Where are the Women?

Screen_Shot_2018-01-12_at_10.31.38_AM.jpegCynthia Enloe, a prominent scholar in the area of gender, challenges us to ask “Where are the women?”   When we ask this question, Enloe argues, we become aware of the attitudes and behaviours that sustain inequality, aggression, poverty, gender based violence, and much more.   We begin to see that sustainable solutions that benefit all peoples economically and socially come from elevating the status of women in all spheres of decision making.  

Last month as I sat in the gallery at the PEI Legislature, Enloe’s question surfaced for me once again.  I was disheartened to see that Minister Biggar’s identification plate on her Legislative seat read “Transportation, Infrastructure, and Energy”.   Where is the Status of Women?

Concerned with what this might mean, I was curious about the mandate the Premier had given Paula Biggar as Minister for the Status of Women.   It begins: “As Minister [of Minister] of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy, and Status of Women, your overarching goals will be to provide for essential transportation systems for the travelling public and the effective and efficient transport of goods, provide the infrastructure for public services, and work to improve the effective delivery of efficient energy to residents of the Province.” Where are the Women in this statement?  The letter outlines seven priorities, with only the seventh being related to the Status of Women portfolio: “Advance equality and opportunity for women in all Government policies, programs and services.”

I applaud the Interministerial Women’s Secretariat for choosing Gender Based Analysis (GBA) initiatives in our community organizations as a focus for their 2018 Community Grants.  And I am encouraged by the strong and important work of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.  These two bodies’ activities are funded by the Status of Women Ministry, yet I have to wonder why their work does not appear to be making it into the Legislature, particularly when the implementation of the Gender Based Analysis framework is a key part of the legislative toolkit at the Federal level.  Where is the evidence that our Island government is applying a gender lens in its policies, programmes, and legislation across all departments?  If this government is committed to GBA, why is this not outlined in the Minister’s mandate letter?

Where are the Women?  It is well documented that inclusion of women in decision making produces more sustainable and equitable solutions.  But this isn’t just about inclusion - this is about considering everyone when making decisions.   It is about asking the question - “how does this affect people different than me?”. It isn’t about creating a program for women or putting a woman in a seat; it is about considering all constituents when developing law, policy, programmes and funding decisions. When we are not considering the impact on, or the perspective of, fully 50% of the population, we cannot claim to be inclusive or considered in our decision making.

Kofi Annan stated it this way: “Gender equality is more than a goal itself.  It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

I was disheartened again this week, when the Government released its announcement of Cabinet changes. Tina Mundy’s name was missing from the list of Ministers as were the words “Status of Women” after Paula Biggar’s name.  Where were the Women?  A small, insignificant oversight not caught by editors? Perhaps, but I’m not sure. No matter how unintentional, when omissions happen frequently it indicates a significant and systemic lack of awareness.   

It is time we see inclusion and recognition of women beyond job titles, name plates, and a small directorate with an equally small budget.