Focus On

What B.C.’s gender equity plan means for diversity, access to justice | Kurt Sandstrom

Thursday, March 19, 2020 @ 2:22 PM | By Kurt Sandstrom

Kurt Sandstrom %>
Kurt Sandstrom
In 2018, British Columbia committed to advancing gender equality by ensuring that gender equity is reflected in all budget, policy and program decisions. Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA-Plus) is now a required component of all cabinet, budget and Treasury Board submissions. The benefits of this analysis are exciting and sometimes unexpected.

Gender-based analysis has been in use across all federal departments since 1995, upon Canada’s signing the UN-Beijing Declaration and Platform to Action. A lot has changed since we first committed to using gendered analysis in policy development, and two auditor general’s audits on the implementation of GBA-Plus in government policy development and programs (2009 and 2015), indicated that we still have work to do.

As a refresher: GBA-Plus is shorthand for an analytical tool used to assess how diverse groups of women, men and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs and initiatives. The “plus” in GBA-Plus indicates that the analysis goes beyond sex and gender, examining things like age, abilities, education, Indigeneity, education, language, income, etc. Together, the considerations of GBA-Plus provide a snapshot that helps capture how different British Columbians experience issues, policies and services. The cornerstone of gender equality remains at the core of GBA-Plus and its applications for inclusive growth, but gender equality — or more accurately, gender equity — now sits in relation to a broadened foundational structure of other intersecting identity factors.

The B.C. government’s renewed commitment to GBA-Plus is a timely and positive indicator of our intention to continue the work and become leaders in that process. British Columbians rely on a wide variety of services and are impacted by a wide variety of policies throughout their lifetime, but access, effectiveness and their overall experiences hinge on whether these policies and programs were designed for the real-life complexities of identity.

The business of big data has long recognized that intersecting identity factors are essential to building detailed personal profiles and connections with end-users, and the same principle supports “users” of government policy. In fact, over 160 governments and international and regional institutions have made using a tool like GBA-Plus as a key part of their policy-making process.

GBA-Plus adds value by revealing the connections and potentially unforeseen consequences of intersectionality. Individuals have long been identifying beyond the binary, and the early notion of gendered analysis as an arm of women’s advocacy has (hopefully) long been dispelled. The historical habit of siloing knowledge and service areas among neighbouring sectors is currently shifting to models of convergence, as exemplified by cultural institutions, digital and technological industries and even the convergence of policy itself.

Collecting and comparing identity data also enables policy analysts to spot barriers to full participation in policy, legislative and program initiatives by diverse groups. This has enormous implications for access to justice. It is also a path to preventative action and more intelligent program investments. Using GBA-Plus highlights opportunities at the get-go by revealing connections among service users that often surprise us. This is not about paying lip service to inclusion — it is about stopping unanticipated policy gaps and their related costs, before they start.

Many sectors are still catching up on capturing and using gender-disaggregated data, and there are increased calls for more information about how all manner of research, design and policy impact at least half the human population. As gender-disaggregated data becomes more available, data teams across government are working diligently to inform analysis. Using the GBA-Plus framework provides a helpful road map from which to formalize how and what analysts communicate about their learnings to ministers of government and corporate executives. 

The GBA-Plus Job Aid provides a matrix and work flow outlining the means for policy developers and others to identify the intersecting identity factors of individuals and communities which policies, programs, initiatives and communications address. Not unlike the government of British Columbia’s regulatory reform principles that are considered in the early states of developing or amending statutes, regulations and associated policies, the GBA-Plus checklist instructs us to consider policy development and decision-making considering:

  • Our own positions, identity factors and biases
  • Intersecting identity factors, and which factor is the natural entry point for analysis
  • Context and point of views
  • Existing structures that protect and disadvantage
  • Impacts; and,
  • Next steps.

These considerations informed the B.C. Ministry of Finance during the application of gender-based analysis in the development and delivery of the recent provincial budget. Applying GBA-Plus was a positive step that also afforded the opportunity to better discover what types of data support gendered analysis. Many aspects of the GBA-Plus framework are already in use for the evaluation of tax measures, allowing analysts to look at how those measures impact different British Columbians, in different ways.

The intersectional scope of GBA-Plus adds greater detail and lends even more insight to this exercise. For instance, investing in child care becomes more interesting when it is shown to free up caregivers’ time to participate in the labour force, leading to greater economic activity and/or helping to close the gender pay gap. This is important, considering B.C. has the third-largest gender pay gap in Canada.

Understanding the needs of diverse groups is critical to developing solutions across our ministries. For example, incorporating available data on gender-based violence and how violence against women and girls factors into access to justice is crucial to the work of the justice sector. This data is also present in cross-ministry actions to support mental wellness and substance use in Indigenous and vulnerable B.C. populations, and the work of the Human Rights Tribunal. GBA-Plus was embedded in the British Columbia’s poverty reduction strategy, developed by the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, to ensure that the government’s poverty reduction efforts “address systemic barriers and meet the needs of groups at particular risk of poverty,” including access to justice.

These applications of GBA-Plus are at the tip of a vast informational iceberg with positive implications for related policies and outcomes across the justice and public safety sectors, and beyond. Applying an analysis that considers and compares where these identity factors overlap is an extremely powerful tool for all areas, from justice to health to security and defence. Not only does it strengthen our ability to access to services when we need them, it builds upon our B.C. Economic Framework and fosters greater human kindness and appreciation for the diverse world we live in. 

Kurt Sandstrom has been the assistant deputy minister of Justice Services Branch, with the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General, since June 2016. He also teaches law, public policy and dispute resolution at the University of Victoria. He lives and works on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples, now known as the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to
 The Lawyer’s Daily, contact Analysis Editor Peter Carter at or call 647-776-6740.