Where governments spend money is more important that what they say they value, which is why gender-based budgeting can help.
Mitzi Dean recently took a ride on the bus along Highway 16 in northern B.C. and sat next to a mother and her child. They were taking a two-hour trip to visit Grandma.
Until two years ago, when the provincial government began subsiding the bus that connects the communities from the Alberta border to Prince Rupert, the only way Grandma could get to see her grandchild was by hitchhiking along the route that’s become known as the Highway of Tears. At least 18 women have disappeared or been murdered along it while they were hitchhiking.
The mother told B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for gender equity that the improvement in the quality of life for those two women and the child they love is immeasurable.
“That bus service is having a real impact on families and on future generations,” says Dean, who has been a driving force behind the provincial government’s use of so-called gender-based analysis plus, or GBA+, for its 2019-20 budget.
B.C. and Canada are among the last in governments in the developed countries in using a gender lens for determining spending priorities. When the federal government releases its 2019-20 budget today, it will be the second one to have used GBA+.
Had B.C. used it sooner, Dean believes the buses would have been running a lot sooner.
In simple terms, GBA+ means that ministries must acknowledge and take into consideration the potentially different effects of policies and spending on men, women, LGBTQ people, Indigenous people and people with differing incomes.
Raising the minimum wage, for example, provides greater benefits to women because they make up a greater percentage of low-wage earners.
Child care allows women to return to the workforce, helping decrease Canada’s gender wage gap, which is worse than the OECD average. Reducing the wage gap, in turn, will eventually cut the disproportionately greater number of female seniors living in poverty.
While the name and some definitions of GBA+ — references to “intersectionality” and “gender fluidity” and the name of the process itself — may sound a bit loopy, there’s nothing radical in it.
Of the member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 90 per cent some form of gender budgeting even though the OECD’s most recent report acknowledges that “there appears to be little consensus on what gender budgeting actually entails.”
Caroline Criado Perez argues in her book Invisible Women that society has largely built for men, despite women making up 51 per cent of the population.
Criado Perez rejects the notion that there is “a grand conspiracy against women.” But as she recently wrote in the Washington Post, “just because it isn’t deliberate doesn’t mean the gender data gap doesn’t have a serious impact on women’s lives: It does and the effects for women living in a world designed for men range from inconvenient to fatal.”
Men are used as the standard, whether it’s when setting office temperatures or designing crash test dummies.
In clinical trials of new drugs, she notes, women are often left out because their more complicated bodies with their monthly menstrual cycles and varying hormone levels produced too many variables. The fact that women are then prescribed some of those drugs, which might have dangerous side effects because of hormonal shifts, well, it’s just been too bad for us.
Using GBA+ budgeting can also help ensure that research money is equitably distributed. This will help redress the imbalance and bias inherent in past studies that have focused on how everything affect men but not women.
Until recently, we were told that chest pains are the most common symptom of a heart attack. They are, for men. Women don’t always have chest pain. But they do get shortness of breath, dizziness and abdominal pain, which has often resulted in misdiagnoses of acid reflux or flu.
And there’s this prosaic example that Criado Perez used during a recent CBC interview.
Snow removal in Karlskoga. When the Swedish town did a gender audit of all of its policies, it found a bias in its snow removal. The priority is clearing commuter routes, which are most frequently used by men. Women are more likely to use the side roads as they multi-task their way through the day, dropping children at school before work, grocery shopping or visiting elderly parents on their way home.
They’re also more likely to not have cars, so they need to walk to the buses running on the main roads. And what the town found is that when it switched its snow removal to give priority to pedestrians, health care costs dropped because the majority of the accidents involved people — women — falling on the ice.
Meantime, one in seven Canadian girls misses school because menstrual supplies aren’t readily available there. Recently, New Westminster trustees unanimously agreed to provide free menstrual supplies in the girls’ bathrooms in all its schools.
The B.C. government could prove how serious it is about eliminating gender barriers and provide the necessary funding for all schools now rather than waiting until next year’s budget.