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Technocracy or transformation? Mapping women's policy agencies and orienting gender (in)equality in the Canadian provinces.


How do Canadian provinces address gender (in)equality? This seemingly simple question is complicated from a discursive politics approach, which draws attention to the ways both "gender" and "equality" are framed, though not always intentionally, through policy discourse. For example, "gender" can be invoked as a binary which functions analogously to sex, or it can be understood as a continuum based not on biological attributes, but on embodied practices (Butler 2006). Moreover, gendered identities are intersected by class, race, ethnicity, ability, sexuality, and so on, that serve to fragment "femininity" and "masculinity" that give shape to gendered expectations and experiences (Crenshaw 1991). Similarly, "equality" can mean "inclusion" in existing institutions and processes, "reversal" through an acknowledgement and revaluing of women's contributions, or "transformation" through an interrogation and re-visioning of extant institutions and processes (Fraser 1997; Verloo and Lombardo 2007). The discursive terrain in which gender measurement takes place is a crucial starting point for analysis.

At the same time, policy discourses shape and are shaped by institutions. In the context of gender equality policy, women's policy agencies (WPAs) have played a pivotal role, representing both state and community-based interests. These responsibilities place WPAs in a precarious position in the world of gender politics since they often face the impossible task of representing movement claims while reflecting the governing priorities of the government (Eisenstein 1995). They thereby act as sites of both resistance to and reproduction of broader political discourses. As such, WPAs are important sites in the framing of gender (in)equality.

Since the 1990s, the role of WPAs has changed considerably, reflecting larger shifts in the landscape of Canadian gender politics. The emergence of neoliberalism and its administrative corollary, New Public Management, have resulted in shifts away from multipronged policy architecture characterized by some observers as the "Women's State" (Rankin and Wilcox 2004). Erected during the 1970s, the Women's State put in place women's policy agencies, an arms-length advisory committee, and programs to encourage and support women's movements, as well as specific programs and services for women. Gradually dismantled by both right- and left-of centre governments, this architecture was largely replaced by a technocratic policy analytics aimed at integrating gender into the very fabric of the Canadian state (for example, Rankin and Wilcox 2004; Teghtsoonian 2003).

As an approach to gender equality policy, gender mainstreaming, or gender-based analysis (GBA) as it is known in Canada, is an ex ante evaluation, requiring analysts to apply a gender lens to policies and programs at the policy design stage to expose and remedy disparate impacts (Bustelo and Verloo 2009). Where the Women's State established a gender policy architecture bringing together both bureaucratic and community based expertise, the "technocratic turn" of GBA privileges bureaucratic expertise and effectively depoliticizes gender relations (Bacchi and Eveline 2003, 2010; Paterson 2010; Rankin and Wilcox 2004).

While concerns with federal level gender politics are well known, few studies focus on provincial level gender equality policy architecture (Hankivsky 2012b; Malloy 2003, 2006; Teghtsoonian 2003; George 2011; Findlay 2015). Yet provincial jurisdiction includes areas that most acutely affect women and marginalized groups, including social and labour market policy, education, social assistance, and healthcare. In addition, studies reveal that equality policies are more likely to be effective when new programs and policies are introduced. Here again, Canadian provinces are the locus of most policy innovations and experimentations (McArthur 2007). Thus, it is likely that provincial gender policy architectures are significant factors in shaping gender relations.

In this article, we speak to these gaps, exploring the relationship between WPAs and GBA systems. We begin by taking stock of contemporary gender equality architecture, mapping out current WPAs and GBA systems in the ten provinces. We then combine two predominant approaches to feminist policy analysis, the framework developed by the Research Network on Gender, Politics and the State (RNGS) (1) and critical frame analysis (CFA), (2) explained in detail below, to study the relationship between WPAs and gender equality framings. Our analysis is guided by two broad questions: First, what is the relationship between agency characteristics and gender equality framings? Second, what is the role of consultative mechanisms in shaping the framing of gender equality? We conclude with suggestions for further research.

Framing gender (in)equality: policy agencies and discursive politics

A key focus of the state feminism literature is the role of WPAs in representing the demands of women's movements (Haussman and Sauer 2007). Premised on an analytical template created by the Research Network on Gender, Politics and the State (RNGS), this literature explores policy debate and subsequent state responses as a function of women's movement characteristics, the policy environment, and women's policy agency characteristics and activities (for an overview, see, McBride and Mazur 2012). Despite several interesting findings on the conditions under which women's movements will be successful, the relationship between the characteristics of WPAs and success is less clear. Kantola and Squires (2012: 384) suggest that success is more likely determined by "external factors, namely the characteristics of the women's movement and the policy environment, than on internal factors, namely the features of the women's policy agency itself."

