Rights group calls for action on marital rape issue

Rights group calls for action on marital rape issue
Equality Bahamas director Alicia Wallace.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Equality Bahamas is calling on Attorney General Carl Bethel to prioritize Bahamian women and finish what was started with the drafting of the marital rape bill.

In a statement, the organization urged Bethel to move expeditiously, and also criticized Minister of Social Services and Community Development Frankie Campbell.

EB called for Campbell to ‘step out of the shadows’, noting his vocal stance on the issue during the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) session in October 2018.

The group encouraged Campbell to engage his colleagues in dialogue on women’s rights and the importance of enacting laws to expand and protect them.

Further calls were also made to members of the public to speak out against violence in all forms and lobby for better laws that can improve all lives, in a recent press statement.

Public discourse over the issue was reignited after House Speaker Halson Moultrie expressed his personal position on marital rape.

Moultrie underscored that “spiritually” a man could not rape his wife.

“Moultrie clearly allowed religious affiliation to overshadow his role as a legislator,” read the Equality Bahamas statement.

“There is no way to simultaneously believe that a woman should have bodily autonomy and that, in a marriage, a spiritual oneness means one person cannot physically violate the other. It is clear that legislators know this is not true as charges can be pressed against a spouse for domestic violence.”

The organization continued: “Contrary to Moultrie’s comment, the spiritual interpretation is the most dangerous option. It is the interpretation that leads to the right to bodily autonomy being violated and the sanctioning of sexual violence.”

Equality Bahamas said it rebuked the notion that a woman loses personhood and right to consent when she marries, thereby becoming a sex object.

Alicia Wallace, Director of Equality Bahamas underscored Moultrie’s role as a parliamentarian, responsible for the protection of vulnerable people, and a participant in the legislative process in a democracy.

“The country does not need to hear about religious texts or interpretations when we are faced with laws that are discriminatory, fail to protect vulnerable people, and are inarguably unequal, particularly when their drafting was already influenced by a religion to which the law does not require the people to subscribe,” Wallace said.

Equality Bahamas maintained parliamentarians are more concerned with re-election, rather than better country-building and the improvement of conditions for all must cease.

Wallace continued: “It is unacceptable for the marital rape issue to be constantly put on the back burner. Nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of residents of The Bahamas. The Bahamas has chosen to sign conventions, takes advantage of opportunities to perform before treaty bodies, but often fails to do the work.

“It must meet its obligations in order to expand the human rights of the Bahamian people, especially women.”

Equality Bahamas highlighted that reports like Criminalization of Marital Rape and Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Across the Commonwealth – authored by Bahamian attorney-at-law, CEDAW Committee member, and women’s rights advocate Marion Bethel – are critical to the process of advancing women’s rights.

The organization extends its thanks to Bethel for her work on the thorough report now being shared across the Commonwealth as a guide and motivation to governments, non-governmental organizations, and the general public.