LAST week, I attended the Symposium on Sexual Offences Legislation which focused primarily on amendments to criminalise marital rape.
The symposium, contrary to the way it was initially presented, was not a consultation. It began with two opposing presentations — one affirming that rape is violence regardless of relationship, and one filled with dangerous ideology about marriage, conflating sex and rape. This immediately gave the impression that the issue is debatable. It is not.
Only after the two opposing presentations was the amendment bill presented by the Attorney General. He read through it, providing comparisons to the existing legislation which was helpful.
Unfortunately, it was clear that many people in the room were seeing the bill for the first time — some because they had already decided to oppose it, regardless of what it contained, and some because they simply did not receive it from the government. This did not make for the most productive discussion; still, there was not much room for discussion on that day.
After the Attorney General spoke, questions were taken because he was not staying for the entire day. This was the only opportunity for people in the room who were not presenters to speak. Those contributions, of course, were to be limited to questions and comments about the way the language and intent of the bill, though some people took the opportunity to state that they do not believe women should have control of their bodies, married or not.
For the rest of the day, we all sat through presentation after presentation, and most of them were terrible. Most of them were by religious leaders who, as evidenced in the content of the presentations, have no regard for women. In fact, what was made abundantly clear was that the vast majority of religious leaders (who choose to speak on this issue) are more interested in protecting (their ideas about) marriage than protecting women from rape. They regard marriage as a way to control a spouse and they see the current marital rape exemption as perk — one they will not readily give up.
One religious leader said rape is rape, but it is different in marriage. He said when a man touches his wife “she becomes naturally aroused,” as though marriage causes women to automatically want to have sex with their husbands whenever their husbands are interested. We know that this is not true. It is outlandish.
The same man went on to ask, as if it is an absurd idea, if a man should ask his wife if she is consenting before sex. The man read some of the language on indecent assault and said husbands engage in those activities all the time.
Let’s be clear here: If there is no consent, it is not sex. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape. Marriage does not give one person ownership over the other. People in a marriage do not cease to be individuals and they do not give up their human rights. No one should be raped or otherwise sexually violated by anyone at any time. This is not debatable.
Another religious leader said: “We cannot protect women and unprotect men.”
It was clear then, if not before, that the people opposing the criminalisation of marital rape are doing so because they do not want to be prevented from or held accountable for the act of rape, to which many of them are admittedly accustomed.
They misuse religious text and bring up unlikely scenarios to make people believe protection against rape in marriage is a threat to men. They speak as though it is impossible for men to control themselves, to act with love, and to treat other people, including their wives, like human beings with the right to life and dignity and freedom from slavery. They make marriage sound like a hardship that we, especially women, should avoid at all cost.
It is not unusual for people to share their opinions. It is not unusual for disagreements to occur. What is unacceptable, however, is to disregard facts or fail to seek information, making the deliberate choice to listen to and spew anti-rights nonsense.
What we are discussing, with regard to marital rape, are not opinions. We are talking about human rights which include the right to life, liberty and security of person, protection from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. We are entitled to equal protection of the law.
All of these rights, set out within the first seven Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, make it clear that women, married or not, have the right to the protection of the law and to be treated as individuals whose rights exist regardless of relationships, whether legal or religious.
All of this is important to note. I raise this in the context of the symposium because we need to understand that what took place last week was an embarrassment, a waste of time, and the deliberate facilitation of religious fundamentalists who are not the least bit interested in protecting women from violence.
Their interest is in protecting marriage which they erroneously believe to be inherently religious and maliciously want to use as a shield to protect men from the consequences of their violent actions toward their wives.
They should not have been given a platform to push their agenda which is in complete opposition to the priorities of the government of The Bahamas which include the recognition, protection, and expansion of human rights.
A symposium is not a consultation. It is a series of presentations. We did not need the presentations that we were given. It is ridiculous that the agenda had more than one dozen speakers who spoke for no less than 15 minutes each. It was helpful to hear directly from a survivor. It was useful to have sexual offences legislation put in the Commonwealth and Caribbean contexts. It was important to have a walkthrough of the proposed bill.
It was irresponsible to schedule time for people to say whatever they wanted, steering us away from the real issue — that married women have no legal recourse if they are raped by their husbands and the government is obligated to make the necessary amendments to provide married women with legal protection and access to justice, equal to that available to unmarried women.
Both parts of the issue must be considered together. First, there is a gap in the law. Second, the government is obligated to fill the gap. There is nothing to debate there.
There ought to have been true consultation — not an exercise to placate religious fundamentalists who have been allowed to believe that their interpretations of religious text are more important than the lives of real human beings who have human rights and the duty of the government to protect those people and fulfill those rights.
The consultation should have focused on human rights, existing legislation, the gap between the two, and the proposal for filling that gap.
