The Best and Worst Place to be a Woman In Canada provides a snapshot of the gaps that exist between women and men in Canada’s largest cities. As in any snapshot, much was left out of the frame. Here are just a few things that couldn’t be captured in a single picture.
Not all women are the same.Employment levels, poverty rates and incomes are very different for different groups of women. While there are no consistent statistics at the municipal level which disagregate the population by sex, disability and ethnicity, national statistics provide a discouraging picture of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. For example, immigrant women’s employment lags 7% behind Canadian-born women and 14% behind that of immigrant men. Aboriginal women’s employment rates are 5% below that of Aboriginal men and 11% below that of non-Aboriginal women. Women with disabilities also have disproportionately low levels of employment.
Levels of gender-based violence are also very different for different groups of women. Aboriginal women are far more likely to experience violence. So too are women with disabilities. Responses to this violence must address the differences in both the levels of violence experienced by different and diverse groups of women and the conditions in which that violence happens.
Women in northern Canada and in rural areas also face distinct challenges—none of which are captured in the report. In remote areas, services are often inaccessible or insufficient. Women living in fly-in communities, for example, may have to choose between staying in a violent household or travelling hundreds of miles away from family and friends to access a shelter. Likewise, the issues of housing shortages and food security pose distinct challenges for women in rural and remote communities. Surveys which, by design, depend on a sample of the population to represent a larger group are ill-equipped to describe the realities of those living in sparsely populated parts of Canada.
“Lies, damned lies, and statistics”Statistics are never a replacement for qualitative research. The Best and Worst Place to Be a Women in Canada uses a limited number of statistics to stand in for broader social and economic trends. The index was modeled on international indices and includes 17 different data points or indicators clustered into five areas: health, education (tertiary), leadership, economic security, and personal security. The indicators were selected to act as proxies for larger social trends, attitudes and conditions of life.
Within each category, each indicator was given equal weight. For example, in the area of "Leadership" there were two indicators: the ratio of women to men in senior management (taken from the 2011 National Household Survey data) and the ratio of women to men holding elected office at the municipal office. Those two ratios were then averaged to produce a "score" for that city in that category. The scores were then translated into ranks (highest score=1; lowest score=20).
It has been argued that indicators should be given more weight if they concern more people and less weight if they concern fewer people -- so, the ratio of women to men in elected office would have less weight because city counselors represent only a few people out of the total population of a city and the ratio of women to men in senior management would have a heavier weight because more people in a given community would be senior managers. The report gives each indicator equal weight because the indicators are used as proxies for broader trends. For example, who holds elected office is a proxy for the attitudes of voters, not just a description of the attitudes of the elected officials themselves.
Why rankings?Rankings provide a useful comparison of differences across communities. They also engage a broader community by tapping into feelings of civic pride. And so they should. It ought to be a matter of civic pride when a community provides an equally good life for its women and men. A national conversation about the challenges many women still face and the solutions that are working at the local level is an important step towards making every community the best place to be a woman in Canada.
Kate McInturff is a senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the director of the Centre’s initiative on gender equality and public policy, Making Women Count. You can follow Kate on Twitter @katemcinturff.