In particular, the RNGS framework pays little attention to policy discourse in giving shape to feminism(s) or to policy agencies themselves, which has important implications for policy processes and outcomes. For example, most state feminist scholars adopt a minimalist definition of feminism, collapsing all groups into those that simply share an understanding of women as a social group, advocate for women's rights, and seek to dismantle the gender hierarchy (McBride and Mazur 2012). As a result, we have no way of knowing "who" is speaking for whom and to what effect. While some have attempted to remedy this issue with reference to Squires' (2008) concept of the "constitutive representation of gender" (Kantola and Squires 2012; Celis et al 2014), it has yet to open the RNGS framework to a new line of inquiry.

Similarly, state feminism theorizes that the frame "fit" between the policy agency and women's groups leads to success (Sauer 2012), but is silent on the ways in which "fit" is a function of knowledge/power that shapes state engagement. State engagement often requires actors to deploy dominant state discourses (Grundy and Smith 2007). For example, Teghtsoonian's (2003, 2005) work on policy agencies in British Columbia reveals that left-of-centre governments were complicit in the neo-liberalization of women's policy machinery, thereby undermining the RNGS hypothesis about the importance of left-of-centre governments and illuminating the role of discourse in shaping political strategies. Finally, many studies have exposed the ways in which gender equality has been co-opted to meet broader state objectives (Lombardo and Verloo 2009; Stratigaki 2004). In these contexts, the "fit" between the state and feminist movements might lead to nominal success, but would likely not lead to improved status of women. Instead, policy "problems" and "target populations" are represented in ways that reinforce dominant social constructions and subject positions (Bacchi and Eveline 2010; Bacchi 1999, 2009).

Without attention to discursive politics and policy discourse, then, our understanding of the relationship between states and feminist movements, the implications of strategic frames, and the lived effects of particular outcomes is partial at best. Indeed, the ways in which WPAs represent gender equality will have very real effects on policy processes and outcomes. We therefore need to unpack the particular representations of gender and equality embedded within the very fabric of WPAs.

Towards this end, critical frame analysis (CFA) focuses on policy content. The approach builds on Bacchi's (1999, 2009) work on "problem representations," which import particular understandings of gender and equality into policy texts, thereby opening--or restricting--space for transformative politics. CFA establishes an analytical template based on various dimensions of policy frames, including how the problem is represented (prognosis) and its diagnosis, who is speaking (voice), how the text is gendered (how gender is understood and how it relates to multiple axes of oppression), roles and responsibilities assigned to various groups, the location of the problem, and the balance between the diagnosis and prognosis of the problem (Verloo and Lombardo 2007).

Integrating insights from feminist theory, CFA scholars highlight different categorical orientations of gender + equality (Verloo and Lombardo 2007: 33). The first orientation, what we refer to as inclusion, is premised on the notion that women have been absent from public life, including formal politics and labour market participation. Remedies require special programs aimed at facilitating women's participation in these spheres. Reversal, in contrast, is premised on the notion that women's care work has been traditionally invisible or undervalued. Remedial measures, then, include recognizing and valuing social labour.

With this in mind, what critical frame analysts refer to as displacement is a more radical orientation to gender equality, based on what Fraser (1997) calls transformative politics. Transformative frames question the very nature of gender, scrutinizing the gender binary and its connection to other marginalized groups. Policies developed in this orientation challenge the "taken for grantednes" of gender and social relations by encouraging, for example, men to engage in care work (Fraser 1997). Thus, representations of gender and equality have important effects on policy processes, by limiting how the issue is thought and spoken about, as well as outcomes, by shaping who benefits and loses, and who is required to change.

Similar to the RNGS framework, CFA contributes to a significant body of research that documents competing visions of equality, and contradictions, tensions and inconsistencies within and across policy texts (Lombardo, Meier, and Verloo 2012). From this perspective, the ways in which even expressly feminist policies might contribute to the oppression and marginalization of women is made visible. What is missing, however, is the broader context in which these policies are made.

To address these shortcomings, we propose a two-stage analysis inspired by RNGS and CFA frameworks. In an analysis of GBA approaches in the provinces, we begin with the assumption that gender equality is a contested concept, in which there are competing visions of the "problem" of gender inequality and what to do about it, including inclusion, reversal, and transformation. Gender-based analysis (GBA) is to be applied to all policies and programs established within government. Thus, these understandings have important effects on policy processes and outcomes. How agencies represent the "problem" of gender inequality determines who participates, what they say, and to what effect, potentially privileging some groups over others. We therefore suggest that to understand the role played by WPAs in gender politics we must expand our focus to these framings (Squires 2008).

