What is GBA+? The federal intersectional doctrine that governs everything now

Posted on March 2, 2018 in Governance Policy Context

NationalPost.com – News – It can’t fix bad policy, it can just make it more equitable
March 2, 2018.   Tristin Hopper

The GBA+ logo.Status of Women Canada

In his 2018 budget speech, finance minister Bill Morneau proudly noted that every single budget decision was vetted through “GBA+.”

It stands for “gender-based analysis plus,” a program drafted by Status of Women Canada to analyze the “gendered” implications of government policy. The budget is so chock full of GBA+, in fact, that it even carries the program’s unique plus sign logo on its front page.

So what is this mysterious new program that controls everything we do now? If you’re not a federal worker who has already undergone your mandatory GBA+ training, read below to find out.

The Conservatives started this
Lest you think this is purely an exercise in leftie virtue-signaling, a GSA+-style program has been promised ever since 1995, and was ultimately introduced under the Conservatives and continues to receive the endorsement of their MPs. In a 2015 report, then-Status of Women Minister (and future Conservative leader) Rona Ambrose called GBA+ a tool that would allow government to “build more responsive initiatives.” And here’s Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, a former director of engineering at Suncor, praising the program as a way for “all parliamentarians to consider legislation through the lens of gender fairness as well as diversity.”

The ‘identity factors’ wheel showing all the different identities that must be considered by government workers in crafting policy. Status of Women Canada

All federal policy is now weighed against “identity factors”
It’s not just gender. The symbol above illustrates all the other “identity factors” that make up GBA+. The whole point of the program is to ensure that bureaucrats aren’t designing tone-deaf programs that accidentally ignore whole swaths of the population. For instance, a federal anti-smoking campaign that buys a bunch of pricey billboards in predominantly non-smoking Vancouver, but does nothing to address the sky-high rates of smoking in Indigenous communities. Or, a federal initiative to boost Canadian fitness that only ends up helping stoned philosophy majors because it spent all its money on Ultimate Frisbee courses. “If we neglect to consider intersecting factors … we risk missing or misreading the experiences of a significant portion of the Canadian population,” reads an official GBA+ primer. The diagram below lays out the basic GBA+ process (in monstrously dense government speak, of course). Effectively, it’s a series of checks to make sure that policy makers aren’t just designing programs for people who think and act like themselves.

This isn’t just some flighty government thing
The job of a Mattel executive is to get Barbie dolls into as many hands as possible. That’s how we got Hispanic Barbies, African-American Barbies, punk rock Barbies and Barbies with realistic feminism-friendly waists. GBA+-style “assumption-busting” programs are rampant across the private sector, for the simple reasons that companies don’t want to leave money on the table by accidentally alienating an unfamiliar demographic. A classic pro-diversity fable taught in business schools, for example, is how the teetotalling Walt Disney Company unwittingly angered Europeans by refusing to serve alcohol at Euro Disneyland. A proper GBA+ analysis might have concluded that French people feel strongly about their wine, and would react negatively to meeting Mickey Mouse on only a coffee buzz. The tech world has faced similar accusations of obliviousness due to their penchant to design voice-recognition software that only understands Canadian or Northern U.S. English, or motion sensors that don’t detect non-white skin.

GBA+ is “not advocacy”
The training materials for GBA+ are stacked with more buzzwords than an Occupy Wall Street manifesto. There are hundreds of mention of “gender,” dozens of instances of “intersectionality” and at least one inclusion of this monstrous phrase: “Foster buy-in with stakeholders.” It’s partially for this reason that GBA+ trainers felt the need to assure government workers that their program “is not advocacy.” Ideally, it’s just a complicated cost-benefit analysis. Reducing the amount of tone-deaf government policy is the whole reason we have representative government, of course. In its pure form, GBA+ is really only a formalized version of the cost-benefit analyses that bureaucrats should have already been doing. After all, GBA+ need not exclusively be a lever for progressive pet causes. If a conservative-minded prairie community is hit by a tornado, it’s conceivably a GBA+ analysis that would prevent an out-of-touch federal bureaucrat from trying to raise community morale by handing out a bunch of Lena Dunham DVDs.

