Gender Impact Assessment: a policy tool to advance gender equality

Many countries are attempting to improve women's position in relation to that of men. To this end, they have started using Gender Impact Assessments to examine policies' potential effects. But social and cultural barriers to gender justice, along with the politicisation of gender mainstreaming, challenge their successful implementation, writes Gaia Taffoni

The main objective of a Gender Impact Assessment (GIA) is to improve equality from the beginning of the policymaking process. It is a specific form of pre-emptive impact assessment of a law or regulation, and involves intervening during the design and planning of policies to eliminate or mitigate discriminatory effects. Many of this tool's features are deeply necessary. But governments still appear reluctant to implement it.

If governments and administrations wish to make gender perspectives an integral and systematic feature of impact asssessment, they have a long way to go. GIA should form a frame of reference, and must not be over-politicised.

GIA as a regulatory policy tool

As a regulatory policy tool and an instrument to make better rules, GIA aims to overcome human biases. Like any human being, policymakers have preconceptions and confirmation biases when designing and implementing policies. GIA is meant to correct such biases around what concerns inclusivity. When reviewing an existing policy, or designing a new one, GIA ensures that gender perspectives are taken into account.

GIA is an exercise and mindset for the regulator. It allows regulators to consider existing disparities, power dynamics, and barriers that affect various gender groups differently. GIA provides a systematic approach to understanding and addressing intersectionality. In fact, GIA has its roots in the understanding that gender interacts with other social identities. To ensure comprehensive analysis, therefore, regulators must consider these intersections.

GIA allows and encourages regulators to consider existing disparities, power dynamics, and barriers, each of which may affect gender groups differently

However, GIA also faces challenges. Limited awareness and understanding of gender issues among policymakers and stakeholders can hinder its effective implementation. Insufficient resources, time constraints, and resistance to change can pose additional obstacles. Overcoming these challenges requires capacity building, education, and collaboration among diverse stakeholders.

Stakeholder participation

Gender stakeholder consultations are an essential part of GIA. This is a way to promote the participation of women and men in the design of a policy intervention. Asking for diverse groups' views and opinions on gender equality-related issues helps policymakers consider these groups' differing priorities.

Gender stakeholder consultation ensures that policies are evidence-based, and fosters participatory governance. Regulators can engage stakeholders throughout the policy life cycle, at the design, monitoring, and evaluation stages. They can also explicitly target private and civil society actors with relevant perspectives for engagement. This is the prerequisite for an evidence-based policy informed by the best data on equality.

Regulators can and should engage stakeholders throughout the policy life cycle, through the design, monitoring, and evaluation stages

But it is of paramount importance for the regulators to connect with organisations that have gender expertise. Merely asking direct questions about possible gender impact does not deepen its analysis. The literature calls this the problem of the 'missing stakeholder'. Failing to include pivotal actors with a genuine interest and stake in participating in the design of a policy is a dangerous oversight.

Promotion and adoption

Some international organisations promote GIA best practices in their attempt to mainstream gender analysis. The European Union, in particular, started embracing gender mainstreaming in the 1990s with the establishment of a commitment to equal opportunities. In 2006, the EU followed this by creating the European Union Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), which led to the development of the GIA toolkit.

The toolkit is a detailed guide indicating how to carry out a meaningful GIA in the early stages of policy design. It also refers explicitly to the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women, in 1995. The resulting Bejing Declaration endorsed the adoption of gender mainstreaming, which comprises two main pillars: gender budgeting and gender impact assessment.

Recently, the EU launched its flagship project on Gender Mainstreaming in Public Policy and Budgeting. The Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support funds the project, and the European University Institute implements it, along with Expertise France and EIGE. The project assists administrations with tailored training on gender budgeting and GIA.

Other governments have also adopted GIA. Notably, Canada and Australia have set up GIA guidelines for impact assessment. Similarly, GIA has been law in the Spanish region of Catalonia since 2010. Every law approved by the Catalan government must now take gender perspectives into account.

Importance and pushback

GIA plays a crucial role in advancing gender equality and, alongside other gender mainstreaming tools, in creating more inclusive societies. GIA uses systematic analysis of the differential impact of policies and programmes to ensure the integration of gender perspectives into decision-making processes. This leads to more equitable and sustainable outcomes.

The road to integration of a gender-based perspective in policies will be long and winding

Embracing GIA is a vital step towards a more just and equal future. Its adoption is a noteworthy achievement, especially as it spreads across countries. However, the map still looks rather patchy, and the road to full integration of a gender-based perspective in policymaking will be long and winding.

Policymakers – in the Netherlands, Canada and the EU, for instance – have expressed frustration at their governments' failure to implement gender equality tools. They blame mainly knowledge barriers, such as the perception of gender tools as a competing frame used only to highlight women's perspectives. One way to ease tensions around gender mainstreaming and GIA is to show how GIA can promote general social values and objectives beyond those that are specifically gender-related.

In this sense, it is fundamental that we continue to provide GIA training with better stakeholder integration and participation; and that we raise awareness more widely about GIA's meaning, and its impact.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Gaia Taffoni
Gaia Taffoni
Research Fellow and Teaching Associate, School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute, Florence

Gaia’s research interests include regulatory governance and comparative public policy, with particular interest in the theories and approaches of the policy process.

Her most recent work has appeared in international journals such as the Policy Study Journal, the Journal of European Public Policy, the European Journal of Risk Regulation and the European Policy Analysis Journal.

Gaia is a member of the ECPR Standing Group on Regulatory Governance, the International Public Policy Association and the Association for the Promotion of the Right to Science, Science for Democracy.

She tweets @TaffoniGaia

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