Co-operative, Inc.

"Working together to identify and eliminate inequities"


BIAS FREE Co-operative, Inc. has grown out of a 13-year collaboration between Mary Anne Burke & Margrit Eichler and their work to develop, apply, refine and promote the use of the BIAS FREE Framework. Their collaboration began in 1996, on work to develop Status of Women Canada’s tool, Gender-based Analysis: A Guide for Policy-Making, as part of the follow-up on commitments Canada had made at the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

In 1998, Mary Anne accepted the position of Coordinator of Health Canada’s GBA Initiative, developing Health Canada’s Gender-based Analysis Policy. Mary Anne contracted with Margrit, and two of her students (Diana Gustafson and Monika Pompetzki), to help her develop Health Canada’s gender-based analysis (GBA) tool, with the assistance of Margie Lauzon at Health Canada. They agreed that the tool would be theoretically based, systematic, comprehensive, open-ended and applicable to research, policies, and programmes and services. A period of feverish activity followed, with many drafts, workshops, revisions, etc.

In general, the tool was very well received, but one critique consistently levelled was that while it was great for dealing with gender bias, it did not deal with biases deriving from other social hierarchies. While this was acknowledged, the task was to focus on gender bias.

A first, voluminous draft of the GBA tool was completed, but not yet compressed into a small volume that would be handy to use, when the official project stopped abruptly in 2001. Unofficially, however, Margrit and Mary Anne continued to cooperate, convinced that they had developed a unique and useful approach. The research portion was translated into German and used within European countries, but ironically the more extensive Health Canada version was never published.

In 1999, a multi-facetted technical cooperation project between Costa Rica and Canada was sponsored by the First Ladies of Costa Rica and Canada and supported by the Embassy of Canada and CIDA through the Gender Equality Fund. One aspect of the project was to transform a maternity hospital into a fully functioning women’s hospital – Hospital de las Mujeres Dr. Adolfo Carit Eva. For two years, the hospital project was at a standstill, in spite of an official commitment to the change-over. The Costa Ricans knew “what” they wanted to do, but they couldn’t figure out “how” to do it.

In February 2001, Margrit and Mary Anne held a one-week GBA workshop at the hospital to help in the transformation of the hospital. The workshop introduced the overall GBA approach and major concepts to the 30 participants.

For the Costa Ricans, the Workshop was pivotal in the transformation of the hospital. As Zully Moreno-Chacón, one of the two Co-Directors of the transformation project later explained, they had been stuck for two years, and the workshop was “the key to unblocking them”. The Framework had given them the “how” that they had been missing.

It was also a transformative moment for Mary Anne and Margrit. As they reflected on the workshop, they realized that they had developed a very powerful tool that could identify biases deriving from not just a gender hierarchy, but also from race, ability, class and other social hierarchies. On the plane back to Canada, they began to transform their GBA approach to be applicable to any social hierarchy. Inspired, they decided to systematically develop this approach further.

They spent the next four years engrossed in this task on their own time, delving into the nature of social hierarchies and the machineries of oppression. The understanding that the logic of domination is the same for all social hierarchies, although it manifests differently in the various hierarchies, allowed them to make the bridge from gender to all social hierarchies. The new approach went through many phases, tests, and names, and eventually emerged as the BIAS FREE Framework in February 2004.

Their cooperation persisted through major other commitments and life changes for both. In June 2004, Mary Anne began work with The Global Forum for Health Research in Geneva, heading up their equity and resources flows portfolios. With the support of the Global Forum, a BIAS FREE Framework Workshop was held at the National Institute of Medical Research in Tanzania. The workshop results were published in an article by Burke & Eichler in the Canadian Journal of Public Health. In 2006, the Global Forum for Health Research published The BIAS FREE Framework: A practical tool for identifying and eliminating social biases in health research, which lays out the Framework, its conceptual underpinnings and research application. Multiple language versions of the research application of the Framework were also published.

Since then, Mary Anne and Margrit have delivered workshops all over the world, in low and high income countries, and assisted with research and capacity building for different applications of the BIAS FREE Framework. Their work with a variety of organizations including: governments, UN organizations, private companies, universities and hospitals and research institutes, disabled peoples organizations (DPOs) and community-based organizations, led to the development of the Global BIAS FREE Framework Network, a network of individuals and organizations committed to furthering applications of the Framework.

The demand for workshops and support for applications soon exceeded their capacity. It became apparent that a dedicated organization would be needed to turn this into a viable and sustainable activity that would meet the growing demand. After exploring several different options, BIAS FREE Co-operative, Inc. was incorporated in June of 2008 as a not-for-profit workers’ co-op.

Mumbai Workshop - 2005
Mumbai Workshop

Introductory BIAS FREE Workshops to Date:

  1. 2001 San José, Costa Rica, San José Women’s Hospital
  2. 2004 San José, Costa Rica, University of Costa Rica
  3. 2004 Mexico City, Mexico, Forum 8, Global Forum for Health Research
  4. 2005 Geneva, Switzerland, Global Forum for Health Research
  5. 2005 New York, USA, UN Ad Hoc Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  6. 2005 Germany, University of Hildesheim
  7. 2005 Dar es Salaam Tanzania, National Institute for Medical Research
  8. 2005 Ottawa, Canada, Canadian Society for International Health
  9. 2005 Mumbai, India, Forum 9, Global Forum for Health Research
  10. 2006 Ottawa, Canada, Canadian International Health Conference
  11. 2006 Cairo, Egypt, Forum 10, Global Forum for Health Research
  12. 2007 Ottawa, Canada, IDRC
  13. 2007 Vancouver, Canada, IUHPE Conference
  14. 2007 Melbourne,’ Australia, Monash University Pan Pacific Futures Research Conference
  15. 2007 Atlanta, Georgia, USA Centres for Disease Control
  16. 2007 Berlin, Germany, European Women’s Health Conference
  17. 2007 Beijing, China, Forum 11, Global Forum for Health Research
  18. 2007 Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Unicef Kyrgyzstan and Government of the Kyrgyz Republic
  19. 2008 Vitoria-Gastiez, Basque Country, Spain Ministry of Health
  20. 2008 Islamabad, Pakistan, Unicef Pakistan and Planning Commission of Pakistan
  21. 2009 Toronto, Canada Centre for Women’s Studies in Education OISE/UT
  22. 2009 Ottawa, Canada, RA Center
  23. 2009 La Havana, Cuba, Forum 12, Global Forum for Health Research
  24. 2010 Cape Town, South Africa Medical Research Council
  25. 2010 Durban, South Africa Medical Research Council
  26. 2010 Pretoria, South Africa Medical Research Council
  27. 2010 Cape Town, South Africa Medical Research Council
  28. 2010 Gordon's Bay, South Africa Medical Research Council
  29. 2010 Ottawa, Canada, IDRC
  30. 2010 Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
  31. 2011 Toronto, Canada Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto
Last Updated: 02-August-2011
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