By Dawn Demeritte
Not a problem in terms of a shortage of men. Instead, that The Bahamas is being held hostage by toxic patriarchy which extends from the government straight down to families of everyday Bahamians. And, unfortunately, the only people who suffer from it are women and children.
On March 9, 2021, Jared Higgs, a reporter for The Nassau Guardian, Tweeted: “The Court of Appeal ruled last week that two brothers have to take DNA tests to determine whether one of them is the father of their niece’s child. The niece has the child at 15 and is 38 today. The men are subject of an incest investigation.”
This is utterly disgusting, but we shouldn’t find this sort of sexual abuse perpetrated against a minor surprising.
On March 2, 2021, on “Beyond The Headlines” with Clint Watson, a father, whose minor daughter was the victim of sexual assault, appeared as a guest. He was moved to tears because the man who was found guilty of putting his hand up his daughter’s skirt was fined a paltry $200.
On that same show, two brave women appeared and spoke about an alleged prostitution ring — one that falsely used job advertisements to recruit young girls for said prostitution ring. One of those women said the man in charge reportedly said his clients are members of Parliament and police officers.
Again, you may be shocked, appalled and even filled with rage. But should you be surprised? No.
This is a common occurrence in The Bahamas. Our outrage may last days, and even, in some cases, weeks, but then we are on to other issues or non-issues. Meanwhile, we have generations upon generations who are dealing with unaddressed trauma caused by a toxic system that serves them no justice.
When you bring up rape in certain circles, older women are quick to tell you that many Bahamian men believed it was their responsibility to “break their daughters in”, and it is passed down for years. And everyone is OK with it because it just happens.
Where do young girls, women or even young men go to be safe? For the latter, perhaps nowhere.
We look at the educational system, a place children spend most of their time. We don’t have to look far to see how many teachers have taken advantage of their role in children’s lives and have abused them, raped them and then silenced them for whatever reason.
On January 27, 2021, a 63-year-old teacher was charged with indecent assault on female students at a Grand Bahama high school. Incidentally enough, scrolling through social media that day, many other women said it wasn’t the first time. An example that hasn’t left my mind was someone said they reported him to the school previously and was told to pray it away.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge and was granted cash bail for $3,500.
Men have paid more for marijuana charges.
In 2010, after several cases of alleged sexual misconduct between teachers and students were made public, the director of education at the time, Lionel Sands, said that teachers may have been falsely accused.
Ironically, if you’re ever fortunate enough to be in the presence of teachers, they always say the opposite. They have specific stories, but they repeat their hands are tied. Again, who protects our children?
In 2016 it was reported that The Bahamas has the worst record for rapes in the Caribbean. This did not become the reality of the nation overnight. Sexual assault, rape and violence against women are all open secrets in the country.
A conversation about toxic patriarchy is nowhere near finished without mentioning the police. The role they play is integral to why things are unchanged in The Bahamas and why many crimes relating to women, girls and children in general go unreported.
Policing in The Bahamas, and one might even say regionally, is laughable. Our police force suffers from flawed structures that direly need reform. Some examples are: police brutality, corruption and discrimination. And we bear witness to it every day and turn a blind eye because half of the country is desensitized while the other half believes “Blue Lives Matter” and that if the police used excessive force, they had to.
Last year May, while under lockdown, Millennials and Gen Z did something incredible. They used their social networks to be heard. This is something Bahamians have shied away from doing in the past because of retaliation and victimization. They spoke up about matters that most Bahamians prefer not to speak on. They detailed their experiences with sexual assault and they also recalled their encounters with the police.
The encounters were all damaging, but what stood out was the way our police respond to sexual assault. Or how they incorrectly use their power.
Without going into detail because I have not asked permission to use their stories, there were many reports of women being stopped by police to give out their numbers, or police abusing their powers to stalk them to ask them out or even the police being called to intervene in domestic violence matters and telling the victims “not to cry over scrapes”.
The experiences leave you speechless but yet again unsurprised.
It’s not surprising because The Bahamas lacks comprehensive laws addressing violence against women. The Bahamas refuses to take a stand on marital rape, molasses is faster than our justice system and the Christian Council is never vocal on matters relating to women and children. They’re more concerned about vaccinations and the effect of marijuana in our country.
Then there’s the government of The Bahamas; the most exclusive boys’ club in the country. Who can forget when Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie stated that, spiritually, a husband cannot rape his wife? The people who have a seat at the table share these types of views, so it is no wonder that women and children can never get justice.
If we were looking at The Bahamas through the spiritual lens, one may say we have a little to work on but we’re OK.
We are not, however, and women do not belong to men. It’s time for leaders who represent all of us, and not just the men who benefit from this system, to realize that their religious toxic views are detrimental to the development and progression of this country.
It is not acceptable to have one woman in the Cabinet. Especially when it can be merely for optics. Women need a seat at the table and until they have one, beyond being the token woman in the room, they, along with children, will always remain victims of the patriarchy.
It’s time to bring down this toxic patriarchy that rules with an iron fist in The Bahamas. This is not a call to do away with all men in The Bahamas, but to call on men to join feminists in breaking down the system. This isn’t about individuals but structures, institutions, governments, workplaces, anything that keeps patriarchy in place.
It’s time for men to recognize their power and step up to protect women and children. After all, doesn’t the taught definition of masculinity revolve around protecting your household? By extension, taking down the patriarchy protects the people within your household.
Dawn Demeritte is a digital entrepreneur and freelance writer.