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Status of Women Canada Ministerial Transition Book
Women in Canada: Key Trends


Women and girls in Canada are doing comparatively well when measured against other western countries (see recent Women and Girls in Canada presentation outlining key themes). International reports continue to rank Canada highly for its achievement of gender equality. Most recently, the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Canada 19th out of 142 countries, an improvement from 20th in 2013 and 21st in 2012.

In 2013, the UN Development Program’s Human Development Report (HDR), which assesses long-term progress in human development, ranked Canada 8th out of 187 countries. The HDR also includes the Gender Inequality Index (GII), which assesses the gender gap in indicators for health, education, labour force participation and parliamentary representation. In 2014, the GII ranked Canada 23rd out of 187 countries (down from 18th place in 2013). In 2012, TrustLaw, which ranks G20 countries on where it is best to be a woman, ranked Canada number 1. These rankings are primarily due to the gains women have made in education, labour force participation, health and parliamentary representation.

Despite these gains, Canadian women continue to face challenges in achieving full equality in Canada. Women earn less than their male counterparts, are less represented in positions of power, and are far more likely than men to be affected by most forms of violence. In addition, certain groups of women are more likely to be affected by these challenges, including Aboriginal women and girls, immigrant women, and rural women.

This document provides a brief snapshot of some of the key issues facing women in Canada, including:

Each section begins with an overview of positive trends within the domain, followed by sub-sections on key challenges going forward.

Note that more comprehensive statistical information on these and other issues such as women and health, women and the criminal justice system, women with disabilities, Aboriginal women, immigrant women and visible minority women can be found in the Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report from Statistics Canada. This document is currently being updated, with chapters being released over the course of 2015–2016.

Education and Skills Training

Education indicators for Canadian women are strong, with girls’ achievements outperforming those of boys as early as elementary school. As girls progress in education, they are more likely to graduate from high school in a shorter period of time and less likely to drop out. More women than men enroll in post secondary programs after completing high school, and more women complete these programs. This said, segmentation of women into certain educational disciplines leaves women unable to take advantage of employment opportunities in key growth sectors.

Positive Trends

Ongoing Challenges

Gender segmentation in education and training is a key challenge in terms of women’s educational achievement. Indicators of this include:

Figure 1: Women and Men in STEM Education

Source : Statistics Canada | Graphic: Amanda Shendruk

Figure 1: Women and Men in STEM Education

[Text version of Figure 1: Women and Men in STEM Education]

Image is a bar graph in green and blue. Green represents women; blue represents men.

The first bar shows all STEM graduates — 39% women; 61% men.

The second bar shows all non-STEM graduates — 66% women; 34% men.

The third bar shows all science and technology graduates — 59% women; 41% men.

The fourth bar shows engineering graduates — 23% women; 77% men.

The fifth bar shows math and computer science graduates — 30% women; 70% men.

Employment and Economic Wellbeing

Since the early 1980s, women have made increasing strides in terms of labour market participation and economic independence. At roughly 68%, Canada’s labour force participation rate for women aged 15 to 74 is fourth in the OECD and was 9% higher than the OECD average of 59%. Despite women’s increased economic participation, there are a number of challenges that continue to limit their economic potential, such as their overrepresentation in part-time work and disruptions in labour market attachment due to care responsibilities, both of which contribute to the gender wage gap.

Positive Trends

Labour force participation rate (15-64), by gender, 1976-2012

Figure 2: Labour Force Participation of Women 

Figure 2: Labour Force Participation of Women 1976–2012

Text version of Figure 2: Labour force participation rate (15-64), by gender, 1976-2012

The image is a line graph showing the rates of participation in the labour force by men and women aged 15 to 64.

Women are represented by a red line which begins with 51.4% in 1976 and rises to 74.3% in 2012.

Men are represented by a blue line which begins with 84.5% in 1976 and declines slightly to 81.6% in 2012.

Ongoing Challenges

Despite progress, the Gender Wage Gap remains a challenge for many Canadian women

Many factors influence women’s lower earnings in comparison to their male counterparts. These include:

Overall, women represent roughly 5% of all skilled trades workers in Canada

Marginalized women and the economy

Unpaid Work

Unpaid work refers to responsibilities that fall outside of formal employment, including child care, care for sick or elderly family members, and domestic work, including cleaning. Although women have traditionally done much of the unpaid work in a household, men are taking on an increased role. This said, women still provide the majority of high intensity care (15 hours or more). Their overrepresentation in unpaid work leaves women at a disadvantage in Canada’s increasingly competitive labour market.

Positive Trends

Ongoing Challenges

Despite these positive developments, women are still doing the bulk of unpaid work, which is a primary influence on their labour market attachment

Other forms of care

Leadership and Democratic Participation

Canadian women continue to gain ground in terms of representation at the highest levels of economic and political life. However, change is coming slowly. While new provincial and territorial guidelines regarding transparency on board gender balance have been introduced across jurisdictions, the long term impacts of this are yet to be seen. At the political level, women’s representation falls under the 30% threshold defined by the UN as the minimum level necessary for women to exercise real influence. Research suggests that women are more engaged at the grassroots level of democracy as opposed to seeking elected positions.

