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Health Portfolio Sex and Gender-Based Analysis Policy

Policy Statement

It is the policy of the Government of Canada's Health Portfolio to use sex and gender-based analysis (SGBA) to develop, implement and evaluate the Health Portfolio's research, programs and policies to address the different needs of of women and menFootnote 1.


This policy applies to the entire Health Portfolio and replaces Health Canada's Gender-Based Analysis Policy (2000). The Health Portfolio is comprised of the following organizations at this time: Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, Health Canada, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board, and the Public Health Agency of CanadaFootnote 2.

Policy Environment

The Government of Canada commits to gender equality per constitutional guarantees and international agreements.Footnote 3
The Federal Plan for Gender Equality promotes gender equality through the implementation of gender-based analysis (GBA) throughout federal departments and agencies.
The Health Canada Gender-Based Analysis Policy advances gender equality through the use of gender-based analysis.
The Health Canada Gender-Based Analysis Implementation Strategy guides the implementation of the Health Canada Gender-Based Analysis Policy.
CIHR's Guidelines for Gender and Sex-Based Analysis in Health Research aims at integrating gender and sex-based analysis (GSBA) throughout the full context of CIHR's peer review process.
Central Agencies reinforce their expectation that gender-based analysis be applied to initiatives prior to cabinet and Treasury Board (TB) consideration (e.g. PCO - "MC Information requirements" and TBS - "A Guide to Preparing TB Submissions").
Office of the Auditor General audits the implementation of SGBA across government and will table report in May 2009.
Office of the Auditor General audits the implementation of SGBA across government and tables a report in May 2009. Central Agencies and Status of Women Canada respond with a Departmental Action Plan on Gender-Based Analysis in October 2009


Evidence demonstrates that biological, economic and social differences between women and men contribute to differences in health risks, health services use, health system interaction and health outcomes. The integration of SGBA throughout the development, implementation and evaluation of its research, programs and policies will help ensure that the initiatives and activities of the Health Portfolio lead to sound science, advance gender related health equality and are effective and efficient.

Policy Goals

This policy, specifically Health Portfolio application of SGBA on research, policy and programs, supports:

  • a comprehensive understanding of variations in health status, experiences of health and illness, health service use and interaction with the health system;
  • the development of sound science and reliable evidence that addresses sex and gender health differences between men and women, boys and girls;
  • the implementation of rigorous and effective research, programs and policies that address sex and gender health differences between men and women, boys and girls.

Guiding Principles

  • Accountability: while recognizing shared responsibility across the Health Portfolio for policy compliance, accountabilities must be delineated for implementation, accompanied by the authority to effect change/provide direction. Such authority will rest with, and can be delegated, by Deputy Heads.
  • Continuous Improvement: The Health Portfolio is committed to building on its experience and incorporating lessons learned and best practices in advancing gender equity and equality in health.
  • Integrated Approach: SGBA is a best practice that will remain a natural part of doing the business of the Health Portfolio and be fully integrated into organizational processes and practices.
  • Balance: SGBA will be used to evaluate the gender influences of research, policies and programs to ensure that the needs of one sex is not addressed more than another.
  • Shared Responsibility: It is the responsibility of senior management to provide the leadership necessary to ensure the implementation of SGBA within Health Portfolio organizations; the successful implementation of SGBA requires the participation of all Health Portfolio Staff. All Portfolio staff will be accountable for undertaking responsibility in the context of their work and normally assigned duties.

DefinitionsFootnote 4


Sex refers to the biological characteristics such as anatomy (e.g. body size and shape) and physiology (e.g. hormonal activity or functioning of organs) that distinguish males and females. Sex differences may occur at the genetic/molecular, cellular, organ or organism level and result from complex interactions between genetic, hormonal and environmental factors that commence in the genetic and intrauterine environment and continue throughout the lifespan of the individual. Sex differences begin with the observation that every animal-derived cell has a sex.

Attention to sex in all of its variation is vital to understanding the bio-genetic underpinnings of health.


