Canadian Women Vulnerable to Violence

I am a Canadian woman. I’d like to be able to say that I live in one of the safest and wealthiest countries in the world – and mean it. I’d like never to have to become entangled in heated debate with another Canadian woman about whether living in Canada means we have it better than women in other countries.

According to some, Canadian women are better off because violence against us is not a bloody public spectacle visible on a daily basis.

This debate actually happened. It took an ugly turn when I tried to explain that violence and poverty – whether individual acts or practiced systemic policy – disproportionately affect women in Canada and make women’s lives more unsafe.

My opponent did not agree. She was confident that Canadian women live safer lives with little violence because we have the benefit of laws to protect us, and to top it off we have the freedom to pursue education and employment. This led me to be believe that as women we may not inhabit the same Canada. So, I’m going to lay it out for you and let you be the judge.

Sexual Assault

As Canadian women,

  • 51% of us report experiencing at least one incident of sexual violence since the age of sixteen
  • nearly 30% percent of us who have been married or lived in a common-law relationship have been physically or sexually assaulted by a partner during the relationship
  • 4 out of 5 female undergraduates surveyed at Canadian universities said they had been victims of violence in a dating relationship
  • it is estimated that women with disabilities are 10 times more likely to be abused than non-disabled women

Sadly, less than 10% of victims of sexual violence ever report these crimes to the police because women fear the emotional and psychological consequences associated with the prosecution of sexually violent crimes within the Canadian justice system; and some know that conviction rates are lower for sexual offences than for other types of violent crime.


Poverty makes Canadian women vulnerable to violence and these numbers make it clear that in Canada, women represent the majority of people living in poverty.

  • 52% of lone parent families headed by women live in poverty
  • nearly 42% of elderly women over the age of 65 who are single, widowed or divorced live in poverty
  • poverty affects 35% of single women under the age of 65
  • 47% of Aboriginal women live in poverty

Furthermore, we don’t have to travel outside our own borders to see women living in communities without safe drinking water and barely inhabitable homes, much like conditions in some of the poorest countries in the world.


As Canadian women, those of us who work may find part-time employment that does not provide adequate pay with benefits. Other women with full-time employment earn only a fraction of what Canadian men earn. In addition, whether employed or not, we hold the responsibility for unpaid domestic labour involving round-the-clock childcare, elder care, and caring for members of our families when they become ill. Lower incomes and the burden of unpaid domestic labour make it difficult to for us to afford safe housing and impossible for us to leave situations where we are living with violence in our homes.


As Canadian women, we may be precluded from living in this safe and wealthy society because of race and ethnicity. Racist attitudes toward Aboriginal women make them vulnerable to poverty and violence in all Canadian cities. According to the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women:

  • immigrant women earn lower incomes because of overt racism, but also the structural racism of lack of recognition of foreign credentials and experience
  • new immigrant women, suffering from abuse, may have few options to escape this, if they are financially dependent on their male relative sponsors in Canada

In addition, migrant women who come to Canada as domestic workers are at great risk for poverty, violence, and exploitation because they are more likely to work in unregulated or “hidden employment”.

As Canadians, women and men, we have a tendency to turn our gaze internationally launching criticisms at how women must endure poverty and violence in other places – the same poverty and violence that exist here.

In recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, as Canadians we need to admit that not publicly seeing acts of violence committed against women daily does not mean that violence against women does not exist in Canada. And most importantly, as Canadians we need to commit to doing whatever it takes to eliminate violence against women here and abroad.


Tricia Bennett is a former YWCA Advocacy & Communications Intern focusing on systemic advocacy and social policy issues. Tricia is also the founder of Survivors Guide an informational blog for survivors of sexual violence and a poet in her spare time.




One Comment

  1. Joeann
    11 years ago

    I think part of this is that as Canadian women if we point these things out we are told we are privileged therefore shouldn’t complain. It’s the old “it could be worse” as if women here shouldn’t still fight for better. I agree that abuse here is more hidden therefore we have this false sense of safety that when you look closer is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Only today it came out in the Shafia trail that one of the young women had been told by a friend whom she told her fears to (that her father would kill her) “it’s ok this isn’t Afghanistan, we are in Canada now and that doesn’t happen here”. Of course she was murdered along with her sisters and her step mother. Violence against women is in every part of the world, the main difference being how it is percieved by each society and the level to which it is encouraged or shown publically….but it is always there!