Archive for News and Views

Key Messages from the Council

Members of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women are meeting this week in Charlottetown for a regular meeting and to participate in Women in Canada Study Group.

PEIACSW Members February 2017

At the Council’s last meeting, in February, members had a visit from the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Hon. Paula Biggar, and the director of the Interministerial Women’s Secretariat, Michelle Harris-Genge. Council members were very pleased to share some key messages with Minister Biggar from the members’ planning and discussion.

Here are some of the messages members shared with Minister Biggar in February:

  • The need to empower girls within their own communities and schools to have a healthy sense of self-worth. Their sense of self-worth is affected by a culture that still values boys more than girls and in turn affects their relationships and their prospects for public leadership.
  • Information on abortion and sexual health services and other reproductive services must be freely available and must be clear, comprehensive, and non-judgmental and accessible. This means both on-line and in navigation supports. The search functions that lead to sexual and reproductive health services should be based on the real way people look for information online, especially young people, knowing that they may begin and end their search at Google.
  • The urgent need to bring the pilot project on a Basic Income Guarantee for Prince Edward Island. Council notes the recent unanimous motion of the Legislative Assembly in support of the Province working with the federal government to bring about this pilot project.
  • We need strategies to find and allocate funding for programs and services and supports to find services when we need them and navigate through these systems. A health system navigator role has recently been created. Similar navigations are needed for many services and circumstances. For example, a woman leaving a situation of violence needs navigation that connects her with community and government services without her needing to tell her story multiple times. Some examples of programs and services Council discussed today include the following:
    • Legal aid
    • Youth addictions
    • Mental health
    • Seniors’ supports
    • Relationship breakdown
    • Women’s NGOs (for example, Women’s Network)
    • Anderson House and family violence outreach
    • Caregivers (mostly women)
    • Sexual assault
    • and many others
  • Real inclusion in government and public life of all genders, ethnicities, and geographical areas, to improve our Island community. This includes ensuring rural communities have equal access to services; development of all regions of the province is important.
  • We want government to address the need for advocates in roles independent of government. An independent child advocate is one example of this kind of independent advocate, but not the only possible kind of advocate. Independence from government systems is important to us.
  • Ensure that survivors of sexual violence and gender-based violence are met at their first point of contact with services with a trauma-informed, “believe survivors” mentality. For example, we want PEI to ensure local police services address the high rate of “unfounded” cases of sexual violence and ensure resources and training are available to have police and others follow best practices.
  • Council wants to feel part of meaningful consultations that ensure the wisdom of the community about needs and solutions reaches decision-makers and is used to bring about pro-active change and make lives better for women and all Islanders.

PEIACSW members meet with Min. Biggar, February 2017 PEIACSW members meet with Min. Biggar, February 2017

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PART 2: Improving Sexual Assault Response in PEI

April 11, 2017

Recent events have focused the attention of many Canadians on sexual violence and how survivors of sexual violence are treated in the justice system. A review of how sexual assault cases are handled must go beyond determining what cases were labelled “unfounded” (baseless) and under what circumstances. We need to examine how sexual assault of adults is treated from the time of reporting all the way through to sentencing and learn what can be done better.

Much discrimination and pain results from widespread belief in rape myths. There are many examples of harmful myths: that women often lie about sexual assault out of spite or revenge or to get attention; that only young or “sexy” women are sexually assaulted; that women are most likely to be assaulted at night, in dark places, and by strangers; that men don’t get sexually assaulted. These myths are false, but, what’s more, they are barriers to justice for survivors of sexual violence.

What are some practical things we can do to battle these myths and improve sexual assault response?

Police officers of all genders and all backgrounds need to be well trained to respond to sexual violence. From the first contact between a victim and a first responder, the victim needs to feel believed and the next steps need to be trauma-informed. A trauma-informed response in the justice system means that all persons who work with victims or survivors understand the science of how violence, abuse, and trauma affect the brain and behaviour. As trauma expert Dr. Lori Haskell explains, the effects of trauma on the brain “interfere with the way… victims seek safety, process information, and remember details.”

