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Alicia Wallace: We Need To Wake Up And Put Ourselves First

By ALICIA WALLACE

We all want the best for ourselves. We want to make enough – or more than enough – money. We want good health. Mobile devices, internet and food delivery are more common than they have been in past years. As time goes on, our “bare minimum” list gets longer. We are quite certain that we deserve it. There are times, however, when it seems we do not believe we deserve the best, but other people do. However unintentionally, we frequently elevate the opinions and comfort of others above our own.

One of the most disturbing occurrences for me is witnessing a Bahamian note something that needs to be improved and being prepared to fully agree with them until they try to qualify their statement. It is a shock and a disappointment to realise they do not want the improvement for us. They are motivated by something else.

“Tourists gotta see that!”

People talk about the need to not only stop littering, but be more intentional in the general upkeep of, for example, roundabouts and verges. Many of them become overgrown and stay that way for long periods of time. We would be justified in saying they look terrible and the department responsible needs to take it seriously, schedule maintenance and monitor it.

We, residents of The Bahamas, use the roads every day. We use the same roundabouts over and over again, sometimes multiple times per day. We drive alongside medians and verges. Pedestrians have to navigate disappearing sidewalks and try to make themselves as small as possible to walk on streets that have enough space for sidewalks, but are being completely used for vehicular traffic. In some cases, overgrown bushes make the side of the road unusable for pedestrians.

These are issues we encounter every day. We have to figure out who to call about derelict vehicles in our neighbourhoods and how to compel them to take action. We have to try to ignore unkempt spaces or figure out who to call about that too.

We get up, get through traffic, put up with whatever we must at work, make a one-hour lunch break work for school pick-up, rush back to work to put in another hour or two, get back home to deal with homework, plumber calls and whatever else had to wait, and then prepare to do it all again the next day.

After all of this, when we get back to spending too much time in the car or on the bus, when we take notice of things that just are not as they should be, our first thought is the tourist who will be here for six days.

It is fine to want to look good to other people. It is fine to acknowledge we are dependent on the tourism industry. It is fine to do our best to ensure tourists have a positive experience, tell others about it and plan to come back. It is far from fine to consider tourists better than us, or more deserving of an enjoyable experience in The Bahamas than the people who actually live here.

When the prime minister asked the question “Who is The Bahamas for?” it gave me pause. I wondered if he heard his own words. I wondered if he considered anyone outside of the group he was targeting and the Bahamians to whom he was trying to appeal.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all admit The Bahamas is not for Bahamians, nor is it for the people so many of us see as a threat. It is for tourists. We do not get far in any conversation before tourists are brought up and not just as people who matter, but as primary interests. The same goes for second home-owners.

We want them to come. We want them to spend. We want them to keep the economy afloat. That is fine, but we cannot design our country for them any more than do so for anyone else.

If The Bahamas is to truly be “for Bahamians”, it does not depend on the heavy-handed approach to immigration (which is, of course, reserved for certain people). It requires us to change the way we think about ourselves.

International Women’s Day 2020: My Body, My Choice

International Women’s Day is on Sunday, March 8, and Equality Bahamas is hosting two events to celebrate, commemorate and agitate.

Our focus is on bodily autonomy this year and our planned events lead up to the launch the #Strike5ive campaign for the criminalisation of marital rape. There has been silence on the issue since it was put on the backburner while financial bills were prioritised. The next time we heard about it was in a ridiculous comment from the Speaker of the House which spurred jokes about “spiritual rape”.

The Sexual Offences Act needs to be amended and there is no reason for delay.

Tonight, Women’s Wednesdays: Bodily Autonomy will be held at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas on West and West Hill Streets at 6pm. It is free and open to the public and we will be giving particular attention to the issues of marital rape and abortion.

On Saturday, we will hold our annual International Women’s Day March and Expo. The march will begin at 9.20am from Eastern Parade and end at The Dundas on Mackey Street where the expo will be held. Bahamas Crisis Centre, Bahamas AIDS Foundation, Dignified Girl Project, Reparations Committee, Bahamas Psychological Association, and The Empowerment Group will be among the organisations participating in the day’s events.

There will also be free yoga session, self-defence demonstrations, Create Space art sessions by National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, and a storytelling workshop by writers Sonia Farmer and Yasmin Glinton as a part of the Illiterati workshop and story slam series. It is a fun, feminist, family-friendly event that centers women and girls, and the general public is welcome to attend. There will be food, drinks, and Pop Stop popsicles available for purchase on site.

Civil society is not the enemy

It is unfortunate that non-governmental organisations – often tasked with picking up the slack of the government – struggle to engage government agencies and actors. It is as though we have to beg to be seen and heard behind closed doors. I know it is frustrating to see people bantering back and forth in the media and wonder: “Why don’t they just talk to each other?”

In many cases, one party has made an attempt and has been ignored or outright denied the opportunity. The only way to get a response, then, is by making public statements. We send press releases, hold press conferences, organise marches and start petitions because we are not being respected by decision-makers. This needs to change. We should not have to go to these lengths when a conversation would be more productive.

The Department of Gender and Family Affairs should welcome the opportunity to meet with non-governmental organisations that have existed longer than the department itself and have engaged in advocacy and community programming in meaningful ways. The Minister of Social Services and Urban Development should want to hear from organisations that have been engaged in hurricane relief. It should want to received feedback from organisations and advocates that were present for their appearance before the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women Committee.

Government agencies should welcome the opportunity to engage with organisations and people with not only expertise, but critique that can lead to vast improvement when put to good use.

A part of the problem we have may be government actors think of themselves as powerful outside of the people who allow them to hold their positions and we, the people, do not correct them.

The power is the people. The people are the power. They would do well to understand that and act accordingly. People move, power shifts and it does not have to take five years.

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