costa Rica and the Presidents of the three powers of the Republic of Costa Rica (which in Costa Rica are the Executive, the Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Court) and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal signed a joined declaration committing Costa Rica to move towards an open state (OECD, 2016[31]) (see Box 2.6).

The assessment of mechanisms for state-wide collaboration for gender equality in Canada is beyond the scope of this Review. Preliminary indications suggest however the absence of a systematic approach for such collaboration across the branches of power beyond regular accountability functions. The results of the 2016 OECD Surveys on Gender-sensitive Practices in the Legislative and Judiciary have also shown that neither the Canadian legislative branch nor the Canadian judiciary at the federal level has adopted framework strategies or policies that govern gender equality within their areas of authority. Moving forward, Canada can consider kicking-off a cross-branch conversation about how the country can best exploit synergies in advancing shared gender equality goals. As a first step, roundtables or expert meetings could provide useful platforms in this regard.

Box 2.6. Example of cross-branch collaboration for horizontal initiatives

The Declaration for the Creation of an Open State in Costa Rica

On 25 November 2015 the President of the Republic and the Presidents of the three powers of the Republic of Costa Rica (which in Costa Rica are the Executive, the Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Court) and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal signed a joined declaration committing Costa Rica to move towards an open state. The declaration states that each branch will build a plan of priority actions to “promote a policy of openness, transparency, accountability, participation and innovation in favour of the citizens”, which will be included in the institutional strategic plans and will be evaluated annually. The powers also agreed to strengthen and develop the mechanisms of citizen participation in order to contribute to a closer relationship between civil society and the leaders and to provide access to public information through the use of new technologies. Costa Rica is the only country in the world to have signed such a promising declaration bringing together all the powers of the state. The declaration has significant potential to guide the country’s future open state agenda. In order for it not to remain on paper, the country will now need to underpin its good will with concrete actions. This includes involving the subnational and local governments, decentralized public institutions, independent state institutions, the business sector, media, academia and civil society to join forces to build an open state in Costa Rica.

Sources: (OECD, 2016[32])

2.4. Federal, Provincial and Territorial (FPT) collaboration

The Canadian Constitution defines the exclusive powers of federal parliament and provincial legislatures. In Canada, while provinces exercise constitutional powers in their own right, territories exercise delegated powers under the authority of the Parliament of Canada. Provincial and territorial governments are in charge of gender equality policies under their jurisdictions. The main coordination mechanism addressing national gender equality issues is the forum of FPT Ministers Responsible for the Status of Women. The FPT Ministers meet annually to share information, exchange best practices and explore issues that affect Canadian women and girls including violence against women and girls, women’s economic security, and women in leadership.

While this Ministerial coordination mechanism is a positive initiative, its effectiveness could be maximised with a pan-Canadian gender equality framework, addressing international commitments under CEDAW, the SDGs and the 2015 Recommendation (see Chapter 1). Such a framework would allow gender equality discussions can become easier to frame; and collective progress could become easier to measure. Similar concerns were raised by the CEDAW Committee who recommended that Canada strengthen the implementation of gender equality policies at the provincial and territorial levels and ensure that all government bodies involved receive sustained guidance and support in their implementation efforts. (United Nations, 2016[21]).

In addition, while the outcomes of annual FPT meetings are communicated through news releases, communication remains somewhat fragmented. There is no single platform where Canadians can easily track the outcomes of annual discussions and track progress over time. Such a platform could significantly raise the profile and visibility of the FPT forum and further improve its effectiveness by making progress easier to monitor.

Beyond co-ordination structures, other OECD countries with federal and quasi-federal government structures are taking innovative approaches to implementation of gender equality on a nationwide basis. An interesting example comes from Mexico where INMUJERES – the federal gender equality institution – launched an online platform showing the performance of 32 states in relation to gender equality. This highlights good practices and fosters peer pressure among states to advance gender equality outcomes (see Box 2.7). Similar developments in Canada may also help advance nation-wide progress.

Box 2.7. Cross-state collaboration on gender equality in Mexico

The Instancias de las Mujeres en las Entidades Federativas (IMEFs) are state-level women´s institutes in Mexico that have come into being over the past decade to co-ordinate and drive gender-equality policy. Yet, from one state to another their legal status and institutional standing varies – from ministerial status to decentralised body, general directorate and autonomous body. Mexico’s federal system precludes IMEFs from any formal ties with INMUJERES - a federal institution which has no authority over them. INMUJERES therefore uses collaborative agreements with state governments and IMEFs to channel federal funds into gender equality programmes at the state level. For almost a decade, INMUJERES has lent financial and technical support to the IMEFs and their municipal counterparts (IMMs) as part of the Programme for Strengthening Gender Mainstreaming. However, in many instances the direct financial aid that INMUJERES awarded was not enough in itself to set the gender apparatus in motion at sub-national levels. In 2016, INMUJERES (with UN Women) launched an online platform, “México rumbo a la igualdad” (Mexico on the way to equality). Its aim is to showcase the progress made by 32 states in gender mainstreaming in public policies, state budgets and public accounts. The tool seeks to help states track their progress against each other and identify specific action that they need to take – e.g. harmonise laws and policies.

Source: (OECD, 2017[28])


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