Victims who go to hospital for treatment need to have access to nurses, nurse practitioners, or doctors who are trained in sexual assault response, such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. Timely and respectful service by well-trained healthcare workers could go a long way to improving outcomes for victims.

There is clearly a need for better training for all people working in the justice system, including for judges. This should include education on the evidence that refutes rape myths, as well as the science on how survivors process assault and how trauma affects memory. Recently, federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould praised a project in the U.S. that invites external advocates to help with reviews of sexual assault cases. There are also precedents in many U.S. courts for including expert witness testimony in sexual assault cases.

In the courts and among the general public, there is a clear need for better definition and better understanding of what constitutes sexual consent. This education needs to begin with children and youth, so they learn about healthy relationships and respecting themselves and others.

As members of the public, we can counter rape myths when we hear them repeated. We can stand up against the stigma sexual violence survivors face and stand up against victim-blaming. We can practice consent in our own relationships and model healthy relationships for children and youth.

Most of all, we can believe survivors when they tell us they have been harmed. We can listen without judgment. We can say that what happened to them was not okay. We can tell them that the violence is not their fault. We can help connect people with services and supports if they want them. We can advocate for more resources and supports for front-line services for sexual assault response, through sexual assault nurse examiners, Victim Services, and the Rape and Sexual Assault Centre.

We can all play a role in helping survivors of sexual violence achieve justice.

Mari Basiletti is the Chairperson and Jane Ledwell is the Executive Director of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

Journal Pioneer article, April 11, 2017

PART 1 – Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault

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PART 1: Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault

April 10, 2017

A number of recent developments have brought sexual assault into the headlines, and little of it has been good news. A Globe and Mail investigation showed that, on average, 19% of sexual assaults reported to police in Canada get classified as “unfounded,” meaning baseless. Here in PEI, the police forces that reported their statistics had an even higher rate of cases coded “unfounded”: 27%, more than a quarter of all reported cases. Sexual assault cases are declared “unfounded” at a far greater rate than any other crime.

In Nova Scotia recently, a Halifax taxi driver was acquitted after a judge ruled that “clearly a drunk can consent” to sex. Last month in Newfoundland, a police officer was acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman he was driving home while he was on duty. Both cases brought to light rape myths that persist in society and the justice system, including understanding the laws and the meaning of consent.

In better news, Justice Robin Camp recently resigned and apologized before being removed from the bench. During a sexual assault trial in his court in 2014, he had asked the complainant why she didn’t keep her “knees together.”

It’s reasonable for women to expect that a judge will examine their evidence without their judgment being clouded by victim-blaming and prejudice. It’s reasonable for women to expect that they will get home safely in a taxicab or a police vehicle. It’s reasonable for women to expect that their reports of sexual violence will result in thorough investigations as often as other crimes.

Sadly, blaming victims for sexual violence is rampant not only in courts, but across society: so much so that we have to talk about rape culture and all the attitudes and myths that contribute to it.

Statistics suggest only one in ten sexual assault cases is reported to police in the first place. Charges are laid in only one-third of cases reported, and, when charges are laid, only one in ten cases results in a conviction.

To achieve justice for survivors of sexual violence in PEI will take concerted action. The province has called for all police services to review the cases they labelled “unfounded” from 2014 to 2016. This is a good first step, but a review of police services by police themselves is not enough. Who will clarify how the cases got labelled “unfounded” and by whom? Will the same officers that handled the cases be reviewing them? What are the benchmarks for an objective review? At a minimum, these reviews should seek input from community services that work with victims and survivors, such as the Rape and Sexual Assault Centre or provincial Victim Services.

The Globe and Mail investigation showed that police services with more female officers had fewer unfounded cases. Working towards gender parity and greater diversity in PEI police forces is also very important, so that survivors see themselves reflected back in the services meant to “serve and protect” them, and so that police officers with a greater variety of backgrounds and life experiences – including experience of sexual violence – can spread compassion and understanding for women and diverse groups’ experiences.

