If you live in one of Canada’s twenty largest metropolitan areas, you can find out how your city stacks up in terms of women’s equality, thanks to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
In “The Best and Worst Place to be a Woman in Canada”, CCPA researcher Kate McInturff examined census metropolitan areas across the country and evaluated how they were doing on several measures often used to evaluate gender equality: economic security, health, leadership, personal security and education.
The ultimate ranking, which puts Quebec City first and Edmonton last out of 20, is based on the gaps found between men and women, so not overall levels of well-being. That’s because McInturff believes it’s important to ask whether women are getting equal access to the resources that a community has available.
She explained to me how she ended up choosing to compare gender gaps across metropolitan areas.
“It was the information that was available. I wanted to compare information on communities or regions in Canada, using the indicators that are used in international indexes in gender equality. To find that data, I could only look at the biggest cities and not look at differences between women within those cities, but I thought it was the best way to show differences across Canada,” McInturff explained.
“I would hope [readers] would take away a good sense of where the biggest challenges are.”
Of course the first thing I did when I opened up the report was skip ahead to my city, Vancouver. Vancouver is ranked 13/20. While the overall levels of well-being aren’t too bad, Vancouver had one of the biggest wage gaps of the top 20 cities, with women earning 30% less than their male counterparts. There was also a big gap in how men and women rated their health. 68% of Vancouver men perceive their health as good or excellent, but the same went for only 51% of Vancouver women.
The thing that most surprised McInturff in the results was that Edmonton came out last.
“I thought that the fact incomes and employment were higher would raise Edmonton’s score. It was really that the income gap was so big there. It turns out a thriving economy isn’t necessarily good for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily lift all boats,” she said.
A lot of that has to do, not just with labour force segregation, but the fact that the female-dominated industry in Alberta where there is the most job growth is the service sector, which is the lowest-paying female-dominated industry. Whereas in Ontario where there’s growth in health care and education.
One new indicator McInturff took on that isn’t usually able to be included in international indexes was “personal security”, or rates of violence against women. But it wasn’t easy to get clear, comparable information.
“The only data we have on violence against women at the municipal level is police-reported data. And we know violence against women is underreported to police. I really think it’s important to signal violence is a real problem for women, but we have to note police rates aren’t the full picture,” McInturff explained.
For example, she found in Vancouver that rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence reported to police (almost 7000 in one year) were below the national average, but 7,000 is still a big number and under-reporting makes it hard to know how many more incidents could really be taking place.
McInturff is hoping Statistics Canada will agree to do more surveying on the municipal level on violence against women, something that hasn’t been done since 1993.
“They have demonstrated they can do this and do it well. More recently, in the General Social Survey on Victimization they have filled in some gaps, so they should keep going. We really need to know this information at the local level because the policies being implemented are being implemented in communities. The only way to know what’s working and what isn’t is to track if rates of violence are going up or down,” McInturff said.
McInturff’s report highlights several local projects that are trying to improve things for women at the municipal level, such as the Vancouver-based Women Transforming Cities, Winnipeg’s Native Women’s Transition Centre, and the Toronto Women’s City Alliance.
But she notes that these groups are often under resourced and are finding themselves having to do more with less.
“What we really don’t have enough of and what has been disappearing are the national organizations and provincial organizations that used to provide a platform for local women’s organizations to come together, exchange and share their knowledge, and also to advocate for solutions to problems we’re facing at the national and provincial level,” McInturff explained.
I asked McInturff what she hoped governments would take away from reading about challenges in their communities. In addition to broadly tackling issues like violence against women and the lack of women in leadership, McInturff had one very specific suggestion:
“Government and foundations other funding providers need to stop treating service providers and advocates for women’s rights as two separate groups. Service providers need support from advocates to bring the knowledge they have to decision-makers. Supporting both advocates and service providers will make sure decision-makers have the insight into what policies and programs are working and into how best to spend public funds to be effective.”
Ultimately, McInturff hopes the paper will be a starting point for discussion and action at the local level:
“That was my hope that this would help women working locally and regionally to talk about the issues they care about.”