The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada
Closing the Gap: Local Trends
Gender disparities exist across the country.
Women are more likely to vote in local elections, but in large cities they make up only one-third of city councillors and only one-in-five of mayors. One-third of managers are women—most concentrated in middle management—a share that hasn’t changed in the past five years.
Women earn less than men, even when they have the same education, experience and work in the same field. Reports of sexual assault have been trending up—the result in part of increased attention generated in the wake of the #MeToo movement. These national challenges play out at the local level in different ways.
The fifth edition of The Best and Worst Places to be a Women in Canada reports on gender disparities in 26 Canadian big cities1 across a range of areas related to women’s basic rights. This year’s report includes five fact sheets that look at some of the local trends in economic security, health, educational attainment, leadership and personal security.
Economic Participation and Security
Women’s financial vulnerability is evident in lower rates of employment, lower rates of pay, lack of access to financial resources, and their disproportionate share of housework, childcare and eldercare.
These challenges are more acute for women who face additional barriers because of race, disability, Indigenous status, age, sexuality, gender identity and expression.
- Among large cities, those in Ontario and Western Canada had some of the largest gender employment gaps, led by Abbotsford-Mission, Barrie, Toronto and Edmonton, while those in Eastern Canada and Quebec were much smaller.
- In Gatineau, St. John’s, Sudbury and Sherbrooke, the proportion of women aged 15-64 engaged in paid employment is now greater than the proportion of men.
- Overall, there was a modest increase in women’s employment across large cities over the 2013-2017 period (+0.9%). Sherbrooke (+7.1%), Kelowna (+4.9%) and Vancouver (+4.1%) all experienced significant gains, while women in Saskatoon (-3.1%), Barrie (-3.0%), Edmonton and Regina (-2.4%) lost ground.
- The largest wage gaps are in Western Canada (e.g., Abbotsford-Mission, Edmonton, Kelowna and Saskatoon) as well as in Barrie (24th) and Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge (21st). There is a 30 point spread between Abbotsford-Mission and top-ranked Gatineau.
- Quebec cities fare well in the economic domain, with some of the smallest wage gaps. They do well in part because of progressive family policies that help women balance work and family life, including low-fee child care.2
- Large cities in Canada have historically reported some of the highest levels of poverty in Canada. This was true in 2016. Women’s poverty was highest in Vancouver (21.4%) and Toronto (20.8%), almost twice the rate of poverty in Quebec City (11.8%).
Political Empowerment and Leadership
A balanced distribution of men and women at all levels of decision-making is essential to a fair and democratic society. It also leads to better decision-making and better management in the public and private sectors. 3
There are more women in decision-making positions today, but women continue to face barriers to advancement in leadership roles in the public and private sectors. Diversity is vastly underrepresented in top positions, including Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities, racialized individuals and LGBTQ2 individuals.
- Today, women represent just under one-third of senior managers, with most of the progress over the last 30 years in the public sector. Greater Sudbury, Ottawa, Kingston and Abbotsford-Mission reported the smallest gender gaps in management in 2017, while Barrie, Montreal and Saskatoon reported the largest. There is more than a 20 point spread between the top-rank city and the bottom-ranked city.
Self Employed with Paid Help
- In Canada, roughly one-third of the self-employed (37.0%) are women. Women, however, make up a smaller share of the self employed who engage paid help (27.5%). Sherbrooke, Saskatoon and St. Catharines-Niagara reported the smallest gender gap in 2017, while London, Montreal and Halifax reported the largest.
- In political life, women make up one-third of elected officials in Canada’s largest cities, and only four of the core cities (13%) measured in this study currently have a female mayor: Montreal, Cambridge, Mission and Victoria
- The municipalities of Vancouver and Waterloo stand out as having exceeded gender parity on their municipal councils. Women also represent more than 50% of councillors and mayors in Montreal, Saskatoon and Victoria.
- Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge and the greater metropolitan areas of Victoria and Vancouver have the highest levels of female representation on municipal councils that make up each census metropolitan area, while Halifax, Regina and Greater Sudbury have the lowest.
Women and girls are overwhelmingly represented among victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence,4 and criminal harassment—the indicators that we monitor in The Best & Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada. We can present only a partial picture of the violence women experience. Statistics Canada estimates that 90% of the incidents of sexual assault and harassment5 and 70% of the incidents of intimate partner violence are never reported to the police.6
Levels of violence directed at women and girls vary significantly by community, a reality that is not always evident in the global crime picture for each city.7
- Toronto, Hamilton and St. Catharines-Niagara report relatively low levels of violence against women and have relatively low levels of crime compared to other large cities—as the chart on reported levels of intimate partner violence shows. In Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon, high levels of crime targeting women are reflected in high levels of overall crime.
- Cities in Quebec have comparatively low levels of crime. However, in 2017, Gatineau ranked 24th out of 26 large cities with respect to the reported level of violence against women, while Montreal ranked 20th and Quebec City ranked 19th. This was true in Barrie as well, which has the lowest crime severity score among big cities but ranked 11th on personal security in the CCPA’s Gender Gap Index.
