“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult.” The first female mayor of Ottawa, Charlotte Whitton, had a good sense of humour, when she served at her post from 1951-56 and again for four years in 1960. Whitton was a trailblazer, not just for women in Canada but around the world. Planting an unprecedented seed in the minds of 50s housewives that women can do anything men can do – and, arguably, better.
Canada has long been a country that is identified with progressiveness, with liberal multicultural and gender acceptance. This is, at least, how the facade may appear on the outside – but there are still long-suffering marginalization issues, minority travesties, and sometimes stifling political landscapes. In reality, there are indeed some places in Canada where being a woman means equal opportunities, long-term health and well-being, and low statistics of domestic violence and abuse. But there are also some corners in Canada where being a women means life is going to be that much harder than the men around them.
Overall, increased levels of employment for women over the past 20 years has surged, no doubt in part to trailblazers like Whitton, but overall there are lower rates of employment and lower wages than Canadian men. And despite the presence of women in 2014 with high-profile political positions, like Green Party leader and Canadian Member of Parliament Elizabeth May, the level of female participation in politics both provincially and nationally is small – with one in four members of parliament being women.
This information, compiled and issued in a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, focuses on these gaps between the genders across Canada’s 20 largest epicenters, to pinpoint just where – and why – women comparatively have the best and worst of it in the Great White North. It may be surprising that two of the country’s most well-known Canadian cities – Vancouver, and Toronto – are absent both from the top and bottom rankings. Vancouver did score the highest in terms of life expectancy for women, but ranked only 13 of 20 for women’s overall well being among the cities studied. Toronto fared better, in 6th place, but was noted as having the fewest health clinics per capita at a rate of one clinic for almost 450,000 women.
This pristine city on the tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is located along the majestic west coast and it’s no wonder, based on the scenery alone, that this is one of the best places to live in Canada for men and women. But for women specifically, Victoria is only one of two cities in the nation where female city councillors outnumber men. The gap between employment opportunities here is smaller than all other cities, meaning women have equal opportunities to jobs – although, it needs to be noted this number is skewed do the fact that men here have lower than average rates of full-time employment than national levels. So the level of unemployment rate in Victoria is high.
Women in this city who are in the workforce tend to hold higher numbers of senior management positions, at 33 percent. On the downside, while both genders here have higher than average life expectancies and perceived good health, Victoria women are twice as likely to perceive their lives as very stressful. The good news is there are low-rates of police reported domestic violence and sexual assaults, with just over 900 incidents reported a year (these rates are based on what’s reported, and relative to the population). While men still outnumber women in the trades, as they do in all cities studied, women outnumber men in Victoria three to two in holding college or non university diplomas.
This eclectic and historically rich French-speaking city is a great place in Canada to be a woman. Employment rates here align with the national average, at 57 percent for women. But the great identifier of female equality lies in the wage gap, where it is significantly smaller than other areas of Canada, with women earning 77 cents on the male dollar. The downside is that women are just a tad more likely to live in poverty here than men, with 15 percent living below low-income.
There’s an average distribution of women in politics, who are still outnumbered one to three, and only slightly better represented municipally. Men here are more likely to perceive their health as good, while women register higher levels of stress here as well. The bright side, is that women are safer in Montreal than other areas of Canada with lower than average rates of police reported sexual and domestic violence than Canada overall. There is an active grassroots push for equality in this city, with the Women in Cities International / Femmes et Villes (WICI). The organization works to improve gender equality and female participation in urban development.
3. St. John’s
St. John’s is the home of the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival, one of the longest held women’s film festivals in the world. Economically speaking, employment levels for women here are also higher than the national average, with 64 percent of females in the city employed, while men do still have the lead in annual earnings with an average of $11,000 more per year. The downside is the biggest gap between men and women living in poverty, with 12 percent for females compared to male’s nine percent. And sadly, there are no female city councillors to be found, the only city studied that did not, but that could be because women here are busy in other senior management positions, with one woman for every two men in top level positions.
Women in this colourful, East Coast city are healthy, or at least they think they are – they are more likely than men here to consider their health good to excellent. There is an equal perception of high stress here between both, at 13 percent for men and women. Women in St. Johns have more than average access to sexual and reproductive health clinics, which could perhaps have something to do with their feelings of overall well being. There are low reports of domestic and sexual violence here as well, with around 600 incidents reported a year. Rounding out the perks to living in this city is the greater levels of education achieved by women in St. Johns at the high school college and university level.
The sprawling prairie city of Saskatoon may fall below the average in terms of economic security, with full-time opportunities for women lower than men, and earnings about 35 percent behind, Saskatoon women are empowered in leadership positions. The success of women’s job positions is the main reason for the city scoring so high on the list. Four of 11 city councillors are women, making it one of the top 20 city’s studied for political representation.
There are more women in senior management positions in Saskatoon than most other cities in Canada. In keeping with the high level of leadership opportunities for Saskatoon women, they double men in terms of holding college or non-university degrees. Women in Saskatoon also have a life expectancy to outpace their men, consequently, they perceive their health as good or excellent, while men here are more likely to perceive their health as poor. Perhaps women here are more likely to go soak up the major vitamin D this city provides – it’s in the top five cities of Canada for annual amounts of sunshine in unrelated weather lists. Gender-based violence reported here is average, with 1200 incidents a year.
