THE TRIBUNE reported on Tuesday that Attorney General Allyson-Maynard Gibson blamed former prime minister Hubert Ingraham for the failure of the 2002 referendum because it was he – and not her party – that had politicised the issue.
The object of the referendum was to give the Bahamian woman, who married a foreigner, and their children the same rights as the Bahamian man who married a foreign spouse.
Mr Ingraham —as the PLP are now doing as they rush to report on their accomplishments in their first 100 days of government— had promised this referendum to put Bahamian women on an equal footing with their male counterpart. The 2002 election was looming and women’s rights, although promised, had not been delivered. And so the date for the referendum, which would complete Mr Ingraham’s agenda, was planned for three months before election.
It was debated in the House of Assembly when the Opposition had ample time to study the questions and all their implications. Amendments were agreed by both sides. After voting “yes” in the House, the PLP obviously saw a political opportunity, and advised Bahamians to vote against it. The PLP claimed that the process was flawed. If the process was flawed why did they not say so on the floor of the House, and if it was to become a constitutional matter, again if they were doing the job they were being paid to do, why did they not see this in the House, before going to the public and deliberately confusing the issue?
For example, Mrs Gibson, who was then the PLP candidate for Pinewood, told the public that a “yes” vote for the referendum could create a “marriage of convenience” market in the Bahamas.
In Eleuthera the PLP had spread the rumour that if women were given equal rights with men, they would marry Haitians and Jamaicans and take over the country. Of course, it was all right for Bahamian men to marry foreign women, but they could not suffer to see their Bahamian sisters with the same rights.
In exasperation the Catholic Archbishop, the late Lawrence Burke, two days before the February 27, 2002 referendum reprimanded the politicians. “Let’s forget the political hype,” he told them, “and leave it to the people.”
By now the simple question that required only a “yes” or “no” answer had become so complex, that the PLP suggested the people be given another year to think about it.
Ten years later — and only after an international body expressed surprise that this country’s policies on women’s rights are so far behind — did Mr Christie bestir himself to resurrect the question of the long awaited referendum. Still declining to set a date, Mr Christie and his party are now trying to toss the blame from their door to that of Mr. Ingraham’s. We suggest that Mr Christie get on with the referendum and leave it to historians to study the records and make the final judgment.
However, despite Dr Bernard Nottage’s claim in the House of Assembly that the PLP has introduced every important milestone in the history of this country, history will record that it was the UBP that secured the women’s vote and not the PLP. Although the PLP always credited the late Dame Doris Johnson with securing the women’s right to vote, in fact the women got their vote under the leadership of Mrs Mary Ingraham and the UBP government of the late Sir Roland Symonette.
It was Mrs Mary Ingraham, and her group of women, who included Mrs Maynard-Gibson’s grandmother, Ms JK Symonette, who fought for, and won the women’s right to vote.
And so, Dr Nottage — again to correct your history — another important milestone was crossed when women went to the polls for the first time and cast their vote in 1962— not under a PLP government, but under the UBP.
The PLP did cross a most important milestone in 1967 with majority rule – but, as for the women they already had their vote. On July 10, 1967, they were voting for the second time.
It was Mary Ingraham, and her committee, who met with Mr Lennox-Boyd, Secretary of State for the Colonies who had arrived in Nassau because of labour unrest. At that time Dr Doris Johnson was attending university abroad. She took no part in any of those discussions.
Dr Johnson returned to Nassau the week the women’s petition was to come up for first reading in the House of Assembly. She asked women to allow her to address the House before the petition was read. The following is what Mrs Ingraham had to say about that event. By now Mrs Ingraham was quite annoyed by Dr Johnson’s attempt to push her committee aside and take the glory.
“This is the only part Dr Johnson played in the vote for women,” Mrs Ingraham wrote to The Tribune. “And when the motion came for a vote in the House of Assembly not one member of the PLP government, including the Prime Minister (Pindling), voted for the women to vote. Instead every member walked out.”
And so, Dr Nottage, before you again go to the public with your shallow boasts about milestones, we suggest that you get better acquainted with the history of your own party.
Remember — God gave this country to the Bahamian people, not the PLP. And many milestones were achieved before anyone conceived the idea of a political party, certainly long before the PLP came on the scene.