There are many ways the response to sexual assault could be improved in Prince Edward Island. Tomorrow, we will suggest some additional specific ways to achieve justice for sexual assault survivors.

Mari Basiletti is the Chairperson and Jane Ledwell is the Executive Director of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

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International Women’s Day Gallery 2017 and Guest Speaker’s Remarks

 A big thank you to all who came together to celebrate International Women’s Day!! Sifting through the many great photos of dancers, decorators, organizers, supporters and participants…a beautiful diverse tapestry.

Guest speaker Sandy Kowalik spoke about “Subversive Dancing.” You can view the text of Sandy’s remarks after the photo gallery by clicking here…

(You can view the photos by scrolling down on this page or click on the first photo and flip through the photo carousel that displays, using the arrows).


Happy International Women’s Day!

Thank you all so much for celebrating with us today. And a special thank you to all of today’s dancers!

The American dancer Agnes de Mille once said that, “the truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music. Bodies never lie.”

Dance is many things, including a tool of subversion. Subversion. Even on PEI.

Throughout the mid 1980s and into the 1990s, Women’s Network coordinated a PEI Women’s Festival, with a bit of funding from the former department of the Secretary of State. With a part time coordinator and a strong volunteer committee, this annual event mounted workshops, brought in speakers and entertainers, and focused on issues of importance to women’s equality.

Perhaps one of the most meaningful things that the Festival provided was a safe and supportive space to freely be oneself. Women could talk and laugh and hug and kiss and eat and drink together. And dance! So many of us love to dance! And sometimes women would dance together, sometimes even touching. And sometimes (gasp!) the women weren’t heterosexual.

I’ve been dancing with girls and women all my life. It’s fun! Yet in the eyes of the State this was viewed as a subversive act and in 1993, because of this, the Festival funding was cut.

According to Wikipedia: Subversion refers to an attempt to transform the established social order and its structures of power, authority, and hierarchy. Subversion (Latin, meaning to overthrow) refers to a process by which the values and principles of a system in place are contradicted or reversed.

Subversion is used as a tool to achieve political goals because it generally carries less risk, cost, and difficulty as opposed to open belligerency.

At the time, I never considered women dancing together as a subversive act. But it was. The structures of power, the principals and values of the system, at that time, did not (would not) accept a woman’s freedom and autonomy over her own body. And they still don’t.

I know that women around the world will continue to transform the world, continue to think and organize and speak and make art, until all women have achieved true equality. And of course, we will keep dancing! We will never stop dancing.

Again, in the words of Agnes de Mille: “To dance is to be out of your self, larger, more powerful, more beautiful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.”

Thank you.
– Sandy Kowalik

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IWD 2017: Be Bold for Change/Journée internationale des femmes : Osez le changement

IWD logo 2017March is here, spring is around the corner, and on March 8th we celebrate one of my favourite days of the year: International Women’s Day!

This year the theme for IWD is Be Bold for Change. The term bold can be defined as “showing an ability to take risks; confident and courageous; fearless before danger; intrepid.” Alternatively, as girls we could have heard the term bold applied to us when we talked back to our parents: “Don’t be so bold, young lady! Now go to your room!” In this case bold means “impudent or presumptuous.” We may have gotten the message that being bold was not acceptable behaviour for girls.

Canada has a history of bold women. Against much opposition, women suffragists lobbied, protested and demonstrated for many years for women’s right to vote in Canada. In 1917, the first federal votes were granted to women who were in the military or who had relatives in the military. In the provinces and territories, voting rights were won province by province, often beginning with smaller groups of women (such as white women or landowners), with Quebec the last to achieve women’s suffrage in 1940. Canada’s Indigenous women were excluded from both federal and provincial suffrage efforts, and finally gained the right to vote in 1960.