1. Quebec City
The thriving capital of the Quebec province, and the province’s second city to feature in the top 5, is the best place to live in terms of equality between men and women. The wage gap here is quite small, while women’s wages are 78 percent of their male colleagues, on average. This is quite a bit better than the national average wage gap, which sits at around 66 percent. While Quebec City women earn no better or worse than female salaries around the country, women here have overall better earnings, smaller gaps to male earnings, higher economic opportunities and employment levels including access to full-time positions. On council here you see almost equal numbers of men and women, making it one of the highest cities for political position parity. This trickles down to the city’s council as well, with Quebec City one of the few top cities for women to live that comes close to equality in this sector, with 10 women to 12.
Women and men are equally likely to qualify their overall well being as good to excellent, with life expectancy in this metropolis equally high between the sexes. And unlike other cities, it’s the men in Quebec who tend to perceive their lives as highly stressful. Unfortunately, Quebec City falls below average in terms of access to sexual and reproductive health care clinics. However, women here are safer than in any other city on the list, with the lowest rates of police reported sexual and domestic violence with 1,600 incidents.
5. Kitchener – Cambridge – Waterloo
Well, the good news for these Ontario cities is that the gap between employment rates is smaller than nationally, with 64 percent employment rates for women compared to the 70 percent of men. But access to jobs is sadly weighted against women. Only 45 percent of women here hold full time work, while it also highlights one of the biggest wage gap areas with women making about $14,400 less than their male colleagues. Poverty levels are high here as well, with three percent higher for women than men, and an average of 12 percent living below low income.
There are very few female leaders found in Kitchener, with two out of 11 positions being held by women. Waterloo, at least, has a municipal government with women outnumbering men, making this the best of the three Ontario cities for females in local leadership positions. The good news is that men and women in these Ontario cities see their health as good to excellent although the women here are much more likely to identify with high stress in their lives, at 35 percent. In fact, these three cities have the highest stressed female population of all Canadian cities. This could be related to the fact that in all of Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo urban amenities, there are only two sexual and reproductive health clinics in total. To end on a bright note, the rates of gender-based violence here is pretty low, with 1500 incidents reported annually.
This rodeo city may be a fun place to visit during the famous summer stampede, but women here experience the lowest levels of poverty in all of the nation’s major cities studied. Levels of employment in Calgary good, but the gap between gender employment is 50 percent bigger than other cities, with 77 percent of men employed to 65 percent of women working. Women who have obtained full time jobs is also low, at 50 percent, falling below the national average. Perhaps unsurprising after these stats, is that the gap in wages here is huge, with women earning an average of $17,0000 less than men in Calgary. The city also has one of the worst rates of women in senior level positions, with females taking up only 22 percent of these jobs, and only two of 15 municipal seats. While women here are as likely as men to perceive their health as good or excellent, they do identify with high level of stress, three percent more so than men, at 23 percent.
There’s not a lot of employment options in Windsor, another Ontario city in the lower rankings. Maybe this has something to do with its close proximity to struggling Detroit. Nevertheless, the gap between men and women’s access to work is average, suggesting that despite your gender it’s hard to get a job here. Currently 53 percent of the male population has a full time job, compared to 36 percent of women. Wages are low, for women and men, but women are earning relatively close to what men make at about 77 cents on the male dollar. Poverty rates are high for both sexes, with 20 percent living below low-income. Women have fair representation in senior management roles here, but not so in the political landscape with only one in the municipal office (shout out to Jo-Anne Gignac!). Women here are almost twice as likely to identify high stress in their lives, although gender-based violence is just under the national average.
This city outside of Toronto on the shoreline of lake Ontario, and part of the Golden Horseshoe of southern Ontario, might sound charming but it happens to have the greatest gap between men and women’s stress levels. For women, they tend to report more than twice the level of stress than those of the men who live here. Oshawa is one of only two cities on the list with no sexual or reproductive health care clinics. Women earn considerably less in wages than their male peers – about $14,000 less per year. Employment is low for box sexes, with 43 percent of women in Oshawa occupying full-time jobs. One of the main issues that puts Oshawa near the bottom of the list is its lack of women in leadership. Men outnumber women in upper level positions at a rate of three to one, and there are only two of 11 elected municipals officials who are women. Women are also more than twice as stressed out as men, with 30 percent reporting high levels of stress compared to 14 percent from men. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Oshawa has a higher than average rate of sexual assault.
This Albertan capital is cited as the worst place to live for women in Canada. While both Edmonton and nearby Calgary have relatively low levels of poverty, the highest gender gaps to be found here are in pay equity and employment opportunities. This has a lot to do with the heavy reliance on the oil industry, and typically male-dominated industries including mining and construction. In comparison, there are low-paying “feminine” positions in the service sector here that only contribute to the gap. So, while 65 percent of the women in Edmonton have access to employment, that doesn’t necessarily mean much. They can generally expect to earn a whopping $21,000 less than men.
The main way in which Edmonton fails women in Canada is in terms of the gender inequality in leadership roles, with only one woman currently holding elected municipal office. To begin addressing this issue, the city has recently developed a mentoring program for women interested in politics. Women in Edmonton identify high levels of stress in their lives – about 30 percent to the 21 percent of men – and there are only three sexual and reproductive health clinics, which means an astoundingly poor one clinic for every 202,000 women in the city. Finally, Edmonton has a high number of gender-based violence reports – about 4000 incidents of sexual and domestic violence reported annually. It’s so bad, in fact, that the city created a “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign in 2010, and resurrected it again for 2012, to try and address and reshape the behaviours and attitudes of men that leads to sexual assaults.