The following is a statement by Stephanie N. Lightbourne, President of the Women’s Alliance, Democratic National Alliance (DNA).
The recent insensitive comments by the Minister of Social Services, Frankie Campbell sparked significant outrage among Bahamian citizens, residents and international observers. While many had looked forward to his tenure as the first male to have oversight of this important portfolio in recent memory, his performance has been disappointing and controversial.
Although the Bahamas’ rape rate has fluctuated in recent years, 2018 saw an increase of 6%, and in 2016 led the Caribbean in the number of recorded rapes. This is why Minister Campbell’s comments that suggested that the media ought not to question him on the subject of rape as this was not his business was disheartening. The Minister’s remarks on an issue central to his portfolio questions the Minister’s suitability to hold his appointed post and more importantly – whether he is equipped to address and guide the process of tackling the social challenges his Ministry and our nation is confronted with.
The topic of rape is a sensitive issue that is embedded in the fabric of Bahamian society and the social impact it has on women and children is crippling – tearing apart families and leaving irreparable psychological scars in most cases. The fact that the Minister of Social Services could not provide a response as a senior public official or shed light on the gains his Ministry is making in combatting issues such as violent crimes against women leaves many to conclude that the Minister is either not fully aware of his portfolio responsibility or not competent to hold the position that he has. His comments were inapt and gave a poor reflection on senior technocrats within his Ministry and The Bahamas’ views on addressing gender-based violence.
After a recent attendance, in Geneva Switzerland at the 71st session of the Committee on the Discrimination Against all forms of Discrimination against women for the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the same Minister fumbled in an interview on the topic of abortion as he defended a statement made by a member of his delegation at the conference and yet again found himself having to clarify certain comments. This is in addition to the debacle surrounding the reduction of uniform assistance to the less privileged and his recent comments contradicting the position of the government as stated by the Attorney-General.
While the Minister’s apology is welcomed, the biblical scripture that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” is instructive in our assessment of his utterances.
The Minister has failed to expand on how the 2015 Strategic Plan to address gender-based violence is being implemented and what quantitative and qualitative impact the implementation of this strategy is having on the reduction or elimination of violent crimes like rape against women. This is especially important in light of the rising statistics of reported rapes within our Commonwealth. In the absence of measurable goals that clearly demonstrates the Ministry of Social Service & Urban Development’s commitment to addressing gender-based violence, the Minister’s apology can only be seen as a damage control exercise and public relations stunt. His statements and video production were reactionary with no plan to address the perplexing issues of crime against women and children. While shelter, food assistance and rehabilitation are extremely important, we must begin to formulate a systemic solution to address violence against women and children before they become victims.
It is imperative that all relevant government ministries and agencies make a collaborative effort to combat social issues that can lead to criminal behaviour and activity. Appreciating the fact that the roles of various ministries may overlap, it is incumbent upon Minister Campbell and other Ministers of the government to recognize that addressing the issue of gender-based violence requires a multi-sectoral approach.
We implore the Minister to make a serious effort to advocate for stronger laws to protect women and children while simultaneously protecting our nation’s values and safety for the preservation and pride of future generations. The Minister must get serious about the office he holds and be cognizant of the conventions to which The Bahamas is a signatory. We submit that if the Minister does not have a heart for the people in a ministry as sensitive as the one he holds, he must vacate that office immediately.