By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
AGAINST the backdrop of state-sponsored 50th anniversary Majority Rule celebrations, two historic Bahamian women yesterday urged Bahamians to stand with the We March movement against injustices that have persisted in the country since the hard-fought milestone.
Leading ladies Janet Bostwick, the first woman to be elected to the House of Assembly, and Dame Joan Sawyer, the first woman to serve as chief justice and president of the Court of Appeal, took to the stage at Pompey Square to provide their personal testimony on the importance of the We March Bahamas movement.
“Fifty years ago,” Mrs Bostwick told reporters, “I was in the square in the night after the results had come in. I celebrated, we celebrated because we felt that the shackles have been removed.
“We were no longer being ruled by a minority government. At that time it was just 18-18 but we felt that we were going to win and that the PLP would become the government.
“We were fighting against inequality. We fought for justice, fair play, equal opportunity, 50 years later these are the things for which we still aspire.”
Mrs Bostwick, former attorney general and minister of foreign affairs, is the mother of one of the We March organisers, John Bostwick II.
She told reporters that she has felt “extremely burdened” by the reality that the country she will leave for her descendants is not one she would have envisioned fifty years ago. As she called for unity and solidarity to achieve a common goal, Mrs Bostwick pointed out that without these elements, she would not have been able to shatter a political glass ceiling in 1982.
“Too many of the things for which we fought are still not attainable,” she continued, “and it is imperative that we fight but it is also imperative that we fight together.
“It is significant that when I won in 1982, I ran in a constituency which was specifically cut for the PLP victory. I could not possibly have won unless I got PLP support and it was because of persons who united to support me, irrespective of the party, that I became the first woman elected to Parliament.
“It is that same unity which is needed now to fight the ills which face us. Crime is still rampant unfortunately, equality is not there, there is not sufficient opportunity available.”
Mrs Bostwick said she was pleased to see that We March cut across discriminatory boundaries like economic class, colour, and age to form a “together movement”.
“I march against a D average,” Mrs Bostwick continued, “we cannot accept that in education. I march against the misuse of our hard earned taxes. I march against the unaccountability, all of it, that is why I march. Fifty years ago and today it’s the same.”
Delivering a fiery rebuke of several government initiatives like value added tax and Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival, Dame Joan urged Bahamians to be more critical as citizens and consumers.
Siding with protestors decrying that the government’s investment in the carnival event was egregious, Dame Joan also criticised the morality of a festival where women make themselves “exhibits”.
“You call that upward movement?” she asked.
“No way, no time, must we as a people forget what our foreparents struggled for. You do not climb to the top on your back, women.
“If you do that you become a doormat, you have no right to demand respect. Respect is earned, not given. Stand up for your rights, but stand as ladies, women of integrity, women of courage, women who are willing to work hard for what they get, women who are willing to sacrifice to ensure their children have a better today.”
She also criticised the Cabinet Office’s denial of We March’s request to occupy Rawson Square as they did on Black Friday last year.
“So I wrote the Cabinet,” Dame Joan said, “I’m still of that view, you are breaching the Constitution, you cannot abuse your power to play favourites with a political party. The land belongs to all of us. You don’t have any right to discriminate against any of us. If I vote PLP, FNM, DNA, Independent, whatever I do that’s my right.”
Stressing that her conviction was nonpartisan, she implored “all right-thinking Bahamians” to stand up for their rights. She noted that she marched not for herself but for her grandson, and the hundreds of young people that she has taken under her wing.
“We need to be aware of our responsibility as citizens,” Dame Joan said, “not only to pay our taxes but to be sure that our taxes are not being wasted.”
Referring to the 50th anniversary of Majority Rule, she said: “I cannot be jubilant when people in my country cannot eat.”
“I know what most of my people suffer. I walked East Street barefoot when I was 12. I know what it is to live Over-the-Hill and have the draft fall on you in those wooden houses. I know what it is to go to the pump at 5am.
“There is nothing wrong with hard work people,” she continued, “hard work makes your body strong, makes your mind clear… we don’t have time to waste. Time is not your friend, you have less than four months before there must be an election.”
Referring to reports that women have been turned away from voter registration centres due to their attire, Dame Joan said: “I ask all right-thinking Bahamians to stand up for your rights. If you go to the parliamentary commissioner’s office or wherever to register to vote and he tells you about your exposure, tell him listen, you supposed to be looking at my face. You cannot deny my right or make up the rules as you go along. Who are you? We paying you.”