Intergovernmental policy processes in federal and multi-level states have neglected gender equality issues (Haussman et al 2010). Policy areas such as violence against women and reproductive rights, have rarely been addressed through intergovernmental policy making machinery. At the same time, the social and economic policies prioritised in intergovernmental processes are seldom analysed for their gender dimensions. Paralleling this neglect, social and legal policy researchers attentive to gender have yet to systematically explore the impact of intergovernmental relations on policy development and outcomes. The challenges of cross-jurisdictional co-ordination of policy areas that impact differentially on women and men remain poorly understood and little effort is made to take account of the specific and often separate needs of men and women in mainstream intergovernmental policy responses.

Australia’s intergovernmental system is not immune from these deficiencies. Despite Australia’s history of leadership in gender-sensitive policy making, Council of Australian Government (COAG) deliberations rarely acknowledge the differential impacts of policy on women and men (Chappell et al 2012). Violence against women has sporadically been included on the COAG agenda but key issues such as reproductive rights and equal pay have been ignored. Significantly, there is no requirement for the COAG Reform Council to present data disaggregated by gender when reporting on COAG National Agreements even though the Agreements address policy domains such as education, skills, healthcare, disability, affordable housing and Indigenous reform where gender is highly significant. The absence of gender as an analytical and reporting category obscures important issues of policy and practice. To take one example, the National Healthcare agreement emphasizes ?social inclusion’ as a policy goal, but requires outcomes to be reported for ?Indigenous people’ without any consideration of the different health needs of Aboriginal men and women. Although directions for policy reform include increasing ?community care’ there is no acknowledgement of the impact this has on women as (low paid) workers in this sector, or as home-based carers. The need to bring a gender approach to Australian intergovernmental relations is obvious and pressing.

This two-day workshop will bring together established and early career researchers from a range of disciplines including law, political science, political economy, sociology and social policy, as well as government and non-government policy experts, to consider the gender dimensions of intergovernmental relations with a particular focus on aspects of the COAG agenda. Participants will formulate new strategies and frameworks to encourage governments to include gender analysis in intergovernmental processes in federal and devolved states. In addition to the eighteen national delegates, the workshop convenors have secured funding to bring to Australia a small group of seven international scholars with expertise in gender and public policy, enabling the workshop to have an international, comparative focus at no cost to ASSA. Funding from ASSA will enable Australian scholars, policy makers and advocates to engage with experts from Canada, the US, the UK, Europe and South Africa.

The confirmed international participants are: 1) Prof. Fiona Mackay, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, Scotland; 2) Prof. Rianne Mahon, Balsillie School of International Affairs and the Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada; 3) Dr. Jill Vickers, Department of Political Science, Carleton University, Canada; 4) Prof. Amanda Gouws, Department of Political Science, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa; 5) Prof. Sabine Lang, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, USA; 6) Andrea Campbell, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA; and 7) Carol Weissert, Department of Political Science Florida State University, USA.

The findings from the workshop will be published in special issues of two academic journals. The first special issue (possible outlet: Australian Journal of Public Administration) will address issues relating to Australian politics and public policy. It will focus on how the current COAG agenda excludes gender concerns, explain the impact of this neglect and offer new ideas about how to incorporate gender issues in future. The second special issue (possible outlets: Social Politics, Publius, or Public Policy) will have a comparative focus. It will examine how gender issues and women’s policy concerns are addressed across a range of multi-level governance systems including the US, Canada, Europe, the UK and South Africa.

This workshop needs to be held prior to June 2013 in part to meet the funding demands of its co-sponsors, the COAG Reform Council and the Australian New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). Furthermore, to achieve the objective of influencing the intergovernmental policy making agenda to take account of gender concerns, it is important that the workshop takes place well before the 2013 election. Regardless of the outcome, COAG agreements are likely to be revised as a result of the next election so it is important that these gender issues are raised with some of the key stakeholders well before these negotiations commence. From a practical logistical perspective, it is important that the workshop be held in May as it suits both Australian and Northern Hemisphere academic calendars.