'We must fight inequality'

By AVA TURNQUEST Tribune Staff Reporter aturnquest@tribunemedia.net FORMER cabinet minister and speaker and of the House of Assembly Janet Bostwick challenged Bahamian women to fight against the "shameful" gender inequalities that still exist today. Speaking at a symposium honouring the legacy of the Women's Suffrage Movement on Tuesday, the first female member of parliament said she has mixed feelings about the progress of the women's rights movement in the Bahamas. While acknowledging that most of the issues outlined by the suffragettes have been overcome, Mrs Bostwick explained that activists "rested on their laurels" after achieving equal voting rights. Since then, Mrs Bostwick said, the movement has not mobilised to fight other inequalities such as spousal rape and the right to transfer citizenship. Mrs Bostwick said: "As women, we have become complacent, materialistic and quiet. We have never been more educated, nor have we ever enjoyed greater levels of influence, yet this is hardly reflected in our involvement in seeking social justice and true equality. "It is shameful that we in this age and at this time accept it. It is an equal shame that we are prepared in this day and age to accept that a man may rape his wife and be immune to legal sanctions. "We who cried out against rape are painfully silent when our children are being abused and raped and murdered. "We are not agitating for laws and practices to afford us time to be at the schools at crucial times, like at the times to receive our children's reports, but we are fighting for employment contracts to give us time off on our birthdays. "We are not concerned with mentoring our young girls, or for you young people, girls younger than yourselves, and we leave them to emulate jungalists." Under the theme "Commemorating the Past, Reflecting on the Present, Envisioning the Future: 1962 and Beyond", a symposium on gender equality and advancement of Bahamian women began on Tuesday. Jointly organised by the Bureau of Women's Affairs and the College of the Bahamas, the four-day event features panelists from institutions in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. After more than a decade of petitioning, a bill to grant equal voter's rights to women under the General Assembly Elections Act 1959 was passed on February 23, 1961. The legislation came into effect on June 30, 1962. At the event, Mrs Bostwick was acknowledged as the US Embassy's 2012 International Woman of Courage, the US State Department's highest award for female leaders, for her contributions to the advancement of women's rights. Mrs Bostwick said: "The suffrage movement reached across partisan lines, racial and social class divides. The movement was actually started by a black woman who, after party politics was introduced in the Bahamas, was a member of the UBP. It was embraced by the PLP, it was adopted by women without party affiliation, supported by women of different races and social standing, and it was championed by progressive men."


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