The Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Canadian Constitution[1] establishes equal protection and benefit before the law "without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."[2]Moreover, there is a guarantee that all the rights in the Charter should be protected equally for women and men.[3]

The Canadian Human Rights Act of 1977 established that all Canadians have the right to equality, equal opportunity, fair treatment, and an environment free of discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, marital status and family status, in employment and the provision of goods, services, facilities or accommodation within federal jurisdiction. The Canadian Human Rights Commission oversees the protection of these rights.


[1] The Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Canadian Constitution of 1982, (accessed 01/04/2014) [2] Article 15 [3] Article 28


 Whereas family law is an area of shared jurisdiction between the federal and provincial governments, the majority of the provisions related to marriage are defined at the provincial level. Federal legislation establishes the national standards. For instance, the federal Divorce Act establishes the criteria for divorce, custody, access, child and spousal support claims. All other family law matters are determined by provincial legislation.[4]

At the federal level, the statutory minimum age of marriage for women and men is 18. In certain circumstances, 16-year-olds may marry with the authorisation from a civil court.[5] Three provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador,[6] British Columbia,[7] and Nova Scotia[8] have established the minimum marriage age at 19 without parental consent. Registered de facto unions are recognised by the State for couples cohabitating for at least one year.[9] Same-sex couples have the right to marry in Canada.[10]

No restrictions were located in the provincial legislation in relation to women’s and men’s equal parental authority. Women can legally be the head of the household.[11] In addition, women in same-sex unions have the right to be legally recognised as the parents of their child following a 2006 Ontario Superior Court ruling.[12]

The Federal Divorce Act, last amended in 2007, provides that women and men have equal decision-making authority over children after divorce and that child custody can be granted to either or both parents following the breakup of the union.[13] In 2011, 15% of the divorce cases resulted with the father’s residence being the primary residence of their children, 70% was the mother’s residence and 9% resulted in shared custody.[14]

Inheritance rights are a part of provincial family legislation and vary across the nation. According to the World Bank, the law provides women equal inheritance rights as wives and daughters.[15] Some provinces have strong legislative provisions for gender equality in property matters. Ontario’s Family Law Act, for example, provides for the orderly and equitable settlement of the affairs of spouses upon the breakdown of their partnership, based on the principle of equality.[16]Common-law couples that did not enter into a domestic contract prior to the co-habitation must file a claim against their partner’s property through the provincial judiciary.[17]


According to the NGO Beyond Borders, early marriage is closely related to the issue of polygamy in Canada, which is practiced by religious communities, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS).[18] Polygamy is banned by the Criminal Code.[19]

The federal Divorce Act provides that women and men have equal rights to initiate divorce.[20] The divorce laws of the provinces or territories are adjusted to the general provisions established by the federal Divorce Act. Additional provincial provisions include family justice services such as mediation and parenting education.[21]


[4] Justice Department Ontario Attorney General, (accessed 04/04/2014) [5] United Nations Statistics Division (2014) [6] Services Newfoundland and Labrador, (accessed 04/04/2014) [7] British Colombia Vital Statistics Agency (2014) [8] Government of Nova Scotia (2014) [9] Canada Revenue Agency (2014) [10] Marriage Act 2005 c. 33 [11] World Bank (n.d.[b]) [12] .D.R. v. Ontario Deputy Registrar General (2006); CEDAW-C-CAN-7, 2007, p. 177 [13] Article 16 [14] Statistics Canada (2011) [15] World Bank (n.d.[b]) [16] Ontario Family Law Act (1990) Preamble [17] Justice Department Ontario Attorney General, (accessed 04/04/2014) [18] Beyond Borders (2012) [19] Article 293 [20] Article 8 [21] Department of Justice website, (accessed 01/04/2014) 


 According to the Justice Department, domestic violence is referred to as family violence in Canada.[22]While there is no specific offence in the Criminal Code addressing family violence, many different provisions are in place for this purpose. The offences associated with the use of physical and sexual violence relating to family violence include: assault (causing bodily harm, with a weapon and aggravated assault);[23] kidnapping and forcible confinement;[24] homicide (murder, attempted murder, infanticide and manslaughter);[25]and sexual assault[26]. Offences related to some forms of psychological or emotional abuse within the family involve using words or actions to control, isolate, intimidate or dehumanise someone such as: harassment,[27]uttering threats,[28] and making indecent and harassing phone calls.[29] Finally, economic violence is also taken into account under the provisions relating to theft,[30] misappropriation of money held under direction,[31] extortion,[32]etc.

