By MALCOLM STRACHAN
SOMEONE once said that being a Bahamian woman was a most difficult thing. There’s no doubt that’s true when we analyse the lack of growth we have had in the area of gender equality. While we are far better off than other countries in the developing world, we are light years behind where we need to be. And after Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis’ proposal that the government provide complimentary whistles to women (and children) as a method of rape prevention, the Bahamian people got in a rather good laugh.
There will be enough memes of the Opposition Leader to last the entire silly season, for sure. But who gets the last laugh here?
Certainly not our sisters and the mothers of our children. Indeed, they are the ones who still have to live with the fear of being accosted and violated – having their entire being invaded by another in a traumatising fashion. I often wonder if rape had been more of an equal opportunity offence, would our men – those who make up the whopping majority of our policy makers – not put forth prevention mechanisms that had real teeth?
It is not our goal to poke fun at Mr Davis over such a serious issue. To do that would miss the mark. However, all those who have had the power to increase punishments and preventative measures for rape and have failed to deliver deserve criticism.
In this regard, they have all failed us. Sisters of this Bahamaland, they have failed you.
Though rapes reported by Princess Margaret Hospital have declined in a five-year period dating back to last year, The Bahamas still is noted as a leader in the Caribbean region. Such an ugly statistic underscores the low value women hold in Bahamian society.
More importantly, such statistics given by PMH should include a footnote highlighting the reality that many women do not report incidents of rape.
And even more unfortunate, it seems the large majority of us – particularly men – fail to understand why that may be the case.
How can we posit that we support Bahamian women on this issue without looking at it from all its angles?
Could you imagine what it must feel like to have to endure such a violation and live in a society where gender-based violence has not yet been able to galvanise us toward its complete eradication? Such sluggishness can only be indicative of the cultural acceptance of gender-based violence. And as a result, rape continues to be part of the broader prevailing culture that permeates our country.
Patriarchal mindsets held by many Bahamian men and supported by some Bahamian women have led to an unsafe environment for our sisters, wives, mothers and daughters.
Davis’ potentially inadvertent display of lack of understanding of the issue may have him trying to dislodge his foot from his mouth for quite a while. And though the government, in particular, National Security Minister Marvin Dames, along with the RBPF Commissioner Anthony Ferguson, can be credited for their efforts on the overall impact on crime since the FNM became the government, rape continues to a problem.
During her visit to The Bahamas in December 2017, United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women of the Human Rights Council Dubravka Šimonovi - after just a week - was able to easily point out some of the systemic problems and point to the lack of political will to change.
Just take for instance the issue of marital rape - a topic controversial enough to send even the most vociferous political firebrand into hiding. Worse, in a “Christian” nation, pastors remain reluctant to condemn marital rape to the point that it should warrant a crime.
It’s so hard to believe that in 2020 such archaic principles continue to be so widely accepted in our society.
To that point, Davis’ suggestion reflected that he, and quite possibly his party, is not correctly contextualising solutions to the country’s problems. In that same vein, however, neither is the current administration.
Upon forming the current government, two items that should have served as foundational policy planks on gender-based violence would have been the Strategic Plan to Address Gender-Based Violence and the National Taskforce for Gender-Based Violence – both formed under the previous government. Nevertheless, what we’ve heard about their implementation has been sparse, generously speaking.
Furthermore, whether that is an issue of good ideas being left to collect dust when government changes is something the Bahamian people need to become more vocal about.
Good and workable ideas are good and workable ideas. Continuing on a course a previous administration was on is far from the worst thing in the world. Because here is something we must seriously consider: We can’t continue with the status quo and make suggestions to women that only help us to sleep better at night. Meanwhile, they are the ones who have to always have a man present. They have to feel the fear of being in dark places or pulling up to their driveway in a footrace to the front door.
No man in this country would want to live with that level of vulnerability.
It is absolutely insane that this is what we are resigned to as opposed to attacking this issue at its core. The solution to gender-based violence will only be successful is if it is driven by secure men who aren’t only able to view equality through a lens where they see themselves as being less powerful.
Our true power must now be exhibited through our willingness to relinquish it, where we must step in line with more mature thinking on these matters.
Similarly, Special Rapporteur Šimonovi also gave some great suggestions in her report. Most notably, when discussing the links between gender equality and sexual violence, she espoused a broader legal framework should be coupled with the relinquishing of patriarchal norms.
Last year, Director of the Bahamas Crisis Centre Dr Sandra Dean-Patterson, while voicing her concern over the number of rapes that have escalated in recent years, offered her sobering perspective to the media. As a leader and advocate for women’s rights in the country, she believes women have lost confidence in the judicial system.
And one can hardly blame them.
Until we incorporate crime prevention, mass public education and sensitivity training, and most of all, a cultural reset of the role men (and some women) believe women should have in Bahamian society. Indeed, in theory, that sounds easy. However, from a practical standpoint, we know this challenge will be no easy feat. Yet, that doesn’t mean that collectively we can’t get it done.
Much depends on it.