By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THEOLOGICAL texts are often misappropriated to support religious arguments for gender inequality, according to Gabrielle Henderson, programme specialist for the United Nations.
Ms Henderson explained that faith-based organisations must be engaged through public information and a social mobilisation strategy in a bid to deconstruct notions of male dominance.
“I think one of the key arguments is that often the theological text or understanding within religion is misappropriated to perpetuate a notion of male headship,” she said.
“Male headship in families, male headship in countries, male leadership and not recognising deeper theological arguments that locate women and men as equals.”
Ms Henderson said: “Working with faith-based organisations, leaders of faith based organisations, churches, the clergy, is beginning to understand a more comprehensive theological debate is fundamental; and in understanding also the obligations that they, as religious leaders, hold in terms of the protection of human rights of women and men.”
She also added that experiential learning was critical because it enabled faith-based leaders, most of whom are men, to understand a woman’s experience from an internalised viewpoint.
Ms Henderson spoke to The Tribune on the sidelines of a symposium on “Gender Equality and the Law in the Bahamas”, a two-day training session for magistrates.
The workshop is focused on the role the magistracy can play in promoting gender equality in a bid to develop appropriate judicial responses to social and gender dimension cases.
Participants will also learn how to apply international human rights law when permitted by domestic law; and how to recognize gender stereotypes in the law, and practice.
Ms Henderson said: “(The judiciary) not only has a responsibility to protect the human rights of all persons, but by making sentences and precedents it can also inform changes in culture, in attitudes, in belief systems and that is critical.
“Addressing impunity is critical in ensuring cultural change,” she said. “If for example perpetrators are not held accountable we set up a situation for victims to believe there is no hope, there is no avenue to have their rights achieved, no access to justice.”
The event was described as relevant and timely given the upcoming constitutional referendum that seeks to remove all forms of discrimination on the basis of sex from the Constitution, Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin said. She explained that the initiative fulfilled recommendations made by the United Nations to raise national public awareness with equality for women, as well as training for the judiciary, and police force.
Mrs Griffin said: “This will go far to move along what we call ‘gender mainstreaming,’ which is to look at situations and ensure that there is equality in everything that is being done.
“This is a giant step today, not that it has not been done before but it has been very few and far between.”
Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt said: “Even though last year marked 20 years since the Bahamas ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, that is CEDAW, we still have much to do to fully educate all aspects of our society on this very important convention that supports human rights and equal rights for women in all areas of life.
“I fully support opportunities for magistrates to gain more knowledge and experience that would assist us in the execution of our daily duties and responsibilities,” she said. “Far too often we become so subsumed in the technical aspects of adjudication, which no doubt is our primary focus, however, we do not provide enough emphasis on the socio-psycho and cultural context in which we are called upon to serve.”
The forum was hosted in partnership with the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the Bureau for Women’s Affairs, and the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development at the Super Club Breezes Resort.