It’s obviously not an exact science
A government-commissioned economic impact study can provide hard numbers on what a power plant or an Olympic Games can do to GDP. But while seeking out “disaggregated” data is a key component of the GBA+ process (Statistics Canada is evern setting up a special GBA+ unit), the program is still addressing things that can be hard to quantify. Earlier this month, Canada’s approval process for energy projects came under criticism due to a requirement that energy companies prepare a gender-based analysis. The term is so “ill-defined as to be meaningless in a scientific context,” wrote the Fraser Institute’s Kenneth Green and Ross McKitrick. And indeed, there doesn’t seem to be any limit to how granular GBA+ can become. One of the more confusing examples offered in an online GBA+ course is an exercise in which the student is asked to imagine that they’re a Canadian Forest Service worker designing a program to diversify the economies of forestry communities. The exercise notes that 3.5% of full-time forestry workers are Indigenous, 14% of those are women, and Indigenous women are at a statistically higher risk to be single mothers. “This tells us that we should consider the needs of women, Indigenous population, young workers and single parents,” it reads.

It applies to absolutely everything
GBA+ literature repeatedly makes it clear that no corner of government is exempt from the program. Every department from meteorology to fisheries to the Canadian Armed Forces must now consider the gendered consequences of their policies. “CAF gender advisors, both in Canada and on deployed operations, will inform and advise on gender considerations in operational planning and doctrine,” reads a 2017 statement by the Department of Defence. Even in policies that don’t seem to have any gendered component, a GBA+ analysis “may reveal significant gender and/or diversity issues,” notes Status of Women Canada. An example is how Canadian women are more frequently misdiagnosed for heart disease because medical research has focused primarily on the warning signs exhibited by men. Granted, there are still a few things in Canada that don’t have a gender element to them, but the GBA+ process demands that every policy be screened regardless just to make sure. Government materials note that this is an “infrequent” occurrence.

It’s supposed to be on every bureaucrat’s mind at all times
Training materials for the program urge bureaucrats to develop what they call a “GBA+ reflex.” This makes GBA+ different than other government considerations such as environmental assessments or official bilingualism. Instead of being just another step in the process of approving a project, GBA+ is supposed to be front of mind at all times. “Having a GBA+ reflex means that considering gender and diversity factors has become a routine and automatic part of your work and thought process,” reads a Status of Women description. This isn’t to say that it can’t still be extraordinarily confusing for a policy maker to know what is GBA+ kosher. A GBA+ training scenario on emergency response notes that since many women are caregivers, they can be particularly valuable at helping a community to bounce back after a disaster. However, the trainee is simultaneously asked to capitalize on these maternal resources without “exploiting and reinforcing gender inequality.”

It can’t fix bad policy, it can just make it more equitable
When Bill Morneau says that the latest budget is all GBA+ vetted, this doesn’t mean that it’s a precision-engineered piece of gender equity. All it means is that the Liberals’ chosen policies have simply been rendered as diversity-friendly as possible. If the policies themselves are wrongheaded at helping women (as some have asserted) there’s very little that GBA+ can do to prevent that. Should some future government decide that gender equity is best served by issuing gender-neutral grey unitards to every Canadian, for instance, all GBA+ can do is work out a strategy to best distribute those unitards to marginalized communities. A recent federal example could be the infamous $8.1 million Parliament Hill hockey rink. A GBA+ screening might have concluded that the rink’s location disproportionately benefited wealthy Ottawa kids, and thus a program was needed to fly in diverse backgrounds of children from across Canada to experience the rink for themselves (which is exactly what they did). When, of course, a more equitable answer would have been to scrap the damned thing altogether and divert the funds towards building rinks in struggling communities.

You can be GBA+ certified right now!
As noted above, the two-hour “introduction to GBA+ course” is completely online. However, you can skip past all of it and go right to the final 10-question test. Anyone with a middling understanding of words like “gender” and the difference between “equity” and “equality” should probably be able to score 80 per cent on the first try. And for your troubles, you’ll get a nifty certificate signed by Status of Women deputy minister Gina Wilson. Here’s a freebie: When you encounter a statement saying that it’s safe to ignore “historical disparities” when drafting government policy, the answer is “false.”

Let nobody say this news article was not deeply informed by GBA+. Status of Women Canada


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