The Famous Five activist women from Alberta took on a bold campaign in 1927 to petition to have women declared “persons” under the law so that they were eligible to be appointed to the Senate. The Canadian Supreme Court turned down the application. Undaunted, the Famous Five took the case to the British Judicial Privy Council and the Canadian ruling was overturned in 1929. Women are legally persons in our country due to the work of the Famous Five bold women.

In recent years our Indigenous sisters and their allies have shown courage and fearlessness in the demand for an Inquiry into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. Last year the Inquiry was finally begun by the federal government, and we all wait for answers to the tragedy of the missing and murdered women and girls and for the families of missing and murdered women to have the support they need through this grim process.

In Prince Edward Island, groups of bold women lobbied, marched and pressured the government for three decades to make abortion care available again in our province. At the end of 2016, the provincial government established the Women’s Wellness Program at the Prince County Hospital to provide sexual and reproductive health services, including pregnancy termination, for Island women and people of all genders.

We have made much progress towards equality for women. So why do we still need to be bold for change?  Because women in Canada only earned 74 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2014. Because women still bear the burden of more caregiving responsibilities for both younger and older generations. Because women in Canada continue to be victims of gender violence. Because women are not represented equally in our municipal, provincial, or federal governing bodies. Because we can see from our neighbour country to the south that rights can also be lost, as well as gained.

Let us all celebrate our achievements for women’s equality on International Women’s Day! And let us remember to continue to be bold, fearless, courageous, intrepid, take risks, and maybe even be impudent. Don’t worry women and girls – if you are sent to your room, there will be bold women behind you, banging down the door!

Mari Basiletti is the Chairperson of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women.


IWD logo 2017Le mois de mars est arrivé, et le printemps est à nos portes. Le 8 mars, nous célébrons une de mes journées préférées de l’année : la Journée internationale des femmes!

Le thème choisi en 2017 est Osez le changement. Le verbe oser signifie « avoir le courage, l’audace de faire quelque chose, prendre des risques, être intrépide, ne pas craindre le danger ». Mais il peut avoir un autre sens. Par exemple, après avoir riposté à leurs parents lorsqu’elles étaient jeunes, certaines femmes ont peut-être entendu une phrase du genre : « Comment oses-tu me parler ainsi, jeune fille! Va dans ta chambre! » En pareil contexte, oser est plutôt synonyme d’impudence et d’effronterie. Et le message alors transmis, c’est qu’oser n’était guère un comportement acceptable pour les filles.

Bien des femmes audacieuses ont osé marquer l’histoire canadienne. Bravant les obstacles, les suffragettes ont exercé des pressions, protesté et manifesté pendant de nombreuses années pour obtenir le droit de vote des femmes au Canada. En 1917, le gouvernement fédéral accorde le droit de vote à certaines femmes, notamment celles qui sont dans l’armée ou qui ont des proches enrôlés. Dans les provinces et les territoires, cependant, le droit de vote a été obtenu progressivement, d’abord pour des groupes restreints (femmes propriétaires ou blanches). Le Québec sera la dernière province à accorder le droit de vote, en 1940. Exclues des campagnes fédérales et provinciales, les femmes autochtones n’auront le droit de vote à leur tour qu’en 1960.

En 1927, cinq militantes de l’Alberta, surnommées les « Célèbres cinq », revendiquent la reconnaissance des femmes comme des « personnes » sur le plan légal, aptes à être nommées au Sénat. Confrontées au refus de la Cour suprême du Canada, les cinq femmes téméraires portent la cause en appel devant le comité judiciaire du Conseil privé britannique. Elles obtiennent gain de cause en 1929. Les femmes sont alors considérées légalement comme des « personnes » au Canada grâce aux vaillants efforts des « Célèbres cinq » qui ont osé défier l’ordre établi.

Plus récemment, nos consœurs autochtones et leurs alliés ont fait preuve de courage et d’audace en exigeant la tenue d’une commission d’enquête sur les disparitions et les assassinats de femmes et de filles autochtones au Canada. Le gouvernement fédéral a finalement amorcé l’enquête l’an dernier, et nous attendons, tous et toutes, les résultats pour trouver des réponses à cette tragédie. Outre ces réponses, les familles des victimes attendent le soutien nécessaire pour se remettre du deuil.