This leads us to two sets of questions: First, what is the relationship between the powers of the agency and the framing of gender equality? For example, do agencies with the abilities to propose, review, and enforce policy represent gender equality in more transformative ways? Based on state feminism scholarship, we expect that agencies with these broad powers, spanning all dimensions of the policy process, will be more effective in representing women's issues within government. But how exactly these powers relate to how gender equality is constituted remains unclear. On the one hand, broad powers enable representatives to propose policies that might not otherwise be considered. On the other hand, however, the literature on femocrats clearly documents the challenges they face in office (Eisenstein 1995). We thus suggest that broad powers are an important, but not sufficient, element of gender equality representation.

Other factors impact the framing of gender equality such as practices to ensure ministerial parity in the construction of governments, the establishment of gender quotas for political institutions, and the leadership role taken by international organization as the Council of Europe (Lombardo, Meier, and Verloo 2012: 4). Following the state feminism and triangles of empowerment literatures (Holli 2008; Squires 2007), we focus on the presence of consultative mechanisms as an important factor in shaping representations of gender equality. Thus, our second set of questions includes the following: What is the relationship between the presence of consultative mechanisms and gender equality framings? For example, are those agencies with rich mechanisms for consultation with and participation from community groups more likely to be transformative? Before turning to these questions, we take stock of the provincial gender equality architecture with respect to WPAs and GBA systems.

Mapping provincial gender equality architecture

To map and compare the gender equality architecture in each Canadian province, we build upon the WPA typology from the RNGS literature (McBride and Mazur 2012). Women's policy agencies are defined as "state-based agencies, at any level of government, or in any type of organ (elected, appointed, administrative, judicial) that is charged with promoting the advancement of women and/or gender equality" (29). Using several indicators, including leadership and type of appointment (for example, political, administrative), policy orientation/mission, proximity to decision-making power, policymaking powers, and resources, the resulting typology features six types of agencies, including Ministry, Administrative Office, Commission in the Political Executive, Judicial Body, Advisory Council and Legislative Council (p. 52).

The typology is a useful tool, but it does not reflect the realities of the Canadian provinces. It is not standard practice to rely strongly on ministries, commissions in the political executive, judicial bodies, or legislative councils. (3) As a result, only administrative offices and advisory councils from the typology apply to the provinces, but they require some modifications.

Among Canadian provincial gender equality architectures, the first type of administrative office is a horizontal agency, embedded within executive councils, with a privileged access to cabinet and the premier's office. These secretariats or directorates usually operate at arms-length from traditional ministries and have a horizontal mandate to promote and oversee gender-based policies. As a result, we would expect horizontal agencies to deploy more transformative discourse, compared to those embedded within vertical agencies described below.

The other type of administrative office is found within a specific line ministry and tends to have fewer resources. These bureaus tend to be vertically organized and do not have as much independence or clout as horizontal agencies. Thus, civil servants working on women's issues operate like any other civil servant within a traditional department (McBride and Mazur 2012: 53). Their administrative resources vary, but typically include research budgets and subsidies for women's groups. There are, however, important exceptions, such as the WPA in QC, which has broad powers to propose and review legislation and a horizontal mandate, despite being housed within a vertical department.

Regardless of agency type, we would expect more transformative discourse emerging from WPAs that have strong ties with women's movement groups. This tie is often institutionalized in the form of an advisory council, a consulting body within the governmental apparatus. Advisory councils offer a source of independent advice to a minister and the cabinet from outside government (Kernaghan and Siegel 1995; McBride and Mazur 2012: 54). Beyond a formal advisory role, these offices do not have the power, nor the resources, to pre-empt governmental action and can be easily dismissed by governments. However, these agencies benefit from a level of independence that allows them to adopt a more transformative discourse and criticize the government.

Table 1 summarizes the revised typology of WPAs for Canadian provinces. All of them except NS have administrative offices. BC, AB, SK, MB, PEI and QC have WPAs within vertically organized ministries, while ON, NB and NL have established horizontal agencies. Almost all of the vertical agencies are housed in ministries devoted to social issues and, despite having horizontal mandates, report to the ministers of their host departments. (4) The WPA in BC, however, is currently enveloped within the Ministry of Health and is narrowly confined to those terms. This is significant, considering that, until 2001, BC was the only Canadian province to have a standalone ministry.

