By Allyson Maynard-Gibson
On November 25, 2020, the world celebrated “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women”. On November 26, in The Bahamas, we celebrated the 58th anniversary of women exercising the right to vote. The country took time to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of women to national development and recognize that there is still “much land to be possessed”. Some people are asking, “What more y’all women want?”
A short answer might be that women and men want to see The Bahamas honor the UN Conventions to which it has agreed, e.g. the 2030 Agenda — and agreement to be monitored for progress in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
SDG5 is Gender Equality. The UN has published some targets and indicators for each SDG. I believe, were they alive, the Bahamian suffragettes would endorse the SDG5 targets and indicators. Also, as voluntarily agreed country commitments, citizens and residents should be aware of these targets and indicators. I shall mention three in this article.
The first is “end all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere”. An obvious form of discrimination against women is that Bahamian women may not, as of right, pass their citizenship to their spouses and children. Bahamian men, save for single Bahamian men, as of right, may pass their citizenship on to their spouses and children. Again, there is legislation already drafted to redress this wrong. Our legislature routinely debates urgent legislation. Where, on the continuum of urgency, do our elected members of Parliament place women’s rights? This legislation can be tabled and passed before the end of 2020. As well as sending the right message of honor and respect for women voters, its passage would be a step to honor The Bahamas’ international commitment to end violence and discrimination against women.
The second is to “eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation”. The pandemic has highlighted the scourge of violence against women. The UN and NGOs strongly express concerns that lockdowns increase the risk of violence against women. The Elders and others have emphasized the need for the justice system to creatively respond to provide relief. Court backlogs should not be a legitimate excuse for failure to conduct hearings for emergency restraining orders.
The third is “ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”. It has been publicly stated that, 25 years ago, in Beijing, when The Bahamas agreed to the Beijing Declaration, we committed that, by 2020, we would have women comprise 30 percent of the membership of our Parliament. We must engage in a national dialogue to discuss how we achieve and exceed this goal. One table topic for that dialogue is quotas.
As long as we discriminate against women in these and other ways highlighted by the UN and NGOs and CSOs here in The Bahamas, we cannot expect fully to achieve sustainable development.
Mao Tse Tung is credited with saying that a society that discriminates against women is like a bird flying with one wing.
These goals can be accomplished. With two wings, The Bahamas can soar like an eagle.