The PEI Coalition for Women in Government came together in February of 2004 to develop strategies to increase women's opportunities to be elected to all levels of government in PEI. With financial support from the Women's Program, Status of Women Canada, part of the initial strategy of the group was to research PEI election data and international best practices for electing women, as well as to conduct focus groups with PEI women. Based on that research, the Coalition came to a number of conclusions, including;
- PEI voters are not discriminating against women at the polls. In the four Provincial elections between 1993 and 2003, women were more likely to win over men. Women won 60%, or 18 of 30, races in which the two main parties pitted a woman against a man.
- The problem does not lie with electing women, it lies with getting women's names on the ballot. Women are not being nominated by parties in high numbers, nor are they entering their own names for municipal elections.
- There are many barriers to women running for elected office in PEI. Some of these barriers include a perception that the job of being a PEI politician is one with low pay and long hours which strips those who hold it of privacy and a family life, the competitive nature of politics and government decision-making, a perception that the power brokers in political parties prefer to support men, and the fact that women do the majority of the unpaid work in their homes, as well as working outside the home, and do not have the time to enter politics.
- Data from provincial elections from 1989 to present has indicated that the percentage of women in the Legislative Assembly is likely to correspond approximately with the percentage of women nominated.
The research, along with consultation with community, political parties, and elected politicians, led the Coalition to draft a 4-year Action Plan to Elect Women in PEI.
In drafting the Action Plan, the Coalition made a decision to focus its immediate efforts on electing women at the Provincial level of government, with the goal of electing a critical mass of 33.3% women in the next Provincial election. The Coalition has focussed on 33.3% as it believes, as many international scholars and organizations do, that women will have equal impact upon political decisions when they achieve a critical mass (33.3%) within legislative bodies.
In the first phase of this project, the Coalition was successful in garnering public commitments from all four provincial parties active at the time that they work towards the goal of nominating at least 9 women (33% of candidates) in Provincial elections.
While acknowledging that getting commitments from parties to more actively recruit women to run is a potential recipe for electing more women, we must also acknowledge that simply asking more women will not solve the problem. There are many barriers to women saying yes once asked and these must be addressed before any real change in numbers of elected women will be seen.
The Coalition believes that activities undertaken in the various phases of this project will also have both immediate and long term impacts for women in municipal and federal politics.