By ALESHA CADET
Tribune Features Reporter
Women’s rights advocates are encouraging Bahamian women to learn more about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as a way to further empower and protect the Bahamian woman.
The Bahamian government made commitments to the international community and the Bahamian people when it ratified the convention in 1993, and as such, are obligated to uphold its commitments.
Former ambassador and advisor to the Ministry of National Security, Missouri Sherman-Peter, said the CEDAW committee pragmatically evaluates the efforts of member countries, to assist and encourage them to best meet their obligations. As a body, CEDAW works to hold governments accountable, and to advocate on behalf of women across the world.
“CEDAW looks with a discerning eye at the performance of governments, and identifies obstacles and challenges to women’s advancement in countries that are states parties to the CEDAW Convention, including The Bahamas,” said Ms Sherman-Peter.
The international treaty, which sits inside the United Nations’ human rights framework, sets international standards for womens rights.
“This is so that countries who sign onto the CEDAW convention agree to abide by certain rules and regulations, and adjust their local laws and policies in support of women’s rights and along the lines of this international forum,” said Donna Nicolls, activist and volunteer counsellor at the Crisis Centre. Ms Nicolls present a shadow report for the Bahamas at the CEDAW meeting at the United Nations’ New York headquarters last month.
When speaking about CEDAW’s significance to the average woman, Ms Nicolls said the convention provides “protection,” and promotes women’s equal attainment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights for women. It also establishes the rights of women in areas that were not previously subjected to international standards, she said.
“As a woman, if something happens to me in my country and I find that the laws do not protect me, I am able to access this international body to which the government signed on to,” said Ms Nicolls.
The Crisis Centre’s shadow report pointed out areas for which the government needed to further align itself with the CEDAW, and made recommendations for what the government should do.
The national women’s machinery, the Women’s Bureau, was one of the areas addressed in the shadow report.
“We feel that the Women’s Bureau is inadequately staffed and funded for the work it has to do. The Women’s Bureau would be the agency that would disseminate the information about not just CEDAW, but all kind of things that affect women,” said Ms Nicolls.
Another topic included was the marginalisation of women, said Ms Nicolls, specifically highlighting single mothers, the disabled and immigrant women.
“A lot of times they don’t get the support that they need. And we are not just talking about financial support. Sometimes there is a need for housing that does not exist or a person who is in real distress. A lot of times these women are with children. These are some of the issues that we need to be concerned about and that is what I talked about,” said Ms Nicolls.
As a signatory to the convention, the Bahamas is obligated to abide by its rules, said Ms Sherman-Peter, who would like to see the Bahamas live up to all of its obligations under the convention one day, including the articles on the nationality of children and the status of spouses.
Importantly, she said the convention provides for self-scrutiny in respect of the country, which must review its own performance in preparing its country report to the CEDAW.
“I would like to see women from all walks of life in The Bahamas work as a collaborative group in articulating their rights effectively, and becoming their own best advocates: highly motivated, networking and driving national initiatives for gender equality and for women’s rights,” said Ms Sherman-Peter.