Introduction to Women's Policy
Public policy, in a general sense, is the body of laws, regulations, guidelines, and other practices of governments, courts, and various public agencies. Women's public policy is the result of applying public policy to issues of concern to women.
Public policy is made at several levels:
at the local level, usually by municipal or regional
at the provincial level by legislatures, provincial
governments, the public service serving the governing party, and provincial courts;
at the federal level by Parliament, the federal
government, the public service serving the govering party, and federal courts; and
at the international level by organizations of
which Canada is voluntarily a member. Such organizations include the United Nations,
the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Trade Organization,
The policies developed at each level have been made and modified by many hundreds of scholars, politicians, and bureaucrats. This introduction focuses on federal public policy within Canada.
The most important federal laws in place relating to women's public policy are the
Charter of Rights and
Freedoms (enshrined in the Canadian Constitution) and the
Canadian Human Rights Act. These two acts prohibit the federal government from implementing
any policy or passing any law that discriminates against women. More specifically,
Section 11 of the Canadian Human Rights Act requires the government and other federally-regulated employers
to provide equal pay for work of equal value. As well, the
Employment Equity Act requires federally regulated employers to develop and implement
plans to increase the representation of designated groups, including women, in every level of
their work forces.
These laws and policies are made by the government of the day, led by the
Cabinet (appointed by the Prime Minister from the elected members of his/her party), or by
Parliament, where even an opposition party member has the opportunity to introduce
legislation that could become law. An extremely useful FAQ explaining our Parliamentary
System is available
There are several ways that an individual or group can have an impact on what public
policy gets introduced or changed. In addition to bringing matters to the attention of
Parliament through media coverage, one can visit one's own Member of Parliament, write
the Chair of one of Parliament's Standing
Committees, submit a
petition to Parliament, submit a brief to a Parliamentary Committee, or meet with
public officials who work on the relevant issue on an on-going or as-assigned
basis. The government from time to time holds public meetings called "consultations" on
controversial or new issues. Consultations often are scheduled over a period of months in
different parts of the country. In the future, some of these public consultations will take
To keep track of what Parliament is up to, there are several Internet sites that can
help. The official and detailed listing of government bills, as well as legislative summaries
of most bills is available directly from the
Library of Parliament Research Branch.
Information specific to public policy making for women is available as follows:
guide to gender-based analysis of Canadian public policy;
table showing women's representation in the Senate; and
list of women by Federal Political representation.
Written for PAR-L by Havi Echenberg and updated March 2002.