Equality

Gender to be a bigger factor in provincial policy

Expert says incorporating gender-analysis into governmental decision making is “more important than ever”

A mural on Barrington St. The province is taking steps to advance women's issues.
A mural on Barrington St. The province is taking steps to advance women’s issues.   Rachael Kelly

The province is taking steps to give gender issues a greater weight in policy decisions, a legislative committee heard on Tuesday.

The provincial government has hired a gender expert to familiarize policy makers with the fundamentals of gender analysis. It has also added a check box to reports and recommendations for cabinet ministers to ensure new policies and programs have been screened with a new “gender lens.”

The updates were delivered in a presentation to the Standing Committee on Community Services today by Stephanie MacInnis-Langley, executive director of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and Pat Gorham, director of strategic initiatives for the council.

“In 2016, we’re in a really progressive place,” said MacInnis-Langley. “There are so many considerations in policy development that oftentimes gender is the last thing people think about. But now we’re moving it up.”

Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women

The 12-member council was established in 1977 under the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Regulations. Its mandate is to “advance equality, fairness, and dignity for all women and girls in Nova Scotia by influencing public opinion, policy and programming across the province.”

Building a strong gender-analysis into government decisions is now more important than ever,” said MacInnis-Langley.

Joyce Treen, the Liberal MLA for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, welcomed the news.

“The more we empower our young girls at an earlier age and the more they understand where they need to sit in society – where they have the right to sit in society – matters,” she said.

The numbers

In Nova Scotia, women make up 51 per cent of the population – and 49.6 per cent of the labour force. Women also outrank men in terms of high school completion and university enrolment rates.

But, as is already well-known, women are disproportionately employed in minimum-wage jobs and are grossly underrepresented in leadership positions.

“These challenges are directly linked to gender in the way our society is organized and devalues women,” said MacInnis-Langley. “Countering this (in policy), while building capacity and resilience, is a huge focus.”

Brendan Maguire, vice-chair of the Community Services Committee and Liberal MLA for Halifax Atlantic, welcomed the presentation, saying women’s issues “may be the most important thing in Nova Scotia right now.”

The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women has a total budget of $9.07 million, with 90 per cent – just over $8 million – dedicated towards funding organizations that serve women. Nova Scotia is currently home to nine women’s centres, 11 transition houses and Alice Housing.

It has four main areas of focus:

  • Gender-based analysis of government policy
  • Violence against women
  • Economic security and leadership
  • Community partnership

In 2016, the council will present women’s health as an equity issue and will research new frameworks for violence against women. It also hopes to open a women’s health clinic in Halifax.