By FELICITY DARVILLE
WHEN Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States of America tomorrow, people all over the world will be watching the Inauguration ceremony to witness history in the making. What a proud moment it will be to see a woman of colour take the second highest leadership position in one of the greatest countries in the world!
As she is sworn in next to incoming President Joe Biden, the world also will be watching and praying that civil unrest does not arise amid complaints and threats from the supporters of President Donald Trump.
Women will be clutching their pearls and beaming with pride once Harris takes the stage at the White House in Washington. I remember reporting live from the American capital on January 20, 2009 for the first Inauguration of Barack Obama. Thanks to Debbie Bartlett, I was able to attend with a Bahamian delegation and report to Bahamians live on Gems 105.9fm. It was an unforgettable milestone in my career. The pride I felt watching Obama and his family become “the First Family” comes back to life as I prepare to watch another historic inauguration.
Bahamian women continue to make a history of their own in politics. They have risen to the occasion and stood boldly on the political forefront to make a difference in our elections. Many a successful campaign has been won due to the women architects who drew out the political plans, knocked on doors, gave speeches, inspired, nurtured and supported men along the way.
On January 19, 1959, 61 years ago, women suffragists in The Bahamas were denied the opportunity to present a petition to the members of the House of Assembly, demanding that women have the right to vote. Two years earlier, the first Women’s Suffrage movement meeting had taken place. Three thousand signatures were garnered for their first proposition to Parliament. These women fought not only for the right to vote for themselves, but also the right for all Bahamian men over the age of 21, property owners or not, to be able to vote. Despite the initial rejection, Suffragist Doris Johnson was able to make her appeal heard in the Magistrate’s Court. On February 23, 1961 a Bill to enable women to vote was enacted with effect from June 30, 1962. Bahamian women voted for the first time on November 26, 1962.
Outstanding women such as Doris Johnson, Mary Ingraham, Eugenia Lockhart, Mabel Walker Georgianna Symonette, Althea Mortimer and Albertha Isaacs stood at the forefront of activism for women and for equal rights for all during a time known as the “Quiet Revolution” of Bahamian politics.
Doris Johnson, became the first woman ever to contest a seat in the Bahamas House of Assembly. Even though she did not win her seat, she was appointed as the President of the Senate in 1968, making her the first woman Senator and the first woman President of the Senate. She worked with the Progressive Liberal Party for Independence, which occurred on July 10, 1973. Janet Bostwick became the first female Member of Parliament in 1982 with the Free National Movement. In 1997, FNM MP Rome Italia Johnson became the first Speaker of the House.
On May 3, 2002, another great day for Bahamian women went down in the history books when Cynthia “Mother” Pratt was sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security for the Progressive Liberal Party.
Another monumental day for Bahamian women in politics happened on December 11, 2020.
The first ever Women in Parliament session was held and two very important Resolutions were tabled on the floor of the House of Assembly.
One Resolution focused on the need to increase the quota of women in Parliament and political leadership. The other focused on the elimination of gender-based violence. Women in Parliament commemorated the 58th anniversary of the Enactment of the Right for Women to Vote, as well as the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
The 1995 Beijing Declaration was a Resolution adopted by the United Nations at the Fourth World Conference on Women to promulgate a set of principles concerning the equality of men and women.
Women NGOs from across Bahamian society came together to present these resolutions. Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie first contacted Marisa Mason-Smith with the vision for the first-ever Women in Parliament. Indeed, Youth in Parliament now holds successful mock sessions in the House of Assembly each year. Mason Smith, as national campaign coordinator for the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls (November 25 - December 10) had been leading the charge of advocacy and activism in this regard for the past eight years.
Zonta Clubs of New Providence and Nassau have been working together to promote the “Orange the World” campaign each year and have progressively moved from bringing awareness to actual activism for policy changes.
Mason Smith invited strategic partners to come together with Zonta to create the first Woman in Parliament Session. Those partners were the Department of Gender and Family Affairs (DGFA) the Caribbean Institute of Women in Leadership (CIWiL) and was held under the theme: “One Voice, One Purpose, Our Future” and supported by the UN theme: “Orange the World – Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!”
President of the Senate, Dr. Mildred Hall-Watson served as Speaker of the House of Assembly for the Women in Parliament session.
Senator Jasmin Dareus served as Deputy Speaker. The session was called to order by Monique Sands, President of Zonta Club of Nassau.
Former Senator and DGFA Director Dr Jacinta Higgs brought remarks, along with Marion Bethel, UN CEDAW Committee Member and Anessah Abdullah of the Office of the Prime Minister Sustainable Development Goals unit. Senator Dareus read the Resolution, and it was seconded by Charlene Paul, CIWiL chair.
A myriad of topics were covered, including the protection of women in frontline politics; women in education and training; women in poverty, housing and social security; women representation in the Family Islands; women’s leadership in times of disaster; and women’s access to justice. Women from a cross section of society were able to make presentations on these topics, including women educators, activists, NGO leaders, farmers and women with disabilities.
Senator Lisa Bostwick Dean spoke on Violence against Women, and Dr Theresa Adderley Smith, President of Zonta Club of New Providence spoke on Women and health. Leader of the Bahamas Constitution Party, Ali McIntosh spoke on women and human rights, and Brenda Pinder of Women United spoke on the economic empowerment of women.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Ismella Davis Delancey spoke on women in research laws and gender based violence data and statistics.
Senator Jennifer Dotson spoke on human trafficking, and Sharon Martin of the National Congress of Trade Unions pushed the Say No! to Workplace Harassment campaign.
The session ended with endorsements from Patricia Minnis, Office of the Spouse; Ann Marie Davis, spouse of the Opposition Leader; Dr Sanda Dean Patterson, Bahamas Crisis Centre; Terrence Bethel, International Men’s Day committee; Allison Maynard Gibson, Links Inc; Member of Parliament for Englerston Glenys Hanna Martin, and Lanisha T Rolle, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture and Sea Breeze MP.
Currently, there are 34 men MPs and just five women: Miriam Emmanuel, Lanisha Rolle, Shonnel Ferguson, Glenys Hanna Martin and Pakeisha Parker.
Only one woman represented in Cabinet, representing just 13 per cent of the total holding the Government’s portfolio.
With 51 per cent of women voters in the country, the aim is to balance the statistics in Parliament.