Tribune Features Editor
The familiar mud slinging that comes with a sitting of the House of Assembly was no where to be seen yesterday, when a joint session of Parliament convened to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement. In a bipartisan effort the government moved a resolution committing to end all forms of discrimination against women in the constitution of the Bahamas “so as to fully and irrevocably engage and utilise the indomitable spirit of Bahamian womanhood in nation building”.
The resolution recognised and saluted the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement - Mary Ingraham, Eugenie Lockhart, Georgiana Symonette, Mabel Walker, Dame Doris Johnson - whose quest for justice and equality for all Bahamians brought about revolutionary change in the Bahamian social and political landscape. It recognised the “vital presence and contribution of women in Parliament and in every field of work in the public and private sectors” and committed the government to “increasing the voice, representation and number of women in national leadership.”
“Today is very dear. I want us to take some time to fully understand. The contribution of the Bahamian woman to every facet of this society cannot be denied. It is with the confidence of our mothers that many of us were able to pursue what we did. So this is a very historic day,” said Italia Johnson, the first speaker of the House of Assembly, who attended the event.
In addition to passing the resolution, the event was staged for a joint reading of the historic 1959 women’s suffrage address made by Dame Doris Johnson. She was denied the opportunity to speak in the House of Assembly and spoke instead to an audience of parliamentarians in the magistrates court.
Her landmark speech outlined the women’s agenda of the day, which primarily advocated for equal voting rights for all. It spoke out against taxation without representation and called for women to sit on juries.
“We do not wish to be regarded as rebellious but we would point out to you that to cling sullenly or timidly to ancient outmoded ways of government is not in the best interest of our country. We therefore earnestly desire that this regime go on record as an enlightened, democratic body, by ordering the immediate enumeration and registration of all women 21 years and over so that they may carry out their duties as full citizens in the next by-election or general election,” states the 1959 address.
Ms Johnson said the Bahamian woman would claim and celebrate November 26, the day women voted for the first time in 1962 while also looking to the future and questioning what is the women’s agenda going forward.
“What is next on our agenda as Bahamian women, because in order to be successful we must be relevant. The Bahamian woman must be relevant today. The things that effect Bahamian women today must be addressed. This was good and this was a commemorative time and this causes development, but the reality on the ground remains out there. We are talking about the health of Bahamian women, the education of our children, the inclusiveness of women in the electoral process, more women becoming involved in local government, more women becoming articulated in whatever field they are interested in. It is so important because if the women are not holding the ground then we are in a bad way,” said Mr Johnson.