While the legislation defines domestic violence with gender-neutral language, assuming that females can too be perpetrators, the data shows that it is an issue affecting predominantly women. Female victims of domestic violence were twice as likely as male victims to be physically injured, three times as likely to experience disruptions to their daily lives, and almost seven times as likely to fear for their life. [33] Moreover, in 2011, intimate partners, including spouses and dating partners, were the most common perpetrators in violent crimes against women. Partners represented 45% of all those accused of violence against women, followed by acquaintances or friends (27%), strangers (16%) and non-spousal family members (12%).[34] In addition, 62% of female victims of non-spousal violence knew their assailant.[35]In 2011, there were roughly 78,000 female victims of intimate partner violence. [36] Certain types of spousal violence were more likely to come to the attention of police, including incidents where the woman was sexually assaulted (53%) or beaten, choked or had a weapon used against her (60%).[37]According to the Transition Home Survey (THS), there were 4,645 women residing in shelters across Canada in April 2010, most of whom were escaping abuse (71%).[38]

In May 2012 the White Ribbon Campaign conducted an Ontario-wide survey on men’s attitudes and behaviours towards violence against women, aiming to understand male attitudes in order to inform, shape, and influence future initiatives and to serve as a baseline against which changes can be monitored over time. The survey revealed that men recognise the universality of violence against women and most agree that domestic violence is a public issue. Moreover, 96% agree that domestic violence can happen in any family, regardless of cultural background or economic situation, and 79% disagree that domestic violence is a private matter to be handled in the family. However, the impact of emotional, social and psychological forms of violence against women are not always well understood by men in Ontario, and most feel a woman could leave a violent relationship if she really wanted to.[39]

The Involved Father and Gender Equity project is a collaborative action plan between the White Ribbon Campaign and Dad Central. The study explores the positive roles that fathers, organisations working with diverse fathers, and the fatherhood sector in Ontario in general can play in promoting gender equality and healthy and equal relationships, as well as in ending violence against women in all its forms.[40] Fathers in this study indicate that their involvement with their children promotes gender equality in many ways. Fathers are role modelling gender equality with their children and understand the importance of having conversations about equality with their children. Fathers in this study also suggest that a change is occurring in relationships, where equality is more present within their relationships than ever before.[41]

Rape is criminalised under several different provisions of the Criminal Code. Sexual assault is punished by less than 10 years of imprisonment, and at least one year when the victim is younger than 16.[42] The crime is aggravated by the use of a dangerous weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm.[43]The use of stupefying drugs to commit rape is punished as well.[44] Marital rape is taken into account in the Criminal Code.[45]

Action plans against sexual assault are executed at the provincial level. For instance, the Women’s Directorate in Ontario put in place the 2011 Ontario’s Sexual Violence Action Plan, which continues to exist at the moment. This plan includes programmes, such as the Promoting Healthy Equal Relationships campaign targeted youth and the adults who influence them.[46]Moreover, the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres and Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes receive financial support from the government in order to develop and deliver specialised training programmes for sexual assault centre staff on supporting women with addictions, mental illness and trauma. These organisations are charged with producing and distributing educational materials for community service agencies on best practices in prevention and supporting survivors coping with trauma.[47]

Overall, women and men tend to be victims of similar violent offences, for instance assault, harassment, etc. However, women are 11 times more likely than men to be victims of a sexual offence, while men are more likely to be robbed.[48] According to Statistics Canada, the high level of under-reporting of sexual assault suggests that the prevalence of police-reported sexual assaults may be an underestimation of the true extent of this issue. Based on 2009 police-reported administrative data, there were over 15,500 victims of sexual offences aged 15 years and older. According to these data, the rate of sexual assaults against women increased from 2009 to 2010 and remained unchanged in 2011.[49]

In 2011, women knew their sexual attacker in three-quarters of incidents: 45% as a casual acquaintance or friend, 17% as an intimate partner and 13% as a non-spousal family member and one-quarter of sexual assaults against women were committed by a stranger.[50]

The Ontario-based survey led by the White Ribbon Campaign in May 2012 revealed that Ontario men do not believe women are to blame for rape and sexual assault. 78% of the surveyed men disagree that women often say “no” when they mean “yes“; 86% disagree with the statement “when women talk and act sexy, they are inviting rape”; 89% disagree that if a woman wears provocative clothing, she is putting herself at risk for rape; and 96% feel it is important that a woman be as happy as a man in a sexual relationship.[51]

