Culturally relevant gender-based analysis (CRGBA) seeks to understand the unique experiences, needs and challenges of Aboriginal women through a culturally relevant lens. Gender-based analysis, in terms of health, reflects an understanding that women have unique health needs and concerns that are different from those of men, and that women have also experienced differential treatment in health research, policy, programming and practices. For Aboriginal women, this differential treatment has been compounded by the effects of colonization, which denigrated Aboriginal peoples as a whole, but also deeply damaged the roles and respect of Aboriginal women who were traditionally held in high regard. Historically, Aboriginal women commanded the highest respect in their communities as the givers of life and were the keepers of the traditions, practices and customs of the nation. It was well understood that women held a sacred status; they were revered for their ability to create new life and, by extension, create new relationships with the Creator.
The effects of the severe marginalization of Aboriginal women are most evident in violence leveled at our women, and the growing numbers who have gone missing or been murdered. In health, it is reflected in the disproportionate burden of illness and disease, including HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, multiple forms of cancer, mental illness, substance abuse and suicide. Aboriginal women also have a shorter lifespan and higher infant mortality rate than non-Aboriginal women. Their burden of illness and disease must be understood within the context of the historical and contemporary social conditions faced by many Aboriginal women, including poverty, under- or unemployment, marginal housing or homelessness, violence and overrepresentation in the criminal justice and child welfare systems.
A culturally relevant lens allows for a gender-based analysis founded in Aboriginal ways of understanding gender and the roles of women in Aboriginal societies. This allows for a way of examining the health of Aboriginal women as it is connected to that of Aboriginal men, and to the women’s families and communities. It reflects a cultural understanding of health that understands the well-being of the individual as directly tied to that of the collective and vice versa. Restoring the health of Aboriginal women and revitalizing their roles as leaders, visionaries, knowledge carriers and caregivers in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal societies is a foundational goal of CRGBA.
In order to advance the use of CRGBA, led by Health Director Erin Wolski, the NWAC Health Department has developed the culturally relevant gender application protocol (CR-GAP) designed to help funders, policy and decision makers in ensuring equitable participation of Aboriginal women in the processes that shape and effect their health and well-being. The CR-GAP is intended to expose the origins and impacts of gendered Aboriginality and provide a foundation of knowledge to better understand and respond to realities and challenges faced by Aboriginal women today. The available data and statistics on Aboriginal women’s experiences in Canada paints a grim picture of our place in society, our health and socio-economic status, living conditions and quality of life. These realities are the result of layers of colonial history, policies, social exclusion, racism and patriarchy, and require a comprehensive means for understanding and transformation. The CR-GAP contributes towards advancing our understanding and our efforts for positive transformation for this generation and generations to come.
The CR-GAP is a unique tool developed through a series of outreach sessions with Aboriginal women from across the country, and consultation sessions with federal policy and decisionmakers. It is a living document that will continue to evolve to reflect the changing circumstances and perspectives of Aboriginal women.
In June 2009, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG) conducted an audit of selected departments’ implementation and integration of GBA. The audit focused on 68 recent initiatives (programs, policies, or activities) and legislation developed in seven departments and brought forward a number of recommendations. The full report can be found on the OAG’s website at: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_200905_01_e_32514.html