By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ACTIVIST Marion Bethel yesterday disagreed with statements made by former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer as she called for heightened education and public awareness in the lead up to the gender equality referendum.
Responding to reports that Dame Joan had dismissed the June 7 vote as a “waste of time”, Mrs Bethel underscored the critical impact the electoral process will have in shaping the country’s future.
She said: “I have tremendous respect for Dame Justice Joan Sawyer, I admire her greatly and I consider her a friend of mine. I have to disagree with her on this particular position that she has taken, this is not a waste of time.
“My opinion is that this is not a waste of time,” Mrs Bethel said.
“We may have wasted some time but this whole thing is not a waste of time. This is about the electorate getting an opportunity to shape what this country will be like what the value of this country will be like and I really hold deeply the principal of equality and the principal of nondiscrimination.”
Mrs Bethel is a Bahamian attorney, human and gender rights activist, filmmaker and acclaimed writer/poet.
She appeared as a guest on KISS FM radio talk show “Ed Field’s Live” alongside Bahamas Crisis Centre Director Dr Sandra Dean Paterson. Both women are part of the advocate group Citizens for Constitutional Equality.
Mrs Bethel said: “Women have struggled in this country for centuries, alongside with men, shoulder to shoulder throughout slavery, through the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s. We have struggled alongside men to make this country what it is.
“We have participated and contributed equally to this country, to nation building, yet we are denied first class citizenship in my view under the constitution.”
Meanwhile, Dr Patterson noted that the negative response to the referendum stemmed from a culturally entrenched sense of entitlement that fed the disparity over equality for men and women.
She added that perhaps one of the largest barriers to widespread acceptance of the bills was that the ostensible success of women in the country made it seem as though equality in the Constitution was unnecessary.
Mrs Bethel also said: “This is part of our belief system that we have continued to live with and this is actually structured into our constitution. The result of this system that we have lived with for centuries is that in the constitution in 1972 the inequalities were structured into the pinnacle of our laws.
“If we’re talking about gender equality between women and men, which is what I believe in, and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, we have to treat that as a critical goal of our democracy, of good governance, of nation building.”
She added: “I don’t see how we can move forward with any national development plan of 2040 when you’ve got the two basic aspects of your society, women and men, unequal.”