Sexual harassment is addressed by several different bodies of Canadian legislation: the Labour Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act (1985), the Criminal Code, and regional and provincial human rights legislation. The Labour Code defines sexual harassment as any conduct, comment, gesture or contact of a sexual nature that is likely to cause offence or humiliation to any employee or that might, on reasonable grounds, be perceived by that employee as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or promotion.[52] Employees are guaranteed the right to a harassment-free working environment,[53] and employers are compelled to make every reasonable effort to ensure that no employee is subjected to sexual harassment and to issue a policy statement concerning sexual harassment.[54] Harassment is also addressed in the Criminal Code, but in a much broader sense than just sexual harassment, that is, including stalking, criminal harassment and cyberbullying.[55]

Human rights legislation constitutes another mechanism through which sexual harassment may be addressed. For instance, the Canadian Human Rights Act (1985) bans sexual harassment.[56]Since the 1980s, sexual harassment victims have been able to move forward with their cases by relying on human rights legislation, in addition to the Labour Code provisions. In the case of Janzen versus Platy Enterprises Ltd (1989), it was established that sexual harassment was a form of sexual discrimination banned by the human rights statutes in all jurisdictions in Canada, such as the Human Rights Act of Manitoba.[57] The legislation does not clearly specify what the penalties are.

According to the police, in 2011 there were 11,700 female victims of harassment.[58]It has been reported that, in practice, sexual harassment victims that rely on human rights legislation face an overburdened judicial system, undergo a long litigation process and settle for a meagre compensation.[59]

There is no evidence that female genital mutilation is practised.


There are no restrictions to access to an abortion at the federal level in Canada. In 1988, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on the right to an abortion were unconstitutional.[60]

Aboriginal women have a higher likelihood of being victimised compared to the rest of the female population. The rate of violence against aboriginal women was 2.5 times higher than the rate for non-Aboriginal women (279 versus 106 per 1,000). Between 2001 and 2011, at least 8% of all murdered women aged 15 years and older were Aboriginal, double their representation in the Canadian population (4%). There are significant difficulties in measuring this type of violence. For instance, in half of all homicides, the Aboriginal identity of the homicide victims was unknown.[61]

Canada has adopted a definition of gender-based violence following the more inclusive definition adopted by the United Nations in the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Hence, it is defined as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.[62]

Some of the recent legal reforms aimed at reinforcing the criminal justice mechanisms to protect women from violence are an increase in the penalties for violent crimes, improving the devices for helping victims, ending the use of conditional sentences and house arrests for specific offences including those involving serious personal injury, and raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years. In addition, a bill has been proposed to protect victims from cyberbullying.[63] Furthermore, studies are regularly conducted on violence against women, for example the 2009 study by the Department of Justice aimed at estimating the economic impact of spousal violence in Canada.[64]

The 6 December is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, or White Ribbon Day. It commemorates the 1989 killing of 14 female students in Montreal, which was motivated by the male perpetrator's general hatred of women.[65]

Data about gender-based violence collected by the Canadian statistical services not only includes administrative data using police reports but, in an effort to include information about unreported violence, also includes self-reported data collected in the General Social Survey (GSS) every five years since 1988.[66]According to administrative data, about 173,600 women aged 15 years and older were victims of violent crime in 2011, almost 0.5% of the total population for that year. This translates into a rate of 1,207 female victims for every 100,000 women in the population, slightly higher than the rate for men (1,151). Men were responsible for 83% of police-reported violence committed against women. This contrasts with violent crimes against men, where intimate partners were among the least common perpetrators (12%).[67] Moreover, women were found to be less likely than men to feel safe in a variety of situations, including walking alone at night in their neighbourhoods (85% versus 95%), being home alone in the evening (76% versus 90%), and using or waiting for public transportation alone after dark (42% versus 73%).[68]


