PEI’s Famous Five inspire positive action toward gender equality in politics
Emma Drake gets the lesson to be learned from the success of PEI’s Famous Five. It is a lesson about recognizing the need to do better and not accepting the status quo when it comes to women in leadership.
“They should not be the exception when it comes to women in leadership, “ said Drake, a second-year political science student and UPEI Student Union vice-president of Academic & External who grew up in Morell, PEI. “We need to keep pushing and supporting women in government as it continues to be a male dominated field.”
Drake was among a panel of five UPEI student leaders who participated in the PEI Famous Five 25 Anniversary conference earlier this week. The event was a celebration of the women who held the top five positions of power in government in 1993: lieutenant governor, premier, speaker of the House, deputy speaker, and leader of the opposition.
Despite these accomplishments, women today remain underrepresented at all elected levels of government in the province and PEI ranks among the lowest of Canada’s provinces and territories. This reality was posed in the form of a challenge to the sold-out crowd of 100 - “what will it take to increase the number of women in elected office in PEI?”
The conversation began with advice from each of PEI’s Famous Five – Hon. Marion Reid, Hon. Catherine Callbeck, Pat Mella, Nancy Guptill and Hon. Elizabeth Hubley.
"We are not going to ease into equality. We have to expose the inequalities - and it’s not just government. Women are not represented on Canadian boards either; the exception being non-profit boards that do not pay.” - Pat Mella
Callbeck added, “polls are showing that Canadians want more women in government and less politics.”
Although the motivation to get involved in the political process is a personal one, the social issues that inspired PEI’s Famous Five to become politically active more than 25 years ago remain - women and children living in poverty, affordable childcare and post-secondary education, as well as gender parity.
“These issues go on,” stated Hubley optimistically, “and you want the work to go on, hopefully by women.”
Some of the challenges that these trailblazing women faced in seeking public office also remain – the nomination process, responsibilities of childcare and eldercare and gender bias. Organizations represented at the conference including the PEI Coalition for Women in Government and Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians are working with women and girls to discover their political potential, experience the fulfilment of a career in public service and create a better society.
“It’s a leap of faith,” said Drake when asked if she would consider running for political office.
"There are no pre-requisites, other than you need a team around you. The idea of not having enough experience will not stop me.” - Emma Drake
Other student leaders who participated on the panel included Ashley McKibbon, Graduate Students’ Association; Sherri Russell, UPEI Mawi’omi Indigenous Student Centre; Caroline Simoes Correa, International Student Association; and Enooyaq Sudlovenick, Aboriginal Student Association.
The PEI Coalition for Women in Government provided copies of “Organize to Lead: A Political Guidebook for PEI” to Drake and other conference delegates who expressed interest in getting involved in politics and public service. To download a copy, visit www.peifamousfive.ca/get-involved.