By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ANOTHER activist group is calling for the resignation of Minister of Social Services and Urban Development Lanisha Rolle over her controversial comments on marital rape.
Equality Bahamas (EB) lambasted Mrs Rolle over her stance in a press statement yesterday, pointing out it demonstrated Mrs Rolle was ill-suited for the job.
The group said Mrs Rolle’s appointment to the post was an insult to Bahamian women given her public opposition to the 2016 gender equality referendum, and questioned whether the move was “sinisterly strategic” given the ministerial portfolio includes oversight of the Department of Gender and Family Affairs.
EB also said Mrs Rolle’s remarks represented a de-facto response to UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Dubravka Šimonović’s charge that marital rape is the most pressing gender-based issue in the country.
It called for solidarity from all women’s rights organisations and advocates to join in clearly stating that rape is not a private matter, and expressed concerns about the activity, or lack thereof, of the ministry’s Department of Gender and Family Affairs.
The statement described the tendered resignation of its director Gaynel Curry as “unsettling,” and intimated the move was “possibly linked to the minister’s unacceptable positions on issues of relevance and import, and her influence on processes within the Department.”
“No member of Parliament or Cabinet minister has the right to disagree with the actual definition of rape which is currently not reflected in the Sexual Offences Act, ignore the trauma it causes, or influence legislation and policy by placing personal beliefs and preferences above the human rights to which all Bahamians are entitled,” EB noted.
“Minister Lanisha Rolle is unfit for her position, and must resign or be ousted by the parties responsible for her appointment should they have integrity and the ability to understand and promote the fact that women are human beings deserving of all human rights including protection from violence and access to justice.”
The EB statement continued: “In her comment, Rolle revealed her opinion that marital rape is not an act of violence. This made clear, yet again, her lack of understanding of gender-based violence and discrimination. Her appointment to the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development — likely motivated by traditional gender roles and distribution of ‘soft portfolios’ to women — was ill-advised and underscored the flippancy with which the current administration regards women’s rights.”
Earlier this month, Ms Šimonović, a human rights expert, stressed the legality of spousal rape is “a sign that something is deeply wrong,” adding the issue could easily be resolved through legislative changes.
She was tasked with presenting a report on the status of human rights in the Bahamas - with special focus on women and children - due to the country’s renewed bid for a seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council.
When asked for comment, Mrs Rolle told reporters marital rape was a “private” matter that could become public and shied away from taking a firm position on whether it should be outlawed. Instead she insisted the sanctity of marriage should be protected.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told ZNS he had no personal view on the issue of spousal rape, and when later asked by reporters about the matter he said he was more concerned about Christmas.
“To support women’s rights,” EB noted, “one must support all rights for all women, regardless of socioeconomic status, age, marital status, or any other identity marker. It is abhorrent, and perhaps sinisterly strategic, to appoint a non-supporter of women’s rights to the ministry with oversight of the Department and Gender and Family Affairs.”
Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest, State Minister for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson and former Transport and Aviation Minister Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin have given their full support of criminalising marital rape.
Equality Bahamas’ stance joins calls for Mrs Rolle to step down from Rights Bahamas, and staunch condemnation from leading women’s rights activist attorney and United Nations expert Marion Bethel.
“As evidenced by official report and word of mouth, (Mrs Rolle) is unprepared to carry out the mandate of the Department of Gender and Family Affairs, or even to address the Bahamian people or respond to the media regarding the progress — and regression as is the case with the discontinued RISE programme — of the department,” EB also noted.