With respect to discursive politics, we expect that vertically organized WPAs will represent gender equality in more inclusionist ways, due to institutional features that make it difficult to challenge broader governing discourses. With the exception of QC, the ability to propose policy is limited; experts within the "women's portfolio" branch are tasked with working with other government departments to provide "more information," "research" and "analysis" on women's issues. Moreover, the proximity to decision-making is farther than if it were a stand-alone Ministry.

In contrast, we expect horizontal agencies to represent gender equality in more transformative ways due to their broad powers and abilities to coordinate gender priorities across government. For example, NL's Women's Policy Office (WPO) (5) plays a leadership role in gender policy by developing, reviewing and recommending policy, and by ensuring that a gender lens is "brought to the attention of the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Cabinet, Cabinet Committees and departments." Similarly, NB's Women's Equality Branch is housed in the executive council, recommends and reviews policies from different departments in the bureaucracy.

In addition to WPAs, four provinces, NL, PEI, QC and MB, have advisory councils. Nova Scotia is the only province where there is an advisory council only. All of the advisory councils have legislative standing and operate at arms-length. However, with the exception of NS, funding for the councils comes from the WPAs. Each of these agencies provide advice to the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, review and recommend legislation affecting women based on consultations with women's organizations and facilitate dialogue and consultation with women's organizations across the respective provinces. There is some variation in the powers accorded to the advisory councils. For example, the council in NS has the ability to propose, recommend and review policy proposals and legislation. In contrast, councils in QC, NL, MB and PEI are tasked with bringing forth new issues to the WPAs and Minister, engaging in public dialogue and raising awareness.

Although the councils share similar roles and responsibilities, there are important differences with respect to membership. All councils emphasize the need for members to reflect regional, cultural and ethnic diversity, but they involve different appointment processes. However, NS, MB and NL place more emphasis on regional representations in the council, whereas QC designates members based on "different sectors of activities" and by region, and PEI emphasize intersections of difference (ethnicity, race, age, sexual orientation, class, Aboriginal, ability and geography). These agencies emphasize their role as the "community arm" to the provincial government (PEIACSW 2011: 5; NSACSW n.d.) and their independence from government, such as Quebec's Conseil du statut de la femme. (6) Moreover, in some cases, the councils explicitly promote the practice of feminist analysis (PEIACSW 2011: 5; PACSWNL 2011: 4). Thus, advisory councils are potential mechanisms to bring forth issues not captured by expert-bureaucrat modes of policy analysis and research. In addition, their position between government and community groups enables them to serve an accountability function, monitoring and reporting on government progress on gender equality promises. For example, through "Equality Report Cards," the PEI Advisory Council "assess[es the] Province's progress towards women's equality" cross-departmentally and based on policy issues the Council deems priority (PEIACSW 2011: 1). Given these roles and responsibilities, we expect that in provinces where advisory councils complement WPAs, representations of gender equality will be more transformative.

To sum up, there is considerable variation across the provinces in terms of their gender equality policy architecture. What these different configurations mean for the framings of gender equality through gender mainstreaming systems is the focus of the next stage of our analysis.

Representing gender equality through gender-based analysis

We apply critical frame analysis to the GBA systems in each province to assess, in the subsequent section, the relationship between the discursive constitution of GBA and the form of the WPA. Gender-based analysis requires analysts to apply a gender lens to all policies and programs, identifying and, ideally, remedying disparate impacts before implementation. Thus, how gender equality is framed in GBA strategies will resonate across policy areas.

GBA, as a set of bureaucratic practices operates discursively to represent the problem of gender equality in particular ways. The gender mainstreaming literature identifies three distinct approaches to gender analysis, which map loosely onto the three conceptualizations of gender equality discussed above. These include expert-bureaucratic/inclusionist, participatory- democratic/reversalist, and deliberative/transformative (Jahan 1995; Squires 2005).

Following Squires (2005: 373), we attributed the following characteristics to each approach introduced in the previous section: inclusionist, reversalist, and transformative. Inclusionist approaches are expert-driven with little to no consultation and are focused on the procedural dimensions of policy analysis. Gender inequality is represented as women lagging behind men. Reversalist approaches are based on community consultation and are focused more substantively on group representation. Here gender inequality is represented as limited acknowledgement and valuing of women's contributions. Both, however, are more likely to equate gender with sex, although the latter is more likely to adopt a diversity lens. The presence of international examples facilitates the determination of the characteristics of inclusionist and reversalist approaches.