Gender refers to the array of socially constructed roles and relationships, personality traits, attitudes, behaviours, values, relative power and influence that society ascribes to two sexes based on a differential basis. Gender is relational- gender roles and characteristics do not exist in isolation, but are defined in relation to one another. All societies are divided between at minimum two categories of sex and gender that are often assigned unequal status. Gender roles, constructs and identities exist not as stable entities, but as expressions that are located along a continuum. Ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, geography and other social identifiers situate women and men differently in the social landscape necessarily complicating the relationships between gender, sex and health disparities defined by unequal access to health determinants. Taking gender in all its manifestations into account is essential to the task of generating meaningful health knowledge that can enhance the health of all.

Sex and Gender-based Analysis

Sex and gender-based analysis is an approach which systemically inquires about biological (sex-based) and socio-cultural (gender-based) differences between women and men, boys and girls, without presuming that any differences exist. The purpose of SGBA is to promote rigorous sex/gender-sensitive health research, which expands understanding of health determinants in both sexes, in order to provide knowledge which can result in improvements in health and health care. Gender-blind science fails to account for disparate life trajectories that are influenced by genetic endowment, environmental exposures and social and political environments.

SGBA is meant to be applied within the context of a diversity framework, that attends to the ways in which determinants such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, migration status, age and geography interact with sex and gender to contribute to exposures to various risk factors, disease courses and outcomes. Using a SGBA lens brings these considerations into focus and can help to formulate research, policies and programs that are relevant to the diversity of the Canadian populace.

Roles and Responsibilities

Deputy Heads are responsible for providing leadership to ensure collaboration in implementing this policy across the Health Portfolio, while remaining accountable for implementation within their respective organizations. Roles and responsibilities may be delegated by the Deputy Heads, particularly as it relates to:

  1. Ensuring resources for policy implementation
  2. Ensuring the evaluation of this policy

Health Canada's Gender and Health Unit (Strategic Policy Branch) is responsible for supporting the initial year of implementation including the provision of advice across the Portfolio to establish sustainable capacity. This will be done in collaboration with the Portfolio Working Group on Sex and Gender-based Analysis, Chaired by the Unit.


Deputy Heads are accountable for ensuring that Health Portfolio organizations implement the Health Portfolio Sex and Gender-based Analysis Policy and to jointly review, and revise it as necessary, at planned intervals. They may achieve this by appointing a Champion(s) as well as creating a special unit or committee charged with this responsibility. Deputy Heads are also accountable for ensuring that activities under this policy are reported under this and any other relevant policies.

Evaluation and Revision

During the initial year of this policy's coming into effect (i.e. 2009-10) Gender and Health Unit, Regions & Programs Branch (and later Strategic Policy Branch), in collaboration with the Departmental Performance Measurement and Evaluation Directorate, Chief Financial Officer Branch, provided leadership on the development of implementation, evaluation and reporting plans, as well as provide advice and support to the Portfolio in the application of this policy. This policy was reviewed after the initial year to allow minor adjustments. To ensure optimal efficacy, it will be monitored on an on-going basis and evaluated, and revised as necessary, at least once every five years.

Effective Date

This policy came into effect on April 1, 2009Footnote 5, Footnote 6.


Footnote 1

Statements in this document referring to women and men, include women, men, girls, boys as appropriate to the initiative.

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Footnote 2

In the event Health Portfolio membership changes the present policy should be amended accordingly.

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Footnote 3

The Government of Canada has committed to major international instruments concerning human right and gender equality including: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention and the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981), the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) and the Platform for Action from the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing (1995). In the domestic context, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes constitutional protection for gender equality. Section 15(1) of the Charter prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. Section 28 establishes that the provisions of the Charter are guaranteed equally to women and men.

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Footnote 4

Gender and Sex-Based Analysis in Health Research: A Guide for CIHR Researchers and Reviewers.

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Footnote 5

The policy came into effect when signed by the last participating Health Portfolio agency. Health Portfolio organization Deputy Heads signed the SGBA policy: Assisted Human Reproduction Canada April 22, 2009; Public Health Agency of Canada April 29, 2009; Canadian Institutes of Health Research May 6, 2009; Health Canada June12, 2009; and Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission July 8, 2009.

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Footnote 6

In early 2011, the policy was reviewed as required and minor changes made to ensure its effectiveness.

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