[22] Department of Justice website, (accessed 08/04/2014) [23] Articles 265-268 of the Criminal Code [24] Articles 279 [25] Articles 229-231 and 235 [26] Articles 271-273 [27] Article 264 [28] Article 264.1 [29] Article 372 [30] Articles 322, 328-330, 334 [31] Article 332 [32] Articles 346 [33] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013),p. 9 [34] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013),p. 14 [35] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013),p. 18 [36] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013),p. 18 [37] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013),p. 10 [38] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 10 [39] White Ribbon Canada website, (accessed 01/04/2014) [40] White Ribbon Canada, (accessed 01/04/2014) [41] White Ribbon Canada, (accessed 05/05/2014) [42] Criminal Code Article 270 [43] Article 271 [44] Article 490, paragraph 212 (1)(i) [45] Articles 271-273 [46] Ontario’s Women’s Directorate (2011), p. 8 [47] Ontario’s Women’s Directorate (2011), p. 12 [48] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013),p. 11 [49] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 29 [50] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 30 [51] White Ribbon Canada website, ttp:// (accessed 01/04/2014) [52] Labour Code, Article 247.1 [53] Labour Code, Article 247.2 [54] Labour Code, Article 247.3 and 247.4 [55] Criminal Code Article 206 [56] Article 14 and 14.2 [57] Aeberhard-Hodges (1996) [58] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 32 [59] Benedet (2001) [60] United Nations, (accessed 06/05/2014) [61] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013),p. 19 [62] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 4 [63] Canadian government Status of Women website, (accessed 01/04/2014) [64] Department of Justice website, (accessed 01/04/2014) [65] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 13 [66] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 5 [67] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 8 [68] Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013), p. 76    



The male/female sex ratio for the working age population (15-64) in 2014 is 1.02 while the sex ratio at birth is 1.06.[69] There is no evidence to suggest that Canada is a country of concern in relation to missing women.


Based on 2008-2012 data, there is virtually no gender gap in terms of education in regards to primary and secondary school enrolment in Canada.[70]

According to 2010 data from the World Bank, females and males are just as likely to be contributing family workers, that is, to hold "self-employment jobs" as own-account workers in a market-oriented establishment operated by a related person living in the same household.[71]


[69] CIA, (accessed 28/03/2014) [70] World Bank (n.d.[a]); UNICEF, (accessed 3/04/2014) [71] World Bank (n.d.[a])


Regarding secure access to land, the right to property is not clearly stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in spite of the several efforts from 1968 to 1983 to include it. Property rights are decided by the judiciary, according to the common law principles. There is no indication that women are discriminated against in this area.[72] One exception is aboriginal women, who face additional challenges with property ownership. The lack of regulation regarding on-reserve matrimonial property has forced many women to abandon their homes and belongings as they leave the reserve.[73]

Women who live alone have a higher home-ownership rate than men: 49% of the women living alone owned their home, compared with 47% of men living alone. From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of lone-parent households headed by women who owned their home increased from 48% to 53%.[74]

The gender equality clauses of the Constitution Act of 1982 provide women and men equal rights to access and make decisions over non-land assets.[75] The Family Law Acts of the provinces establish the rights of spouses in terms of property. According to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law database, women’s rights do not depend on their marital status.[76]

There is no sign of formal restrictions on women’s access to financial services. The World Bank Development Indicators Database offers some quantitative data on women's access to financial services. In 2011, 97% of men older than 15 had an account at a formal financial institution, compared to 94% of women. Moreover, 17% of women older than 15 received a loan from a financial institution, compared to 23% of men the same age.[77]

The Canadian government promotes financial support programmes for women. Since 2007, more than $53 million have been delivered through the Women’s Program at the Ministry of Status of Women for projects that specifically focus on improving women’s economic security and prosperity, including more than $9 million for projects which address women’s entrepreneurship. An example is the support given by the Ministries of Labour and Status of Women to the institution Innovation Guelph (Ontario) in March 2014. Innovation Guelph collaborates with other business support agencies, municipal and county authorities, academic institutions, and women to explore barriers to successful entrepreneurship.


[72] Johansen (1991) [73] Indigenous Foundations, (accessed 07/04/2014) [74] Statistics Canada website, (accessed 01/04/2014) [75] Articles 15 and 28 [76] World Bank (n.d.[b]) [77] World Bank (n.d.[a])  


 In terms of access to public space, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 guarantees all Canadians freedom of movement[78]and freedom of assembly and expression.[79] There is no indication of gender-based discrimination in regards to these rights.

Indigenous women in Canada have been especially active in collective action around environmental issues, such as climate change. Some examples of collective action groups are Idle No More and Sisters in Spirit. Not only do the women act as guardians and teachers of local ecological knowledge, but they also interact with global political movements unpacking these issues.[80]

There are no quotas at the national or sub-national level to promote women's political participation. Two political parties have adopted voluntary quotas: the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party of Canada.[81] According to 2014 information, there are 77 female representatives, out of 307, in the lower house of parliament (25%). In the upper house, there are 39 women, out of the 96 seats (40%).[82]According to 2012 data, at the local level women represent 21.4% of municipal councils.[83] The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has put in place Campaign Schools, aimed at providing guidance for female candidates, including development of political skills, strategies and tactics.[84]


The Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act (1995) protect women from discrimination in employment. The protection in the Human Rights Act specifically includes incidents relating to childbirth and pregnancy.[85]

The Labour Code establishes the right to maternity and paternity leave. Maternity leave for employees that have “completed six consecutive months of continuous employment with an employer” is set at the maximum of 17 weeks. This “leave may begin not earlier than eleven weeks prior to the estimated date of her confinement and end not later than seventeen weeks following the actual date of her confinement”.[86] Moreover, another provision establishes that an employee who is pregnant or nursing is entitled to and shall be granted a leave of absence “during the period from the beginning of the pregnancy to the end of the twenty-fourth week following the birth”, if she provides the employer with a certificate of a qualified medical practitioner of her choice indicating that she is unable to work “by reason of the pregnancy or nursing” and indicating the duration of that inability.[87] Parental leave for employees who have “completed six consecutive months of continuous employment with an employer” is set at a maximum of “thirty-seven weeks to care for a new-born child of the employee or a child who is in the care of the employee for the purpose of adoption under the laws governing adoption in the province in which the employee resides”.[88]

Women spend more time in household responsibilities than men. The former dedicate about 13.8 hours per week doing domestic work, while the latter spend 8.3 hours (2010).[89] Moreover, women, with the exclusion of young women, are still less likely to be employed than men, in spite of the progress of the last few decades. Females aged 15 to 24 have shown consistently higher employment rates than young men in recent years.[90] But, in 2012 67% of women were employed part-time, compared to 11.8% of men.[91]


[78] Article 6, (accessed 01/04/2014) [79] Article 2, (accessed 01/04/2014)  [80] University of Idaho Northwest Climate Science Center (2013)  [81] The Quota Project, (accessed 11/04/2014)  [82] Inter-Parliamentary Union, (accessed 11/04/2014)  [83] Federation of Canadian Municipalities (2012), p. 1  [84] Federation of Canadian Municipalities (2012), p. 5  [85] Article 3.2  [86] Article 206  [87] Article 205.1  [88] Article 206.1.1  [89] Canadian government Status of Women website, (accessed 01/04/2014)  [90] Canadian government Status of Women website, (accessed 01/04/2014)  [91] World Bank (n.d.[a])   


Aeberhard-Hodges, Jane (1996) “Sexual harassment in employment” International Labour Review, Vol. 135. No. 5, p. 514.

Benedet, Janine (2001) "Book review: Sexual harassment in the workplace, by Arjun P. Aggarwal and Madhu M. Gupta" Osgoode Hall Law Journal 39.4, p. 844.

Beyond Borders (2012), “Factsheet: Polygamy and child marriage in Canada”, (accessed 14/04/2014).

British Colombia Vital Statistics Agency (2014) “How to get married in British Columbia”,  (accessed 4 April 2014).

Canada Revenue Agency (2014), Marital status website, (accessed 03/04/2014).

Federation of Canadian Municipalities (2012) “Women in Local Government: Getting to 30% by 2026”.

Government of Nova Scotia (2014), Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations

Vital Statistics: Marriage Licence website, (accessed 4 April 2014).

Johansen, David (1991) “Property Rights and The Constitution”,

Ontario’s Women’s Directorate (2011) “Changing attitudes, changing lives: Ontario’s Sexual Violence Action Plan”.

Statistics Canada (2011), Statistics Canada website, Table 18: Distribution of separated or divorced parents, by primary residence of their children, Canada, 2011, (accessed 4 April 2014).

Statistics Canada and Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (2013) Measuring violence against women: Statistical trends.

United Nations Statistics Division (2014) Minimum Legal Age for Marriage Without Consent [database], (accessed 03/04/2014).

University of Idaho Northwest Climate Science Center (2013) “Indigenous Women, Climate Change Impacts and Collective Action”, p. 2,

World Bank (n.d.[a]) Development Indicators Database, (accessed 11/04/2014).

World Bank (n.d. [b]) Women Business and the Law Database, (accessed 04/04/2014).

Very Low
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority During Marriage: 
Parental Authority After Divorce: 
Inheritance Rights For Widows: 
Inheritance Rights For Daughters: 
Not Applicable
Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women: 
Prevalence Of Domestic Violence: 
Laws Addressing Domestic Violence: 
Laws Addressing Rape: 
Laws Addressing Sexual Harassment: 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Autonomy: 
Not Applicable
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Very Low
Secure Access To Land: 
Secure Access To Non-Land Assets: 
Access To Financial Services: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Quotas: 
Political Participation: