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The Value of GBA+ in Understanding Canadian Immigration Policy Outcomes

Nov 26, 2018
Sara Rose Taylor Sara Rose Taylor 
Research Associate II


Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s recent Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration integrated Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) throughout. But what exactly is GBA+ and what does it have to do with understanding Canadian immigration?

GBA+ is a tool that evaluates the various effects policies have on Canada’s diverse population. The + signifies that the tool is intersectional, meaning it takes into account how people are shaped by many factors of their identity, including sex, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and more.

The Canadian government committed to using GBA+ in its policy processes in 2016, building on the initial GBA framework introduced in 1995. The tool assists policy-makers and evaluators in identifying how policies affect different segments of the population, helping to reduce or avoid unequal policy outcomes. The effectiveness of GBA+ depends on how proactively it is used.

GBA+ can improve evidence-based approaches to understanding Canadian immigration by encouraging policy-makers to move beyond assumptions of gender-neutral or culturally-neutral outcomes. Its application considers, for example, gender differences in immigration, such as why different people migrate and where they go. At the global level, while women migrate as frequently as men, and often for similar reasons, they face different migration choices and experiences. Women may be encouraged to migrate for the purpose of remittances or discouraged from migrating based on attitudes towards gender roles in households and communities in their country of origin.

In the Canadian context, gender differences exist across immigration categories. Women are migrating to Canada under all categories, but at different levels, which change over time. The proportion of women admitted as the principal applicant under the economic class, for example, rose from 30.4 per cent in 20041 to 44 per cent in 2017.2 Appropriate use of GBA+ allows Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to better understand what drives gender gaps within and across immigration categories, thus guiding funding and programming.

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, IRCC has a legislative requirement to conduct gender-based analysis in its annual report to Parliament, but seems to be deepening its use of GBA+, integrating it throughout its most recent annual report as opposed to limiting it to a separate section, as it has done in past reports. This analysis is important given that most female immigrants are also members of visible minority groups, meaning they may face disproportionate and multi-faceted discrimination.

The 2018 annual report and 2018–2019 Immigration Departmental Plan suggest that IRCC, based on its use of GBA+, is particularly concerned with addressing gender-based violence. This is an urgent problem that can affect anyone in Canada, with violence disproportionately directed towards Indigenous women and LGBTQ2 persons.3 From a policy perspective, it is addressed by Status of Women Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence (which also provides IRCC with funding for its Settlement Program).

GBA+ can also be used to enhance understanding of barriers to economic success. Immigrants may face a variety of barriers to labour-force participation. In the working-age group (25 to 54 years), 76.4 per cent of immigrant women participate in the labour force, compared with 83.6 per cent of Canadian-born women. Both groups have lower participation rates than immigrant men (89.8 per cent) and Canadian-born men (90.6 per cent) of working age.4 Using GBA+ as a lens through which to view these gaps can illuminate the barriers that immigrants uniquely face.

One potential barrier is child care. For example, the funds required to make one eligible for immigration to Canada could preclude immigrants from receiving government subsidies that would make child care affordable.5 An OECD report6 found that Canadian settlement programs that provide skills training in combination with child care can improve labour-force participation for immigrant women. Family-reunification policy also has a role to play: Declining family-class intake combined with inflexible child care options can lead female immigrants to forego the labour market in order to care for children.7 Applying a GBA+ lens to this and other policies could illuminate how women may be disadvantaged due to traditional gender roles, but also how men may be disadvantaged in cases where child care options may not be targeted towards them.

Language can create another barrier. Language proficiency upon arrival is recognized as a top predictor of an immigrant’s income in Canada in the short term.8 Although most immigrants can speak at least one official language, this is true for fewer women (92.2 per cent) than men (95 per cent).9Identifying this difference and understanding the reasons behind it can help governments and settlement service-provider organizations to better target programs to meet the diverse needs of immigrants.

These are just two examples, but many more exist, indicating a clear role for effective use of the GBA+ framework in enabling successful Canadian settlement for all immigrants.

1    Statistics Canada, “Immigrant Women,” in Women in Canada, 7th edition (Ottawa: StatCan, October 2015).

2    Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration (Ottawa: IRCC, October 2018).

3    Status of Women Canada, “About Gender-Based Violence”, accessed November 20, 2018.

4    Canadian Council for Refugees, Gender-Based Analysis of Settlement (Montréal, CCR: 2006); Sarah Wayland, Unsettled: Legal and Policy Barriers for Newcomers to Canada (Ottawa: Law Commission of Canada and Community Foundations of Canada, 2006).

5    OECD, “How Does Canada Compare?” in The Pursuit of Gender Equality (Paris: OECD, 2017).

6    Denise L. Spitzer, Family Migration Policies and Social Integration (New York: United Nations, 2018).

7   Aneta Bonikowska, Feng Hou, and Garnett Picot, Which Human Capital Characteristics Best Predict the Earnings of Economic Immigrants? (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2015).

8    Statistics Canada, “Immigrant Women,” in Women in Canada, 7th edition (Ottawa: StatCan, October 2015).


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