Positive Trends

Ongoing Challenges

Women under-represented on private sector boards

Women under-represented in decision-making positions over-all

Figure 3: Canadian Women in Business Leadership

Catalyst, Women CEOs and Heads of the Financial Post 500 (2 janiver 2015) and additional Catalyst research and analysis
Liz Mulligan-Ferry, Mark J. Bartkiewicz, Rachel Soares, Amrita Singh, et Imogene Winkleman, 2013 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors (2014)
Liz Mulligan-Ferry, Andrew Malordy, et Ashley Peter, 2012 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Senior Officers and Top Earners (2013)
Statistics Canada, Table 282-0010 Labour Force Survey Estimates (LFS), by National Occupational Classification for Statistics (NOC-S) and Sex Annual Characteristics: Employment (January 2014)

Figure 3: Canadian Women in Business Leadership

[Text version of Figure 3: Canadian Women in Business Leadership]

The image is a triangle divided horizontally into seven sections. The first six sections of the triangle are in different shades of blue with white text. The bottom section is in red with white text.

The top of the triangle is the smallest section and represents the 4.9% of CEOs/Heads who are women.

The section just underneath represents the 6.9% of top earners who are women.

The third section represents women board directors at 15.9%.

The fourth section is women senior officers, at 18.1%.

The fifth section represents the percentage of women in management occupations, with 35.7%.

The sixth section represents the percentage of women in the Canadian Labour Force, with 47.3%.

At the bottom of the triangle, the chart is labeled “Canadian Women in Business”.

Women under-represented in politics

Figure 4: Women's Political Representation in Canadian Provinces and Territories

Figure 4: Women's Political Representation in Canadian Provinces and Territories

[Text version of Figure 4: Women's Political Representation in Canadian Provinces and Territories]

The image is a bar graph. The title is “Political Representation of Women, Provincial/Territiorial”

On the y axis are percentages ranging from 0.00 to 100.00. On the x axis, the provinces and territories are listed in the following order (from left to right): Northwest Territories (NWT), Nunavut (NU), Yukon (YK), Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), Prince Edward Island (PEI), New Brunswick (NB), Nova Scotia (NS), Quebec (QC), Ontario (ON), Manitoba (MB), Saskatchewan (SK), Alberta (AB) and British Columbia (BC). Women are represented by a red bar, men by a blue.

The data displayed is as follows (percentages are approximate):

The graph is credited to Equal Voice, 2014.

Violence Against Women and Girls

The issue of violence against women and girls continues to be a complex challenge. Rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence have remained persistently high in Canada, with 1.8 million Canadians, the majority of whom are women, reporting having experienced one of these forms of violence in the past five years. The issue of violence is particularly acute with respect to Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.

Positive Trends

Ongoing Challenges

Women are particularly vulnerable to certain forms of violence. Women:

Underreporting is a serious challenge

Figure 5: Underreporting of Sexual Violence in Canada

Source : Johnson, "Limits of a Criminal Justice Response: Trends in Police and court Processing of Sexual Asssault" in Sheehy, Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women's Activism, 2012.

Figure 5 Underreporting of Sexual Violence in Canada

[Text version of Figure 5: Underreporting of Sexual Violence in Canada]

The title of the image is “There are 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada every year”. The image shows a circle containing the words “out of every 1,000 sexual assaults”. Sections of this circle are labeled as follows:

Certain groups of women are more likely to face victimization

Aboriginal women across the country experience significantly more violence than non-aboriginal women

Figure 6: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

Figure 6 Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women

[Text version of Figure 6: Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women]

The image title is “By the Numbers”. It shows data for all police jurisdictions in Canada.

On the left is a shaded box containing the following text: “In 2013, there were 671, 554 Aboriginal females in Canada, which represented 4.3% of the female population.”

In the centre, is a pie chart entitled “Missing and murdered Aboriginal females. The total number represented by the pie chart is 1,181. The smallest section of the pie chart is light blue and represents the 164 missing Aboriginal women, based on data from CPIC. It is labeled as follows: “11.3% of all missing females on record”.

The larger section of the pie chart is dark blue and represents all 1,017 Aboriginal women and girls murdered between 1980 and 2012. This section is labeled as follows: “Represents 5% of all murders on record” and “represents 16% of all murdered females”.

Both sections of the pie chart are labeled: “Aboriginal females are over-represented”.

On the right side of the image is a box entitled: “Total unsolved Aboriginal female occurrences”. Beneath the title, the number 225 appears. Underneath this is a circle divided into two sections. The section on the left represents unsolved homicides and contains the number 120. The section on the right contains the number 105 and represents missing women (unknown or foul play suspected).

Underneath this, homicide solve rates are displayed. On the left, it shows that 88% (897 of 1,017) of the murders of Aboriginal females have been solved; for female Aboriginal victims involved in the sex trade, the solve rate was 60%. On the right is the homicide solve rate for non-Aboriginal females, at 89%; 65% for non-Aboriginal female victims involved in the sex trade.

Higher rates of violence against Aboriginal women are associated with socio-economic factors. Aboriginal women at risk of violence are more likely to:

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