By Alicia Wallace
TODAY is International Women’s Day, a day for global recognition of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and a call to action for gender equality.
This year, International Women’s Day calls on us to “Be Bold for Change” and the message is resonant, particularly during general election season in the Bahamas.
What better time is there to push for a more gender-inclusive country with legislation, policy and leadership that reinforce the principles of equality?
This year, we celebrate 55 years since the first time Bahamian women voted, and reflect on the activities and discussions that led to last year’s referendum results. We look to organisations like Equality Bahamas, Bahamas Crisis Centre and Bahamas Sexual Health and Rights Association, acknowledging their work and the dire need for greater resourcing to serve communities and advocate for the rights of women and girls.
We hope for engagement with the new Department of Gender and Family Affairs, participation in national dialogue and new opportunities for civil society to contribute to legislation and policy.
We can rest the future of women and girls, however, on hope.
Election season always brings promises. Political parties set their agendas, develop documents to communicate their supposed intentions and sell dreams of a better Bahamas. This time around, things are moving slowly. Plans are slow to come, “debate” is a dirty word and gender issues continue to be ignored. Would it be any different if there were more women in Parliament?
At present, 13 per cent of Members of Parliament are women. The Free National Movement’s website shows 33 candidates, only three of which are women. Eleven of 30 Democratic National Alliance candidates are women. The Progressive Liberal Party’s website is not functioning well enough to assess the gender balance, but according to records of ratified candidates thus far, the party is not set to break any records.
It’s interesting that the DNA has the most women on the roster given the party leader’s sentiments toward women. Branville McCartney, the party’s leader, opposed the marital rape bill in 2012 and voted against the four proposed constitutional amendment bills for gender equality in 2016.
The FNM and the PLP, of course, have their own inconsistent history where women’s rights - constitutionally and legislatively - are concerned. One need only look at the 2002 referendum and the years of debate leading to the 2016 referendum to see the murkiness of party and candidate positions on gender issues.
We can all agree that Bahamian women are vital to this society. They are depended on and called upon to fill many, often disparate, needs. From childcare and household management to significant contributions to expenses, Bahamian women answer the call. Further, it is often women who first identify needs and find ways to respond to them, whether by fundraising, teaching, listening or running for political office. We acknowledge this as truth, yet struggle to see the importance of recognising the humanity of women and girls.
Society is beginning to consider gender - and its subsequent consequences - in relation to issues some may never have to think about. Inability to pass on citizenship has only entered the conversation with the rejected four constitutional amendment bills.
When will the wage gap be on our radar?
When will the conversation about quotas be raised, enabling more women to enter politics?
Who will address the archaic, sexist policy that allows medical professionals to require a woman to have her husband’s permission for tubal ligation?
The road ahead is long, and the changes we need will require dedication and boldness. Many talk about the graduation rates, from high school and college and the job women hold, but do not think about the rights women are denied. Not only that, but few people are fighting for those rights, using their power and influence to move us forward. There is a role for everyone to play. We can challenge inequality when we see it. We can model health relationships and talk to young people about dating to reduce gender-based violence. We can work for the advancement of women by demanding better representation, from boardrooms to political parties. We can celebrate the achievements of women and ensure that other women and girls see the possibilities.
Election season, as we all know, is the perfect time to state our claims. Candidates are now making their rounds, and though they refuse to participate in public debates, we can ask them questions one-on-one. During International Women’s Month, think about the status of Bahamian women. Consider the rights, roles and representation of Bahamian women. Challenge the idea that where we are is good enough, and the rights we have are all we need. Refuse to settle.
Allow yourself to imagine a better Bahamas for all Bahamians, women included. What does it look like? What has to happen to get there? What do our representatives need to believe to be a part of that process?
Our questions, when they visit to ask for our votes, should be centred on those values. Ask your potential representatives how they voted in the 2016 referendum and why. Ask them to show you their party plan and point out where gender issues are included. Show them where gender issues are missing. For example, any plan to address crime should include domestic and sexual violence. In 2017, any plan for education should include exposure to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) specifically for girls. Women and girls, as a marginalised group, must be centred in national plans and their components, particularly where there are known issues that need to be addressed.
Political parties make their plans for our country in isolation, never asking for our opinions. But when they come to us in hopes of collecting one vote at a time, it is one of many opportunities to be heard. Determine what it will take to build the Bahamas you want to see and ask questions to help you determine who is best equipped to get you there.
Be bold for change.
• Alicia Wallace is a women’s rights activist and public educator. She produces The Culture RUSH - a monthly newsletter fusing pop culture, social justice and personal reflection - and tweets as @_AliciaAudrey. Contact her at email@example.com. She will be writing fortnightly in The Tribune on Wednesdays.