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Gender Equality in Public Policy

by Rajah Maggay

Institutions, governments and boards are constantly trying to unearth how they can respectfully and effectively include diverse perspectives into public policies. The status quo for policies based on inclusion is limited. They confine themselves to easy forms of measurement with regards to progress. Measures include counting how many women and girls are involved in or affected by policy interventions. 

Conversely, a transformative approach goes deeper by working on permanently changing structure and institutions that have perpetuated inequality. A transformative approach works to make a community feel safer, better represented and included in the decision making process.

Rebecca Tiessen from the School of Public Policy, wrote back in December 2019 on Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy. While speaking about this specific policy, the points made in her paper were incredibly relevant to all public policy work that attempts to specifically work for women. 

Policies tend to explicitly focus on women and girls, making the policy binary, neglecting broader principles of gender equality that should always include LGBTQ+, trans and non-binary individuals. As a result, this specific policy focused on the binary of gender rather than the social construction of gender. 

Shining the light on women and girls rather than gender equality can reinforce power dynamics when the experiences of women and girls are predominantly expressed in victimhood sentiments in relation to those in positions of power. 

There are various texts in recent years that have touched on the inclusion of marginalized individuals within politics. From Sally Armstrong’s Power Shift, Advancing Social Equity Through Planning Design and Investment by Jill Lang to On Being Included by Sara Ahmed. All of which emphasized how a fully gender inclusive policy must address variables such as cultural norms, discrimination, political process and institutionalized gender inequality and examine how and where they intersect. 

To be fully inclusive we must consider gender equality in all that we do and want to achieve as institutions have hypocritical elements to feminist commitments they have made. While boasting about equality for all, there may still be systems in place that prevent women from moving forward in life such as their places of work. While intimidating, we should actively identify power dynamics that perpetuate gender inequality.

A transformative feminist approach, begins with an understanding of power relations and inequalities that perpetuate gender inequality individually and institutionally. This approach recognizes the underlying causes of gender inequality in relation to masculinities, cultural norms and socially sanctioned power relations that marginalize some groups – often women, girls and transgender people.

Much of our future analyses should focus on translating policies into practice. While policy document may not completely promote a transformative feminist approach that focuses on changing structures and systems of inequality, the actions that result from a feminist policy can address these missed opportunities.

Rajah Maggay - A community advocate passionate about social action, accessibility and social equity, Rajah has lived in Edmonton her entire life. She is currently a Research and Policy Advisor, with previous event planning/management experience and has been volunteering for the City of Edmonton Youth Council for four years. Her ultimate goal is to get more involved in politics. Recently Rajah coined a policy around Digital Social Relations called the Empathy Act that is going to be presented to the European Union.

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