BY DAWN WILSON
As the spring session of the Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. begins, the Coalition for Women in Government is looking forward to increased action in the area of equity and inclusion for women and diverse groups in P.E.I. Too often, efforts to increase the number of women and underrepresented groups in elected office falls to individuals, but the reality is the legislature and MLAs have an important role to play in ensuring the Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. is accessible and welcoming to people of all genders and backgrounds.
Looking ahead to the spring sitting, the coalition is hopeful that MLAs will use the opportunity to support policies and practices that create environments where women are better able to make their voices heard.
Of course, women are already using their voices through movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, which have shed light on the realities women face in everyday life, particularly in the workplace. Women are bravely coming forward to share their experiences of sexual harassment within male-dominated spaces, which includes parliaments across the country. All women deserve to work in safe and respectful workplaces, and that includes Legislatures. In the spring sitting of the P.E.I. legislature, the coalition calls on MLAs to adopt clear sexual harassment policies that contribute to safer environments for elected and unelected women.
Adopting family-friendly practices is another way legislatures can better meet the needs of women and MLAs of all genders. The current evening hours of the legislature are an example of a practice that requires modernization. Evening hours of the legislature were originally designed to accommodate the passenger-train schedule. Despite the elimination of passenger trains in the 1960s, the evening hours have barely been tweaked since then.
Although gender roles are changing, a recent survey by the coalition found that women continue to disproportionately bear the responsibility for child and elder care in Island homes. As a result, many women wait until their children are grown before running for office. Many levels of elected office in P.E.I. and beyond are missing the voices and experiences of people with young children, especially women.
How can MLAs better support young parents’ participation? They can start by supporting Motion 32, put forward by Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Paula Biggar, which proposes to restructure the sitting times to better accommodate women, men and people of all genders with young children - and not to mention MLAs who travel from rural communities.
To bring P.E.I. in line with other jurisdictions across Canada and to accommodate daycare centre hours, the coalition recommends retaining the same total number of sitting hours, but with all sitting times ending at 5:00 p.m. This is not a radical change. It will not decrease the number of hours MLAs work, but it will help encourage a greater diversity of candidates.
Legislatures were created at a time when women didn’t have the right to vote and were not even considered persons under the law. It’s not surprising then that some of the features of the institution need to be updated to attract more diverse people. It’s time for changes that support the full participation of women and underrepresented groups. The coalition looks forward to collaborating with MLAs during this sitting to take action on equity and inclusion.
Dawn Wilson is executive director P.E.I. Coalition for Women in Government