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Women and the Law - a statistical tale of many cities

It is the best of times and the worst of times for women in Canada. At the least that is one opaque statement we can draw from the June 6 release of Statistics Canada's new study: Women in Canada: Women and the Criminal Justice System. There is still grim news on a number of fronts: women experience over half of all violent crime in Canada (only a fraction of which is reported to authorities and whilst still representing only one-quarter of all offenders) - see Women in Canada: Women and the Criminal Justice System. While self reported instances of sexual assault victimization are holding steady since 2004, reports of physical assault are down:

"According to the 2014 victimization cycle of the General Social Survey, women reported being the victim of 1.2 million incidents of physical assault, sexual assault or robbery in the previous year. Self-reported violent victimization rates were higher among women (85 per 1,000 population) than men (67 per 1,000 population). This difference was largely attributable to higher rates of sexual assault among women."(Women in Canada: Women and the Criminal Justice System.)

And the impacts of the deprivations and destabilizing social conditions for a disproportionate number of Canada's Indigenous women also seem to have been reflected in the statistics. Examples include:

"In 2014 Aboriginal women were 2.7 times more likely to have reported experiencing violent victimization than non-Aboriginal women" (Women in Canada: Women and the Criminal Justice System.)

"Aboriginal females account for an increasing proportion of female homicide victims, rising from one-tenth (9%) of all female homicide victims in 1980 to one-quarter (24%) in 2015." (Women in Canada: Women and the Criminal Justice System.)

"Aboriginal women represented less than 5% of the total female population in Canada in 2015, while they accounted for over one-third of female admissions to federal (39%) and provincial/territorial (38%) custody in 2014/2015." (Women in Canada: Women and the Criminal Justice System.)

Unfortunately, these statistics remain an unsurprising reflection of the effects of colonization, residentialization, and discrimination.

Yet, the report does give one reason for optimism for educated women in Canada. Educational attainment for women has increased over the last 24 years significantly. Women aged 25-64 are attaining University credentials at a faster pace then men; 35% of women achieve these credentials, although the percentage credentialed in trades seems to have decreased (Women and Education: Qualifications, Skills and Technology). The trends seem to reflect what we at Universities have been seeing for the last decade:

"Women aged 25 to 64 were more likely to continue on to postsecondary education, particularly college and university, while a higher proportion of men completed a high school diploma or a trades certificate as their highest level of education."(Women and Education: Qualifications, Skills and Technology).

As law teachers, we have a particular interest in our own backyards, and in concomitant higher education:

"According to the 2011 National Household Survey, women accounted for over half (54%) of all university degree holders aged 25 to 64, 55% of bachelor's degree holders, 51% of master's degree holders, but only 39% of earned doctorate holders."(Women and Education: Qualifications, Skills and Technology).

But in the discipline of law, the numbers were much more encouraging than in other doctorates. Woman accounted f0r 51% of graduates in social/behavioural science and law. Similarly, the practice rates of new lawyers seems to have increased for women. Compared to 1991:

"women accounted for 58% of lawyers in 2011 (an increase of 16 percentage points)."(Women and Education: Qualifications, Skills and Technology).

When you drill down on the statistics for women as "justice makers" and "professionals", the statistics reveal an even more impressive array of progress metrics (Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report (89-503-X)):

Women now make up 36% of judges compared t0 14% in 1991. Whereas, in 1991, 27% of lawyers were women, that number has now risen to 42%. The era of proportionate representation of women in the law and justice may be at hand.

The outcomes for women in Canada are multivalent and beyond the scope of what can be discussed in this short comment. But it is clear that we are we witnessing a tale of many cities. Women with access to education and justice-making opportunities will continue to succeed and ultimately achieve parity, while racialized, colonized and lower income women will continue to achieve disproportionate representation in the processing end of the justice system.

Pride in the progress of professional women in law is appropriate, but any optimism as to this progress must be tempered by the growing solitudes of the Canada's most disenfranchised women. The developing disparities are reason for both cautious optimism and urgent alarm, and undergird the multiplicities of experiences for women in Canada. Hope can be gleaned from the tremendous and hard fought strides taken by women in the justice disciplines and law. And with this progress comes a tremendous responsibility for those with access to the halls of power and capital. How we use this access, and in turn develop the access of those less privileged, will either contribute to the solitudes or move us towards amelioration, reconciliation and justice.

Some Related Statistics Canada References

General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization)" (2004, 2009, and 2014)

"Uniform Crime Reporting Survey" (1998 to 2015)

"Homicide Survey" (1961 to 2015)

"Integrated Criminal Court Survey" (2000/2001 to 2014/2015)

"Youth Custody and Community Services Survey" (2014/2015)

"Adult Correctional Services Survey" (2000/2001 to 2014/2015)

"Transition Home Survey" (2013/2014)

"Police Administration Survey" (1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011)

"Canadian Census" (1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006)

"National Household Survey" (2011).

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