By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE PLP was never opposed to a referendum on granting Bahamian women the same rights as Bahamian men to pass citizenship on to their children, Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin said yesterday.
Rather, she explained, they were opposed to the “process” of the 2002 referendum.
On Monday it was announced that a June referendum will see the removal of all forms of discrimination against women.
At present, Bahamian women are legally inferior to men in various ways, most prominently with regard to the right to transfer citizenship to their children.
The announcement of this June referendum comes 10 years after a similar referendum was voted down by the public in 2002. Yesterday, FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner attributed the failure of that referendum, in part, to “confusion” from the PLP.
Mrs Griffin said yesterday outside Cabinet: “The PLP was never opposed to the referendum, itself. The failure of the referendum was certainly not a rejection by the Bahamian people of the content. The failure was due to the process.
“The people of the Bahamas decided that the process was rushed and because it was coming – what – three months before an election. It was in a highly charged political season.”
The difference with this referendum, she said, is that it will be “outside of the silly season” and it has the consensus of both Houses of Parliament and “both sides of the divide.”
Although praising the upcoming June referendum, Mrs Butler-Turner lamented the failure of the 2002 referendum, yesterday, and said the PLP had a part in “delaying” the results of a “yes” vote.
“I think just as the Prime Minister has confused this entire issue with the referendum in gambling, he was at the helm in 2002 and he totally confused himself and the people at that time and ended up delaying something that women could have already been enjoying from 10 years ago,” she said.
“The only ones who suffered from it were Bahamian women. I don’t think there was any regard to the plight of Bahamian women. I think they saw it as a political ploy that they could use.”
Mrs Butler-Turner said the PLP had an opportunity to debate all of the proposed questions and changes to the constitutional amendment.
“They debated it along with the government at that time and all agreed to it in the House of Assembly, voted for it in the House, left the house and went out and created utter confusion in the minds of the Bahamian people,” she said.
“It had nothing to do with silly season. They saw an opportunity there to manipulate the process and they flip-flopped on it and they messed it up and made Bahamian women pay the price.”
Upon taking office the PLP said they would come back in 90 days with a new referendum, Mrs Butler-Turner said, but “for five years they ruled, it was never on their agenda.”
She claimed the “driving force” behind June’s referendum is because the government had to “defend the Bahamas’ position on the lack of equality for women” to the United Nations.
“The biggest problem that we have had is the number of people who should have been rightly entitled to Bahamian citizenship, who have not been able to take advantage of that. Those are the children of many of our Bahamian sisters who would have married foreign men and lived abroad,” Mrs Butler-Turner said.
“Some of these people are making huge contributions in Great Britain, Canada, the United States – wherever they are in the world – and they could have been in the Bahamas. That’s the loss that we had.”