Culturally Relevant Gender-based Analysis: A tool to promote equity

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Prior to first contact, many Aboriginal societies were matrifocal in nature and focused on family, community and the continuity of tradition, culture and language; Aboriginal women were central to all of this as teachers, healers, and givers of life. While Aboriginal men and women had distinct roles, their roles were equally valued. The need to restore the value of Aboriginal gendered roles has motivated the development of culturally relevant gender-based analysis, or CRGBA.

With colonization came the systematic denigration of the value of gendered Aboriginal identity and the delicate balance that existed among genders, including two-spirited. Family and societal structures broke down. Traditional gender roles were obliterated. The imposition of colonial laws and genocidal policies specifically targeted women’s roles as family anchors. Because Aboriginal women were linked to the land, and because land acquisition became the goal of the colonizers, Aboriginal women became the target. Through various laws, regulations, policies and religious edicts, a demeaning and demoralizing portrayal became the identity of Aboriginal women in Canada, forcing them into an oppressed position in society, and contributing to their poor health today.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada’s (NWAC) culturally relevant gender-based analysis (CRGBA) framework is a learning tool for use by anyone involved in policy, program or project development; it is intended to broaden perspectives and deepen knowledge of colonization and its outcomes. In particular, it is intended to improve Aboriginal women’s health and well-being. Over 40% of Aboriginal women live in poverty, for example, and Aboriginal women are three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to suffer violence.

The goal of the framework is to facilitate the application of this knowledge within a current context. Applying CRGBA has the potential to move policy, programs and legislation toward achieving more equitable health outcomes.

The CRGBA framework is a “living” document and will change over time. Elements of the framework have been gleaned from the work that NWAC and others have done on gender-based analysis. The Bureau of Women’s Health and Gender Analysis at Health Canada, for example, helped initiate the process and provided background and support to NWAC in the development of the framework. A series of regional consultations is planned that will advance the CRGBA’s relevance and application at the local level. The goal is to make it widely acceptable and easily incorporated into existing policy and program development processes. NWAC sees the framework as a founding document for all research and policy areas within the organization, grounding all of our research and policy work.
CRGBA has become a critical piece of work within National Aboriginal Organizations (NAOs) in Canada with many groups developing their own frameworks to suit. Several of these were showcased at the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in July 2008. Women from across Canada had opportunity to learn about this groundbreaking work before convening to develop action plans for the federal government.

NWAC president, Beverly Jacobs, highlighted an underlying principle of the CRGBA during her Parliamentary address June 11, 2008 following the Residential School Statement of Apology. Jacobs’s statements reflected CRGBA as she commented on the legacy of racism and discrimination and its impacts on the Aboriginal woman’s current role within society. It is not enough for us to simply be at the table, she said. “We want respect.” Policy, programs and legislative reform therefore must reflect our input.

CRGBA template
The CRGBA template is used to measure the application of CRGBA throughout the life of a policy or program; it can be applied at any stage, and should be revisited regularly over the life of the policy or program.

Health Canada’s Aboriginal Health Transition Fund (AHTF), for example, is a five-year, $200-million initiative to enable governments and communities to integrate and adapt existing health services to better meet the needs of Aboriginal people, including those living off-reserve and in urban areas. Several local and regional projects have been developed that are intended to increase participation by Aboriginal people in project design, delivery and evaluation. Research shows that this kind of collaborative and participatory approach will lead to greater overall program success.

At the project development or planning stages, the CRGBA tool requires the user to consider aspects of their new knowledge of Aboriginal women. Having learned the CRGBA, they are better able to understand the unique barriers to Aboriginal women’s participation, and using this knowledge, they are better equipped to address the barriers. The AHTF mandate is to meet all Aboriginal people’s unique needs. Project development requires Aboriginal women to be at the table to the same degree it requires Aboriginal men to be at the table, from development through to implementation and evaluation. Simply put, if they were not involved, the user would have to identify why they were not involved. If efforts to increase participation were unsuccessful, the user would need to look at adjusting the methods of engagement.

Almost half of Aboriginal women live in abject poverty: 71% of Aboriginal single-parent households live off-reserve, and over 80% of those households are headed by women. For these women to be able to participate they might need a bus ticket (or travel expenses), a meal, compensation for taking time off work, and perhaps money for childcare. Their needs seemingly parallel those of non-Aboriginal women living in similar circumstances; however, it is important to understand that an Aboriginal woman’s needs are unique. As author Patricia Montour-Angus explains:

It is not solely my gender through which I first experience the world; it is my culture (and/or race) that precedes my gender. Actually, if I am the object of some form of discrimination, it is very difficult for me to separate what happens to me because of my gender and what happens to me because of my race and culture.

The Aboriginal Health Transition Fund is a good example of how the CRGBA might be used for projects aimed at addressing Aboriginal health disparities. Like non-Aboriginal women, Aboriginal women and their children are more likely to use the health-care system and are therefore best able to provide advice on changes. However, unlike their non-Aboriginal sisters, the outcomes for Aboriginal women are hugely disproportionate (Statistics Canada 2001, 2006):

  • Aboriginal women make up 29% of the Canadian prison population, but only 3% of the Canadian population overall; compared to men, they also have higher rates of mental illness, self-abuse and suicide.
  • Aboriginal women are three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to suffer violence, including serious forms of life-threatening violence and emotional abuse at the hands of a marital or common-law partner.
  • Among Aboriginal female youth, the rate of suicide deaths among registered Indians was nearly eight times that of other Canadian youth.
  • The rate of suicide is three times higher for Aboriginal women, compared with non-Aboriginal women.
  • 21% of Aboriginal female victims of spousal abuse suffer from depression as a result of their victimization.
  • Aboriginal women are almost three times more likely to contract AIDS than non-Aboriginal women (23.1% versus 8.2%).
  • Chronic conditions like arthritis and rheumatism, asthma, high blood pressure, gastro-intestinal and cardiac conditions begin to affect Aboriginal women at 45 years of age.
  • Seven percent (7%) of Aboriginal women over the age of 15 years have been diagnosed with diabetes compared to 3% for the rest of the female population of this same age category. The rate of diabetes increases with age: Twenty-four percent (24%) of Aboriginal women over the age of 65 have diabetes compared to 11% for the rest of the female senior population in Canada.

If the health-care system intends to adapt to address inequities in Aboriginal women’s health and well-being, it would follow that the CRGBA is used as an instrument to achieve this.

Erin Wolski is a member of the Chapleau Cree First Nation, born and raised in Treaty 9 Territory in northern Ontario. Erin is currently the Health Director at the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada is one of five federally recognized National Aboriginal Organizations (NAOs) and is the only national organization to represent the interests of Aboriginal women. The organization is credited with raising the profile of violence against Aboriginal women nationally, and the root causes behind the term “racialized sexualized violence.”