À l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, pendant trente ans, des groupes de femmes ont fait pression sur le gouvernement pour que les soins abortifs soient à nouveau offerts dans notre province. À la fin de 2016, le gouvernement provincial a créé le Programme de mieux-être féminin à l’hôpital du comté de Prince. Ce programme vise à fournir des services de santé sexuelle et reproductive, y compris l’interruption de grossesse, aux femmes de l’Île et aux personnes de tous les genres.

Nous avons donc accompli des progrès considérables vers l’égalité des femmes. Mais pourquoi donc devons-nous encore oser le changement? Parce que pour chaque dollar gagné par les hommes en 2014, les femmes ne gagnent que 74 sous. Parce que le fardeau des responsabilités familiales à l’égard des générations jeunes ou vieillissantes retombe principalement sur les femmes. Parce que les femmes au Canada continuent d’être des victimes de la violence sexiste. Parce que les femmes ne sont pas représentées équitablement dans les organismes municipaux, provinciaux et fédéraux qui nous régissent. Parce qu’à en juger par la situation chez notre voisin du Sud, les droits ne sont pas acquis et peuvent être retirés.

Célébrons ensemble nos réussites pour l’égalité des femmes lors de la Journée internationale des femmes! Et souvenons-nous de continuer à oser, à faire preuve de courage, à être intrépides, à prendre des risques, voire à pousser l’impudence. Avis aux jeunes filles et aux femmes : si l’on vous met au coin ou qu’on vous en bouche un coin pour avoir osé dans le bon sens, sachez que vous avez l’appui d’autres femmes qui oseront frapper à toutes les portes!

Mari Basiletti est présidente du Conseil consultatif sur la situation de la femme de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard.

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Happy International Women’s Day 2017

IWD poster_2017


Dance, Conversation, Food, and Fun!

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017
4:30pm – 7:00pm
Jack Blanchard Family Centre
7 Pond Street

All are welcome to attend.

Dancing! Resistance! Food and Fun! For International Women’s Day 2017, a fabulous committee is organizing an evening of celebration and bold action for equality. There will be demonstrations of group dances from a variety of cultures, which everyone can participate in. There will also be the opportunity to creatively express ideas for acting boldly together to bring about the equality of women everywhere. Quotations from women and art supplies and materials will be provided.

We will boldly sing Bread & Roses together, and Advisory Council Chairperson Mari Basiletti will read her International Women’s Day Opinion piece. And of course there will be refreshments! All ages and genders are very welcome.

Festivities from 4:30 – 7:00pm, Wednesday March 8 at the Jack Blanchard Centre, 7 Pond Street Charlottetown. This is a wheelchair accessible space.

For details, contact Michelle at or call 902-368-4510.

Thank you to the 2017 contributors to the International Women’s Day event for generous assistance. IMG_1236

  • Cooper Institute
  • PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women
  • PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada
  • PEI Coalition for Women in Government
  • PEI Federation of Labour
  • PEI Interministerial Women’s Secretariat
  • Public Service Alliance of Canada
  • Women’s Network PEI
  • Committee Volunteers – Farahnaz Rezaei, Hannah Gehrels, Kate Liu, Nancy Clement, Helena Emami, Donna Dingwell, and Josie Baker

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Bystanders Can Save Lives

PEI Family Violence Prevention Week, February 12 to 18, 2017, is focusing on what bystanders can do to help prevent and end violence. On December 6, 2016, at the Montreal Massacre Memorial Service in Charlottetown, PEI, PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women Chairperson Mari Basiletti told her story of surviving an assault and having her life saved by a bystander’s intervention. Mari’s experience wasn’t family violence, but the bystander did not know this. Taking action as a bystander can save lives. Find out more about PEI’s Family Violence Prevention Week at


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