Media Releases

University of Toronto study finds high levels of equality for Muslim women in Canada

February 4, 2015

TORONTO, ON — A land­mark study on gen­der equal­i­ty among reli­gious minori­ties in Cana­da sharply dis­putes the stereo­type Mus­lim women are more repressed by men than oth­er groups of immi­grants.

Sharia law, burqas, hon­our killings and over­seas ter­ror­ism direct­ed at girls and women grab head­lines and shape pub­lic opin­ion, but work­force par­tic­i­pa­tion rates among immi­grants sug­gests a trend toward high lev­els of equal­i­ty for Mus­lim females liv­ing in Cana­da.

The study is not only time­ly but unique because of its sheer scope and detail, said Jeff Reitz, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to soci­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sor who took the lead in a paper co-authored with Rupa Baner­jee and Mai Phan, based on Cana­di­an cen­sus data.

“There is no oth­er study in any coun­try based on a data sam­ple this size,” Reitz said.

“Gen­der equi­ty in Canada’s new­ly grow­ing reli­gious minori­ties” is pub­lished online in the jour­nal Eth­nic and Racial Stud­ies and due out in print this year.

“Three mil­lion cas­es is a lot of peo­ple to have data from when you con­sid­er nor­mal pub­lic opin­ion polls are 1,200 or 1,500 peo­ple.”

Reitz said the study’s find­ings should dis­pel mis­per­cep­tions about female sub­servience restrict­ing Mus­lim women in Cana­da to roles in the home. While recent Mus­lim immi­grants demon­strate more gen­der inequal­i­ty than some groups, the data for oth­ers under far less pub­lic scruti­ny such as Hin­dus and Sikhs are not much dif­fer­ent. Nation­al cul­ture in the coun­try of ori­gin makes a big­ger dif­fer­ence than reli­gion itself. For exam­ple, gen­der inequal­i­ty is greater for Mus­lim immi­grants from Pak­istan than from the Mid­dle East or Europe, regard­less of indi­vid­ual strength of reli­gious com­mit­ment. Sim­i­lar pat­terns of dif­fer­ence by coun­try of ori­gin are found among Chris­t­ian immi­grants.

“Most telling­ly, sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Mus­lim women in Cana­da are just as active in the work­force as oth­er groups,” said Reitz.

Work force par­tic­i­pa­tion rates for women com­pared to men have long been viewed as a prime indi­ca­tion of the extent of gen­der equal­i­ty in the Cana­di­an pop­u­la­tion.

It made sense to use the same mea­sure­ment to exam­ine atti­tudes about gen­der among immi­grant pop­u­la­tions, said Reitz.

He had anoth­er motive as well. “Exhaus­tive data in a peer-viewed study is impor­tant for sat­is­fy­ing aca­d­e­mics and oth­er researchers, but the larg­er point is to reach the wider pub­lic and dis­pel some harm­ful myths.

“The idea that Mus­lims hold val­ues that make it dif­fi­cult for them to inte­grate into Cana­di­an soci­ety is mis­guid­ed,” said Reitz. “It also sug­gests how inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics can affect our atti­tudes toward immi­grants.”

Reitz used data from the 2001 cen­sus and the 2002 Eth­nic Diver­si­ty Sur­vey because the 2006 cen­sus did not include a ques­tion about reli­gion and the 2011 cen­sus was replaced by a house­hold sur­vey with a much low­er response rate. The pub­lic ver­sion of the 2011 sur­vey is not yet avail­able.

In that sense, the data from the 2001 cen­sus is the most recent avail­able, said Reitz, and the trends sug­gest it like­ly would hold true even if new­er stats were avail­able.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Jes­si­ca Lewis
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Assis­tant
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence

Jef­frey Reitz
Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy, and R.F. Har­ney Pro­fes­sor of Eth­nic Immi­gra­tion and Plu­ral­ism Stud­ies
Munk School of Glob­al Affairs
Office: 416–946-8993
Cell: 416–319-0363