To date, transformative approaches are largely the subject of academic debate rather than practice. Based on this literature, however, we can identify key characteristics of transformative approaches. First, the approach must be intersectional (Hankivsky 2005, 2012a; Squires 2005) and must emphasize the multiple and interconnecting identities shaping social relations. This is in contrast to approaches that recognize diverse identities, but treat them as additive, rather than multiplicative (Hancock 2007). Second, the approach must interrogate social hierarchies (Squires 2005; Bacchi and Eveline 2003). It is not enough to "add women and stir" (Rankin and Vickers 2001); rather, the analysis must place social arrangements that accord privilege to some over others under scrutiny. Third, the approach must be participatory, preferably deliberative (Jahan 1995; Squires 2005; Hankivsky 2006). Specifically, understandings of policy problems and their proposed solutions should result from deliberation throughout the analytical process, rather than after conducting the analysis. Finally, the approach must be "substantive"; it must work towards an explicit goal of achieving gender equality rather than strictly procedural with a focus on "rules and tools" (Meier and Celis 2011).

To assess the GBA systems across Canada, during late 2013 and early 2014, representatives of each WPA were sent a list of questions regarding how GBA was organized, compliance mechanisms, analytical focus (gender, diversity, or intersectional), and the role and degree of consultation in the GBA process. We also asked for copies of GBA guides if they were not available online. When such guides were not available for public viewing (ON, MB, SK), we relied on follow-up discussions with provincial representatives, as well as promotional literature, training guides, mission and policy statements, and evaluation reports to piece together the GBA approach. Only one province, NS, did not reply to our requests and, at the time of writing, did not have any materials available for public viewing. Nova Scotia has therefore been excluded from our analysis. We then applied critical frame analysis, described above, to this material.

There were marked similarities across the provinces. First, in most provinces, GBA is organized very loosely around a hub and spoke model, where the WPA engages in coordinating activities, awareness initiatives, training, and support for representatives at the department level. However, the presence of gender experts at the department level varied within and across provinces. Second, in no province is GBA mandatory. The most common compliance mechanisms are cabinet document requirements, which require analysts to demonstrate that they considered gender implications for the policy or program under study. There are, however, no oversight mechanisms to assess the quality of analysis or to challenge those documents in which GBA is not conducted. Third, all provinces, with the exception of NB and QC, focus on some level of diversity, although their approaches differ somewhat. Finally, almost all provinces indicated that participation, often in the form of consultation, was important but that there were no formal mechanisms to do so.

There were also important differences. First, as noted above, there was variation regarding the approach taken to diversity analysis, which tended to reflect larger debates in academic literature regarding approaches to feminist analysis. For example, PEI deploys the language of intersectionality, while Ontario's Inclusion Lens reflects an "additive" approach to diversity, where differences are conceptualized as separate and separable. Second, some provinces, such as QC, emphasize the need to undertake the analysis early in the policy process. Others, such as SK, were either silent or made only the demand that it be included in cabinet documents and other decision items, which typically come late in the policy process and well after the policy or program has been designed. Finally, although the organization of GBA was similar, the precise roles of the WPAs varied. For example, MB's Status of Women Office takes a proactive role in supporting GBA, hosting workshops, training initiatives, and networking functions that allow for knowledge sharing and mobilization. This has resulted in a healthy network of analysts engaged in gender issues (Flankivsky 2012b).

Using the criteria identified above, we classified provincial GBA systems as follows: inclusionist (I) approaches are those that have limited consultation, favouring technocratic approaches to analysis, little to no diversity or intersectional analysis, and frame equality around integrationist measures; reversalist (R) approaches are those emphasizing consultation and diversity, as well as those that frame equality around revaluing women's unique contributions; or transformative (T), which include those systems that, noted above, are intersectional, emphasize consultation, stress relational analysis, and frame equality as a problem of existing socio-political and economic systems. Our results are summarized in Table 2.

Only the PEI approach to GBA represents gender equality in transformative terms. Their guidelines use the language of intersectionality and call attention to and trouble of the role of men in the sexual division of labour and social change (PEI 2012, 4). Moreover, the approach emphasizes consultation as a way to understand policy problems and potential solutions and elaborates a substantive dimension by justifying GBA as a tool with which to achieve gender equality.

