04/23/2014 02:22 EDT | Updated 06/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Is Hamilton a good place for women to live?

A new study ranks the best places to live in Canada for women — and Hamilton is square in the middle of the pack.

Despite some slight gains in terms of employment and the wage gap between men and women, the city remains woefully underrepresented when it comes to females in political leadership and senior management.

Topping the list as the best place among the 20 cities ranked is Quebec City, followed by Saskatoon. Edmonton ranks last, while Toronto is 6th.

The study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives draws data from Statistics Canada, the United Nations’ gender inequality index and others. It shows that Hamilton’s employment levels are on par with the national average — and so is the gap between men’s overall employment rates (65 per cent) and women’s employment rates (57 per cent).

The wage gap between genders is actually slightly smaller in Hamilton than most other cities, with women earning 77 cents on the “male dollar,” the study reads. But that’s largely because male full time employment levels in Hamilton are falling well below the national average, says Sara Mayo, a social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton. 

Full time employment levels for men are 56 per cent in Hamilton, compared to 67 per cent nationally. “That’s why the gender story is very important to look at in terms of women, but also in men,” Mayo told CBC Hamilton. “The gap between men and women in the labour force is narrowing — but that’s because the numbers for men are dropping.”

More men than women living in poverty: report

Hamilton is one of a handful of cities the study measured where more men than women live in poverty. The city also has higher than average rates of poverty overall, with 14 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women living below the poverty line.

“But it’s not a race,” said Mayo, who has done extensive analysis on issues of poverty in the city. “Anyone living in poverty deserves attention and support.”

The study also says that Hamilton has one of the worst levels of representation of women in senior management, as men hold 79 per cent of those jobs. “Those numbers point to there being an issue,” said Stephanie McLarty, president and CEO of REfficient, a Hamilton-based online marketplace for telecom and AV equipment. “But that said, Hamilton has been very open and welcoming to me.”

McLarty says she’s confident those numbers will start to change in the future, due in part to the fact that more Canadian women than men now have a post-secondary education. According to Statistics Canada's National Household Survey, 64.8 per cent of working-age women now have a post-secondary education, compared with 63.4 per cent of men.

Far more working-age women than men now hold university degrees — something that’s especially true for the younger generation, and even more so in the medical field. Females make up 62.2 per cent of the adults aged 25 to 34 with a medical degree — a dramatic shift from previous generations. Among adults aged 55 to 64, only a quarter of doctors are female.

“There are a lot of great women coming up through the ranks professionally,” McLarty said. “I really think you’ll see those numbers start to change in the next 10 to 20 years.”

Women underrepresented politically

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study also says women fare particularly badly in political leadership representation, holding only three out of 16 spots on city council — roughly 19 per cent. According to the Federation of Canadian municipalities, women represent 16 per cent of mayors and 26 per cent of councillors in Canada, for an average of 24 per cent.

The United Nations says a 30 per cent representation level is the minimum percentage of women needed for a government to reflect women´s concerns. Hamilton does fare a little better at the provincial level, with two out of five MPPs being women.

“When there are more elected women, we see decisions get made that improve quality of life for greater numbers of people,” Mayo said. “We want everyone’s views and perspectives at the table.”

But Ward 11 Coun. Brenda Johnson says it all comes down to capability over sex. "I can't speak for why the people aren't voting more women in," Johnson told CBC Hamilton. "But we need more capable people — it doesn't matter the gender."

"Whether you're a woman, whether you're young, you're old, whatever your ethnic background, it all comes back to one thing: are you capable? We need more capable people putting themselves out there."

The report also highlights some problems for women’s health and safety — though some of those may not be accurate. According to the report, women in the city are more likely than men to perceive their health as good or excellent, it says, but 28 per cent of women in Hamilton identify their lives as “highly stressful.” It also states that women in Hamilton have a lower than average level of access to sexual and reproductive health care clinics, with one clinic per 384,000 women. However, the city actually has seven sexual health clinics and clinics for students at McMaster University and Mohawk College, says Fiona Newton, the city's manager of immunization and sexual health clinics.

"That simply is not the case. We also have walk in clinics all over the city," Newtown said. The report only drew from the Canadians for Choice Directory of Sexual Health Services and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada database, study author Kate McInturff told CBC Hamilton. She plans to update the study in the coming days.

Hamilton also has higher than average rates of sexual violence against women reported to police, but slightly lower than average rates of violence from a partner than nationally with over 1,500 incidents of sexual and domestic violence reported annually.

“However, because 90 per cent and 70 per cent of all incidents of sexual and domestic violence respectively go unreported, these numbers do not reflect actual levels of violence,” the report reads. “Police reported levels of violence are also influenced by municipal police practices with regard to recording incidents or not and categorizing incidents as unsolved versus as unfounded, for example.”

Click on the buttons on the map  below to view the ratings of the 20 cities included in the study:

Correction : This story has been amended to reflect that some of the data provided by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was incorrect. The report states that women in Hamilton have a lower than average access to sexual and reproductive health care clinics, with one clinic per 384,000 women. However, the city actually has seven sexual health clinics and clinics for students at McMaster University and Mohawk College.(Apr 25, 2014 3:14 PM)