There is no need for debate about rights, who should have them, and when. That is already made clear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There is no need to debate the personhood of women or the obligation the government has to fulfill women’s rights. That is also made clear in several international mechanisms — which The Bahamas voluntarily adopted and ratified — including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which was ratified in 1993.
Treaty bodies have made clear recommendations to the government of The Bahamas to criminalise marital rape without exception. The government of The Bahamas must now act.
Consultation is important. It is not for sharing opinions, and it needs to be made clear that there are no opinions when it comes to human rights.
Human rights are an established fact; it is the realisation and fulfillment of human rights that we are still working toward.
People can decide if and when they would like to assert their human rights, but their disinterest in accessing certain rights does not mean they can curtail the access of others.
The hours spent at the symposium would have been better spent in true consultation.
It would have been useful to hear from survivors about their lived realities, the shortcomings of the existing legislation, (if and) how they would have been able to use the proposed amendments in their situations, and how it can be improved for their protection and access to justice.
It would have been useful to hear from feminist advocates with technical expertise on the current law, the law we need to have, and what must accompany changes in law which includes public education.
There was no room to talk about the definition of consent — critical to the amendment bill — and how it will be used in courts. No time was allotted for discussion. No information was shared about the timeline for bringing the bill, how stakeholders can engage going forward, and the public education that must come along with — and not be used as an excuse to stall — the amendment bill.
The government of The Bahamas needs to know that it is not off the hook. It has not fulfilled its obligation to civil society or the women of The Bahamas.
Consultation involves dialogue. It is not sitting and listening to handpicked people present their positions at length and undermine the exercise with fear mongering, misinformation, and religious rhetoric.
The walkthrough of the amendment bill was good, and more time should have been spent on it.
In fact, the side-by-side of the existing legislation and the proposed amendments should have been provided in print, and it should have been provided digitally well in advance so that people could prepare questions.
A feedback mechanism is necessary. It is not enough to invite a group of people to listen. We did not sign up for lessons.
The team at Equality Bahamas has certainly been studying human rights, International mechanisms such as CEDAW and Belém do Pará, the existing legislation, and amendments made in other countries. We prepared questions and recommendations.
It is unclear whether the organisers did a terrible job of managing time to ensure there was time for meaningful engagement or it was by design to ensure we had no opportunity to provide our feedback and engage in the process.
Either way, they need to come again. The symposium was unproductive and non-participatory.
We need to move the amendment bill forward as quickly as possible. This means we need a proper consultation exercise, and we need a timeline for the passing of the bill.
We should have dealt with this a long time ago, and the next best time to criminalise marital rape, without exception, is now.
birdiestrachan 6 months ago
If they are living in the same house sleeping in the same bed how will martial rape be proved
Since the devil is in the details perhaps a sweet heart is better
ThisIsOurs 6 months ago
sweethearts can be raped too. I remember two prominent married men charged with rape of a girlfriend. In both cases charges were predictably dropped after a few weeks
sheeprunner12 6 months ago
Is Alicia Wallace married????? If not, can she speak for married women???? Her website refers to her as "queer".
GodSpeed 6 months ago
Can just lie and say you were raped and some will.
M0J0 6 months ago
The problem lies when you place such a law, how can it be truly proved, there are many cases where a woman may simply act out of spite and say that they have been when they may have not. At the end of it all one cannot rape their spouse any which way it goes. I don't see the issue. Abuse is already a crime as it relates to spousal abuse so I don't see the issue of marital rape.
carltonr61 6 months ago
I gather that the church likewise could make laws for the state. It is just nasty negative bigotry to frame sex in marriage in a way that a wife is just an object without feelings and affection for her husband. It is clear that marriage rape is a mandate and they fear real data of wives opinion. The rape law is saying that if my wife sex me without my permission then she is nasty, a criminal and subject to divorce even though I place my hand on the Bible that til death do us part.
ScubaSteve 6 months ago
It's actually very, very, very simple: Rape is Rape whether you are single or married. And yes, females can always lie and claim they were raped. I'm sure that has occurred for hundreds and hundreds of years in the past and will continue for hundreds and hundreds of years in the future. That won't ever change. But the point to the article is... rape is rape and whether or not you are married to the person or not married to the person -- it is still RAPE.
sheeprunner12 6 months ago
If rape is under-reported among non-married persons of ALL ages and genders, imagine how miniscule are the numbers of married persons who will report rape in The Bahamas.
As a matter of fact, it will be useful for the Dept of Stats to disclose the number of rape victims who were legally married and reported a rape by a spouse.
This issue may be more of an informal, off the record social issue than something that can be supported by cases reported to the authorities or dealt with in the courts.
Will the laws change just to satisfy the few loud mouth females/feminists like Alicia Wallace and the local CEDAW activists?? Bahamian males in positions of power are stubborn mules, akin to Iranian mullahs. Presently, there is no rape in a Bahamian marriage. We will wait and see.
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