Similarly, potentially transformative approaches can be found in MB and QC. The approach in MB is not intersectional, but rather adopts what Flancock (2007: 64) would describe as "multiple," in which various dimensions of identity are acknowledged as interactive and complex, but privileges gender as the primary axis of oppression (see also Flankivsky 2005). The approach is also explicitly promoted as a means through which to achieve gender equality along the lines of economic, social, legal and health dimensions, giving the tool a substantive dimension. Finally, the tool requires analysts to scrutinize policy texts along power lines to determine who has defined a given issue as a problem, who is speaking, who is not, and who needs to be heard, reflecting not only the ways in which hierarchies are challenged, but also the need for participation from community groups.

The QC approach, while lacking in its emphasis on diversity or intersectionality, is explicitly couched in the language of transforming social relations (QC 2005:13) (7) Indeed, the introduction of the non-transferrable paternity leave was the result of GBA that sought to "[let] men assume greater caregiving responsibilities during the first year of their children's lives, [encouraging] couples to work out more equitable sharing of family responsibilities and to achieve gender equality" (QC 2008: 25). Moreover, where consultation is described as simply a "step" as part of a linear analytical process in other provinces, communication and consultation are conceptualized "at the centre of the intervention" (QC 2008: 24). For these reasons, we have identified both MB and QC as "almost" transformative representations of gender equality.

The approaches of NL and NB can be reasonably considered reversalist. The guidelines for GBA in NL offer steps for GBA in sync with the traditional policy cycle, as do many of the provinces. In justifying the use of GBA, however, the document explains, "To ensure fairness, consideration must be given to the distinctions in women's and men's lives including their roles and responsibilities and access to resources" (NL 2003:10, emphasis added). Thus, gender inequality results from the apparently inherent differences between men and women. In terms of participation, according to the representative in NL, the Women's Policy Office engages in regular consultation with community groups, and maintains close ties with the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women to ensure that a variety of perspectives are represented in policy discussions and analysis.

Similarly, despite a strong emphasis on bureaucratic expertise characteristic of inclusionist approaches, the approach in NB largely represents gender inequality in reversalist terms. A case study provided in the GBA guide notes, "When women have contributed to the economic well-being of their families and communities by engaging in unpaid work, they are not compensated, but are further marginalized by being denied access to work-related benefits such as workers compensation, employment insurance, paid sick leave, etc." (NB 2003: 4-5). These approaches take gender difference as given, rather than challenging the contexts in which such identities are granted meaning. As a result, analysts are instructed to look for ways in which to revalue the contributions of women with respect to patriarchal economic and social systems.

The remaining provinces were classified as inclusionist, largely due to their emphasis on bureaucratic expertise and their invocation of a male (white, heterosexual, able-bodied) referent. The GBA approaches in BC, ON, and SK focus on some degree of diversity; however, only SK acknowledges a role for consultation. Moreover, the approaches invoke a male referent, suggestive of inclusionist representations. For example, ON's Inclusion Lens, implemented in 2011 includes 17 dimensions, one of which is gender, states as its goal to "remove barriers" to participation (ON 2009; 2011). (8) These approaches generally leave broader contexts unquestioned and rely on bureaucratic expertise to solve problems related to difference.

This analysis demonstrates that there are some important substantive differences across provincial GBA systems. Our next step is to determine whether or not these differences can be attributed to the gender (in)equality architecture in each province.

Linking policy agencies and gender representation

We have sought to discover connections between the WPAs and GBA through the following questions. First, what is the relationship between the powers of an agency and its gender equality framing? Second, what is the relationship between consultative mechanisms and the framing of equality?

The data do not support a relationship between the powers of an agency and its orientation towards gender equality. On the one hand, the most limited approaches to GBA seem to exist in those areas with the weakest policy agencies, BC and AB. In BC, where women's issues are housed in the Ministry of Health, GBA is seemingly applied only in this ministry and unevenly at best. (9) Similarly, in AB there is currently no formalized GBA policy and the application of GBA throughout the government is ad hoc. In both cases, gender equality is housed in vertical departments with limited presence throughout the public service.

On the other hand, there appears to be no clear relationship between agency powers and transformative representations of equality. For example, while the WPA in QC has broad powers to propose, review and evaluate policy, it is housed within a vertical department. Similarly, GBA in MB is well established and based mostly on "soft" enforcement mechanisms, such as training activities, knowledge sharing and networking, that serve to increase awareness across public servants (Hankivsky 2012b). Furthermore, ON represents equality in inclusionist terms, despite the presence of a horizontal WPA. Thus, there is no clear relationship between agency type or powers and the representation of gender equality established in GBA policy discourse. This then leads us to our next broad question, regarding the role of consultative mechanisms.

