Policy context also matters
The policy context in which we are developing and/or evaluating recommendations also matters because it may limit options or offer opportunities for change. For example, competing government priorities may put a cap on the funds available for programs. Evidence may not exist or be available to determine if a policy will affect women and men in the same ways or to the same degree. There may be resistance to a recommendation from key stakeholders, including men and women who are affected by the policy or program. We may not have the authority to recommend dramatic changes to a program. Even with a thorough understanding of an issue and a population and despite having the best evidence in the world, it may still not be possible to recommend a particular course of action. It’s important to remember that change takes time, especially transforming the gender relations of power.
But the fact that we can’t do everything doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything. Even in a constrained policy context or policy position, you may still be able to raise questions about sex, gender, diversity and equity during the process of developing or reviewing recommendations. You may not be able to change the recommendations, but you can contribute to better policy and programming by clearly describing the scope of the recommendations. For example, we might endorse a program to increase funding for women’s shelters in the provinces, while pointing out that this policy excludes women’s shelters in the territories. We might support a program to build more bicycle paths, but recognize that urban rather than rural populations will benefit. We might acknowledge the benefits of addressing maternal health globally, while identifying the lack of support for abortion services as a serious gap.
Being clear about the scope of recommendations, however limited, serves to highlight the importance of sex, gender, and diversity for achieving the ultimate goal of equity. At the same time, it may help to identify new directions for research as well as future policy and program priorities. Understanding the limits of existing policies and programs is also a critical step in the development of transformative recommendations – in seeing where we are, we can begin to appreciate how far we have to go.