- Kelowna and Vancouver, on the other hand, have lower levels of reported violence against women, (ranking 1st and 5th respectively), but higher crime rates (22nd and 20th, respectively) pointing to the seriousness of other types of crimes in these communities.
There are gender-based differences in life expectancy, health behaviours, mortality, and risk of illness. Generally speaking, women tend to live longer lives but spend fewer years in good health.8 Some of the root causes of ill health among women are linked to gender inequality such as gender role conflicts, heavy workloads at home and in the workplace, higher levels of poverty, and barriers to community resources.9
Our report reveals that the gender gap in health status between men and women is quite small and that there is little variation between Canadian cities in this regard.
- Women outlive men in all cities studied here, in some instances by as much as five years (e.g., Greater Sudbury, Toronto and Hamilton). Average life expectancy for women in Canada is 84.0 years and 79.9 years for men.10
- The gender gap in self-reported health is small. A slightly larger proportion of men compared to women reported “very good” or “excellent” health in 14 out of 26 cities. The largest gaps in men’s favour are in Montreal, Saskatoon and Edmonton. The largest gender gaps in women’s favour are in Kingston, Greater Sudbury and Victoria.
- Women are more likely to report high levels of stress in their daily lives. Overall, the proportion of men reporting high stress declined between 2012 and 2016, while women experienced little change, resulting in a wider gender gap, notably in Gatineau, Sherbrooke and Montreal. The gender gap in stress narrowed in London, Kelowna and Abbotsford-Mission.
- Overall, roughly the same number of men and women reported high levels of daily stress in National Capital region of Quebec, and the Middlesex-London and City of Hamilton health units. The largest gender gaps were reported in Sudbury and District, Region of Gatineau and Waterloo health units.
- Screening for cervical cancer was highest in Winnipeg, followed by Halifax and Oshawa. All of the cities in Quebec had comparatively low levels of coverage.
Today, working-age women are more likely to hold post-secondary degrees compared to men in this age group (66.7% vs 62.7%), but important gaps remain notably in areas such as technology, engineering and skilled trades.11 There are important differences as well at the local level with regard to the type of postsecondary education women pursue and fields of study.
- Women make up majority of university graduates in all large cities. The highest levels of university education among women aged 25-64 years are in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, while the largest gender gaps in favour of women are in Kingston, Kelowna and Greater Sudbury.
- Women and men are as likely to be graduates from colleges and CEGEPs; just over one-third of women and men aged 25-64 were college grads. In 2017, Sherbrooke, Greater Sudbury and St. John’s reported the highest levels of college education among women.
- In 14 of the 26 cities reviewed in this study, the gender gap in college attainment favoured women, their share of grads exceeding 50 percent. In 12 cities, the gap favoured men. The largest gap in favour of women was in Hamilton, largest gap in favour of men was in Edmonton.
- In 2016, women made up 57.7% of all non-STEM degree holders (aged 25-64 years), but only 29.8% of STEM degree holders. Women’s presence in STEM fields is relatively low in all large cities, ranging from 25.0% of all STEM graduates in Sherbrooke to 32.4% in Toronto. The gender gap is largest in Sherbrooke, as well as Greater Sudbury and Quebec.
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1 For the purposes of this report, big cities are defined using Statistics Canada's census metropolitan areas.
2 Pierre Fortin (2018), Quebec’s childcare program at 20: How has it done and what the rest of Canada can learn. Inroads, Issue 42, Winter/Spring 2018.
3 McKinsey Global Institute (2015), The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth. London: McKinsey Global Institute; Sarah Kaplan (2017), Because it's 2017: Gender Equality as an Innovation Challenge, Rotman Management, The Inequality Issue, Fall 2017.
4 Intimate partner violence includes violence against spouses and partners in other current or former intimate relationships. In 2015, violence within dating relationships was more common than violence within spousal relationships, according to police reported data.
5 Shana Conroy and Adam Cotter (2017), “Self-reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014,” Juristat, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Catalogue no. 85-002-X. See also: Cristine Rotenberg (2017), “Police-reported sexual assaults in Canada, 2009 to 2014: A statistical profile,” Juristat, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
6 Marta Burczycka and Shana Conroy (2017), Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2015, Juristat, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
7 Mary Allen (2018), Police-reported crime statistics in Canada. Juristat, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
8 For an overview of the health of women and girls, see Tracey Bushnik (2016), “The health of girls and women,” Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report. Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 89-503-X.
9 EuroHealthNet (2017), Making the link: Gender Equality and Health, Policy Précis.
10 Life expectancy data refer to 3-year averages (e.g., 2014-2016), and data for self-reported health and self-reported high stress refer to 2-year averages (e.g., 2015-2016). In the text, we refer to these averages using a single year. For example, the most recent information for life expectancy is the average for the 2014 to 2016 period. In the text, we attribute this information to 2016.
11 Sarah Jane Ferguson (2016), Women and Education: Qualifications, Skills and Technology. Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report. Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 89-503-X.