There is some evidence that the presence of an advisory council leads to more transformative representations of gender equality. Indeed, in PEI, which represents equality in transformative terms, and in MB and QC, which represents equality in "almost" transformative terms, advisory councils complement the work of the WPAs. Similarly, advisory councils seemingly have an impact on those systems where gender equality is represented as reversalist, such as NL and NB. (10)

In contrast, in those areas lacking an advisory council, BC, SK, ON, and AB, representations of equality are cast in inclusionist terms. As noted above, the approaches adopted in these areas privilege the role of experts rather than lived experience. The Inclusion Lens in ON, for example, is an online tool designed to assist policy analysts at various stages of the analytical process with little opportunity for input from community groups. In addition, the BC guidelines deploy gender in ways that tend to reaffirm the gender binary. And although SK encourages consultation, dialogue is largely a process taking place across bureaucrats via the Inter-Ministerial Committee of Advisors on Women's Policy. As noted, at the time of writing AB had no policy or guidelines for GBA.

Thus, we can reasonably conclude that the presence of an advisory council potentially supports a more transformative representation of gender equality. This finding substantiates previous research on the importance of relationships between women's policy agencies and social movements (e.g., McBride and Mazur 2012), as well as the literature on gender mainstreaming, which argues that transformative approaches necessitate deliberative mechanisms (e.g., Squires 2005). In short, such councils offer a space to represent alternative views informed by expertise and lived experience. By offering inbuilt mechanisms for consultation and community representation, these agencies serve to challenge prevailing representations of gender and equality in ways that femocrats in government agencies or elected officials cannot (for example, Eisenstein 1995). This suggests also that the presence of advisory councils might work to compensate for limited powers within WPAs. In sum, it suggests that working towards a transformation of social relations requires both bureaucrats and community representation (Rankin and Wilcox 2004; Squires 2007).


This contribution examined the ways in which "gender equality" is subject to different interpretations and framings (Lombardo and Verloo 2009). Thus, when we speak of gender mainstreaming in Canada, we need to expand our focus to provincial policy architectures that serve to fracture the notion of a unified understanding of gender equality.

This analysis, however, is only the beginning because it focuses on differences in gender equality representations across agencies. Yet, we might find different representations within policy agencies. A good example can be found in Quebec, where gender is often pitted against culture, and leading to a discourse that tends to "other" immigrant populations as the "problem" to the goal of gender equality (Bilge 2012). These representations of diversity undercut GBA's transformative potential.

Similarly, if, as Mazur (2002) and others (Pringle and Watson 1998) suggest, some parts of the state might be more feminist than others, it is reasonable to conclude that policy discourses might construct gender equality differently across policy fields. For example, we might find that economic policy constructs gender equality in inclusionist terms, where reproductive health constructs it in more transformative ways. Moreover, our analysis did not address usage or results of GBA. Not only might we find some departments more willing to adopt GBA at early stages of policy analysis, but we might also find that effective implementation is itself related to the power of the WPAs, as suggested with respect to federal level GBA (Grace 1997).

Finally, while we emphasize the presence of an advisory council in shaping representations of gender equality, the roles of broader political contexts and discourses deserve greater scrutiny. Recent research in provincial public administration points to the increasing power and influence of elected officials, particularly the premier and ruling party on policy architecture, processes and outcomes (McArthur 2007), and there is no reason to assume that gender analysis would escape this trend. This was substantiated by our informal interviews with representatives from both Alberta and New Brunswick, who pointed to the importance of a supportive premier in re-prioritizing and reforming gender analysis. Similarly, historical contexts that shape provincial responses to gender inequality, and likely explain, at least in part, the variations in women's policy agencies, will no doubt in turn influence the ways in which gender equality is constituted. In addition, one might find that transformative approaches to gender equality and particular configurations of policy architecture stem from broader political discourses that give rise to more critical approaches to policies and public problems (Kantola and Squires 2012).

In closing, we have suggested that how we address gender (in)equality has important effects, shaping policy processes, outcomes and experiences. In addition, we have demonstrated that these effects vary across both jurisdiction and institutional form. These findings are important as Canada enters a new era of gender equality politics in which emphasis is on integrated policy analysis in the form of gender mainstreaming rather than on a multipronged approach including targeted measures and community input. The lived effects of these processes with respect to gender relations remain to be seen.

Stephanie Paterson is Associate Professor, Political Science, Concordia University, Montreal. Patrik Marier is Professor, Political Science, Concordia University. Felix Chu is a graduate of the Master of Public Policy and Public Administration Program at Concordia University.


