By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
FOR 50 years, Bahamian women have participated in the electoral process, and yet issues concerning equality in career opportunities, women in leadership, and women coming together to form a unified voice remain central.
A panelist of five female leaders hosted by the National Organisation of Women in the Bahamas (NOWAB), engaged an all female audience last week in discussions about issues that can contribute to the upward mobility of women.
The panelist included S. Ali McIntosh, leader of the Bahamas Constitution Party and NOWAB member; Brenda Harris, candidate for the Bahamas Constitution Party; former Progressive Liberal Party senator Allyson Maynard Gibson; and Gloria Ferguson, pastor of Mount Arab Baptist Church and secretary to the Bahamas Christian Council.
Audience members challenged the political leaders on the real impact of women in politics to the advancement of their fellow sisters.
One audience member said although women are playing pivotal roles in society, it will take much more than females in management positions, in the political arena, or leadership roles in social institutions for more change to take place.
"Not necessarily having females in leadership can be better for women. All of my superiors are females but we do not see it as better for women. Sometimes women in these positions are the cruelest and the hardest. We do not only need to look at women in leadership, we need to look at women who are fair minded, open minded and inclusive," said an audience member.
Another audience member called for more forums to discuss women's affairs and the emergence of female leaders to help provide a more unified voice.
"Women have to understand first and foremost that there is a forum in which we can come together in numbers. I think that is one of the things that is not clear. We are leaders in this country but there is not a unified voice for women," said the audience member.
The Women's Bureau, directed by Christine Campbell, holds a monthly women's forum. It works closely with the National Women's Advisory Council. Having recently engaged in community consultations for a national gender policy and several activities around the commemoration of women's suffrage, the two organisations have recently raised their public profile.
What it will take for more change to come is women mimicking the actions of the suffragettes, putting aside all political persuasions to form a unified voice said Allyson Maynard-Gibson.
"I just want us to look at the suffragettes. They recognised that the issue of women being enfranchised was so important. They put down any artificial barriers such as political parties. They were white women and non-Bahamian women involved in that struggle. We are celebrating the 50th year of women having the right to vote. This was the movement of women who came across all artificial barriers. The important thing to remember is that we should never underestimate the power of people," said Ms Maynard-Gibson.
Although women have made much progress, equality in career benefits is still an issue some women are facing, said Brenda Harris.
"Sometimes expats are coming to the country, they can have the same job responsibility, same qualification, sometimes they do not even have that, but because they are a man and you are a woman your salary level is totally different," said Ms Harris.
In the past, Ms Harris said she experienced discrimination in the workforce because of her gender.
"I was suppose to come down as the senior project manager at (a local corporation), but because they found out that I was a Bahamian for one, and that I was a black female, they did not want to give the salary they quoted. They did not want to increase that because I was a Bahamian and I was a female" said Ms Harris.
"Men just have to show that they are interested and they are pushed forward. Women we have to fight and prove and even when we prove they still overlook us. It is not fair, we have to work hard and we have to prove ourselves," she said.
The event was advertised as a meet and greet with female candidates in the upcoming general election, where potential voters could hear from the candidates and learn who they are. However, no candidates from the Free National Movement, Progressive Liberal Party or the Democratic National Alliance showed up.
NOWAB has come under scrutiny in recent months over claims that the organisation's support has been "dwindling" and that the association "lacks accountability". The organisation was launched on International Women's Day in 2001. Patricia Morley has been president since its inception.
"We feel like we have been around for 12 years now, but we still have not been integrated into the Bahamian structure. This is the organization that is suppose to be the watch dogs of the country," said Willamae Hamilton Stuart, NOWAB public relations assistant.
"During the last election, we had a forum, which was very well attended. We are not political, but we want to be consulted on women's issues," said Ms Stuart.