OP-ED: The true spirit of Dame Doris Johnson

OP-ED: The true spirit of Dame Doris Johnson

Dear Editor,

I would appreciate your publishing the following commentary which I penned on reading of yet another sexual assault of a child over the holiday weekend.

I am tired of these reports of abuse and violations of women and children while we apparently stand by and do nothing. Honestly, I am worn out by our apathy. 

Lisa Bostwick-Dean

It was disturbing to see how many organizations of women and girls came together to march in the “Dame Doris Johnson National Women’s Unity March” in celebration of 50 years of Independence. Admittedly, it is wonderful and necessary to recognize and uphold our First Ladies. They are our legacy, and it is upon their shoulders that we stand. We can never thank or recognize them enough.

But, oh the pain and the irony of it all! While women have made gains in our 50 years of independence, we still are not equal citizens in our country. Not only are we not equal, but we and our children are suffering from continued inequity, increasing abuse and enduring lip service in this our 50th year of independence. What are we celebrating?

The words of Dame Doris Johnson, in her historic speech on Women’s Suffrage, should have been ringing in our heads at that Unity March; and if they were, I suspect we would have realized that we would have better honored the warrior that she was and her cause had we made a statement in marching for the correction of the injustices that women and children continue to suffer today. On that day, Dame Doris said:

“Mr Speaker and members of the Honourable House of Assembly, today invincible womanhood, mother of men and ruler of the world, raises her noble head and approaches the courts of justice with the clarion call for equal rights for all Bahamian Women.”

She made that call in January 1959 – in answer to that call, bias against Bahamian women was enshrined in our Constitution by those that we elected to serve us.

The horror. The deceit. The betrayal. And, while she didn’t say the following words during that speech with respect to that dastardly act, they are most applicable to the deed done unto us by our founding fathers:

“To be deceived is regarded by women as one of the greatest crimes against their faithful trust, since faithfulness is the basic principle upon which we build our homes, rear our children and build our nation.”

Yet, despite that great deception, it is as though with majority rule, we chose to shut our eyes and to accept the abuse from our own. We must rise.  

We must awaken from our apathetic slumber. We must decide to stand in lines (not for pancakes and freebies) and march, not to celebrate 50 years of independence as Bahamian women, but in true honor of Dame Doris!

We must demand the enactment and enforcement of laws that protect us and our children. We must demand an amendment of our Constitution so that men and women are equal in our country. As Dame Doris said:

“We women press this demand and ask such enactment on the basis of not who is right, but what is right for our country. We judge expediency only on this basis. We seek no compromise. There is no alternative. We abhor any delaying action. We women ask only that you gentlemen move now to secure the rights of… Women, including your wives and daughters.”

We contribute equally to our country. We pay our taxes. Yet, we are underrepresented in Parliament. Sadly, Dame Doris’s speech has become timeless in its application and so we remind the current legislature that she warned that:

“Taxation without representation… was the basic principle upon which the American Revolution was based, and which due to the short-sightedness of the British King George III and his Ministers lost for Britain our great and beneficient neighbor, The United States of America.”

We call upon Bahamian women to let the words of Dame Doris stir something in your hearts and seep into your souls. Let it reawaken that part of our genetic code that makes us stand up and demand better treatment.  

When we reflect upon the demands made by Dame Doris that day we cannot help but think that while she would celebrate the many firsts by women since that day she would also weep over the inequity and abuse that continues to plague women 64 years after she made “the clarion call for equal rights for all Bahamian Women” and 50 years after independence before getting up to man her battle station to demand the necessary changes.  

So, as we see it, we have only done one half of the “Dame Doris Johnson National Women’s Unity March”. We have celebrated our achievements.

We must now do the second half of our march. The Countermarch. 

All those that participated in the Unity March and more need to don all black, carry signs of the injustices that need to be corrected and march solely to the sound of drums beating the funeral march travelling in the reverse direction from Western Esplande to Rawson Square. This would be to truly honor all that Dame Doris stood for rather than to passively continue to accept our deteriorating stake in our own country.

The question is if such a march is called, who will come? Who will stand up with us and for us? Will you be present? Would your organization be present? Will you get others – men and women and children – to come out and show that we want these changes to take place? Would you help to organize it? Would you help to get appropriate thought-provoking displays or performances in Rawson Square? Will we bring out the numbers or have a poorer showing than the lineup at IHOP? What do we stand for? When do we stand up? Is enough really enough or have we not yet had enough?

Tell us where you stand.


Lisa Bostwick-Dean

Mother, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Niece, Aunt


Former Senator

Vice-President, Women United