By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
THE government reaffirmed its commitment to elevate the status of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs by announcing plans to create a Department of Gender Affairs.
While addressing the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) at the United Nations in New York last August, Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin stated the government’s intention to create an official department. It was uncertain whether the department would represent women’s affairs or gender affairs more broadly, and how it would function in relation to the national gender equality policy also under development.
Ms Griffin confirmed, the government is moving to create a Department of Gender Affairs that will carry on the mandate of the women’s bureau and also expand its scope to address issues impacting men and boys.
“With regard to the move toward the department, we are just in the completion stages of the strategic plan for the Bureau. We are in the process of finalising some time lines. Once that is finalised, we will be able to make a presentation to cabinet and of course involve civil society and public consultations, then we would be able to move further with it,” said Ms Griffin.
“We are working to get all of this done within the next year. Right now we are just trying to get the plan together and get it to cabinet,” she said.
The Bureau of Women’s Affairs is currently responsible for programmes that educate and inform the public of issues impacting women throughout the Bahamas. It actively works to educate Bahamian women about the CEDAW Convention and has spearheaded the effort to draft the Bahamas’ National Gender Equality Policy.
The upgrade will see the new department have access to additional resources to carry out its work, and take on more responsibilities including addressing problems that impact men and boys.
“Definitely it will mean added responsibilities because we will not only be looking at issues related to women and girls but issues related to men and boys. It will certainly mean expanded responsibilities and a thrust more to the development and strengthening of the family inclusive of the work that they do now,” Ms Griffin said.
The budget for the Bureau is expected to increase to meet the demands of the transition. The department will have a director, administrative officers and other staff.
“This means a full court press against issues that impact women, men, boys and girls. It will mean a full press towards strengthening the family and bringing more focus to what is happening. We will be able to increase the arm of the department into the Family Islands which is very much important to us based on some of the international conventions that we are signed on to,” said Ms Griffin.
Christine Campbell, first secretary of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, said the transition to a department signifies that gender-related issues are pertinent and a top priority.
“We do not want to be behind in that respect. An interesting thing is even in the Caribbean Development Bank there is someone to deal with gender issues. What does that say? I just think that this is a positive step. Now, going forward it is just about public education.
“We need more hands and manpower and more creative ways to get the information to all sectors. We need additional people to assist and fulfil international obligations in terms of agreements that are signed. I have a special spot for the Family Islands and while we have the majority of the population in New Providence, women are women and we have women all over this country. We must ensure they are given the level of public education and awareness,” Ms Campbell said.