(1) RNGS is a network of researchers engaged in a long-term, cross-national comparative research project on women's movements and the state. The project was completed in 2012 and resulted in several books, a database, and research papers. For more information, see

(2) CFA is an analytical framework for studying discursive politics. The approach emerged from the Europe-based MAGEEQ research group, which was tasked with assessing the divergent meanings of gender equality as a potential implementation problem. For more information, see

(3) While most provinces have a Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, this tends to be a junior cabinet position and is always coupled with additional responsibilities, often related to social policy portfolios.

(4) The WPA in QC also includes four permanent regional offices for ongoing consultation and education.

(5) As of July 2014, the URL was

(6) As of February 27, 2014, the URL was

(7) The GBA Guidelines include only one focusing question about potential implications of diversity.

(8) The lead agency for the Inclusion Lens is not the OWD, although they are a partner agency and "subject expert" for GBA, but rather the Diversity Office within the Ministry of Government Services.

(9) Efforts for clarification went unanswered by Ministry contacts.

(10) Note that the advisory council in NL was recently closed in 2011.


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Table 1. Administrative Offices and Advisory Councils in Canadian

Province        Administrative        Administrative
                office                office
                Horizontal            Vertical

British                               Women's Issues
Columbia                                (Ministry of
                                        Health) No Titled
Alberta                               Women's Issues
                                        (Alberta Human
                                        Services) No
                                        Titled Minister
Saskatchewan                          Status of Women
                                        (Ministry of
                                        Social Services)
Manitoba                              Status of Women
                                        (Ministry of
                                        Family Services) No
                                        Titled Minister
Ontario         Ontario Women's
Quebec                                Secretariat a la
                                        condition feminine
                                        ministere de
                                        l'Emploi et de la
                                      Solidarite sociale
Nova Scotia

Prince Edward                         Interministerial
Island                                  Women's Secreteriat
                                        Ministry of
                                        Services and Seniors
New Brunswick   Women's Equality
                  (in Executive
Newfoundland    Women's Policy
& Labrador        Office Horizontal

Province        Advisory

British         *



Manitoba        Manitoba Women's
                  Advisory Council


Quebec          Conseil du Statut de
                  la femme

Nova Scotia     Advisory Council
                  on the Status of
Prince Edward   Advisory Council
Island            on the Status of

New Brunswick   **

Newfoundland    Provincial Advisory
& Labrador        Council on the
                  Status of Women

* Minister's Advisory Council on Aboriginal Women (Report to
Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister).

** The New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women was
abolished in March 2011.

Table 2. Gender Equality Framings in Provincial GBA Systems

Province                           BC   AB *   SK   MB   ON   QC   NL

G--Gender Only                     D           D    D    D    G    D

D--Diversity (gender and /or
other axes of difference)

I--Intersectional (gender as it
intersects other axes of

I--Integrative (existing           I           I    H    I    H    I
institutions, practices, etc.,
accepted as given)

H--Hierarchies (examines
institutions, practices, etc.,
for their role in social

B--Bureaucratic (analysis          B           P    P    B    P    P
conducted primarily by expert

P--Participatory (analysts
consult or deliberate with
representatives from community
groups and stakeholders)

P--Procedural (emphasizes "rules   P           P    S    S    S    P
and tools")

S--Substantive (goal of gender
equality defined in advance)
Final Classification:              I    NA     I    T    I    T    R




Province                           NB **   NS   PEI

G--Gender Only                     G            I

D--Diversity (gender and /or
other axes of difference)

I--Intersectional (gender as it
intersects other axes of

I--Integrative (existing           I            H
institutions, practices, etc.,
accepted as given)

H--Hierarchies (examines
institutions, practices, etc.,
for their role in social

B--Bureaucratic (analysis          P            P
conducted primarily by expert

P--Participatory (analysts
consult or deliberate with
representatives from community
groups and stakeholders)

P--Procedural (emphasizes "rules   P            S
and tools")

S--Substantive (goal of gender
equality defined in advance)
Final Classification:              R       NA   T




* AB had no GBA system in place at the time of writing; however, a
new approach, based on intersectional analysis, was being prepared
for a 2014 launch.

** NB is also in the process of reviving their approach to GBA,
moving to an intersectional approach. Similar to AB, the new system
was to be implemented in Spring 2014.
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Author:Paterson, Stephanie; Marier, Patrik; Chu, Felix
Publication:Canadian Public Administration
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Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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