ALICIA WALLACE: True investment in women starts with the goverment


Alicia Wallace

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day has come and gone, but we will see photos, videos, articles, and other forms of media related to it for the rest of the week as we all go through our camera rolls, receive footage, and think about the messaging that has been sent over the past few days.

Two themes floated around this year, one coming from the International Women’s Day organisation and the more popular one coming from UN Women which has the tendency to take over global initiatives like this. The two themes were “Inspire Inclusion” and “Invest in Women.”

Last week, I covered the inadequacy of inclusion. It was once a major goal, and we have since learned that it does not yield the results we need. In many cases, it increases the burden on the few people who are selected for inclusion in spaces where they are the minority and are expected to represent everyone with their identities or they are ignored and excluded due to their dissenting views or the assumption that they are not good enough to be in the room, only granted a seat for optics. We cannot add people who have been historically and systemically excluded to spaces that are (occupied by people who are) hostile toward and expect them to be make an impact on the outcomes developed there. We have to make changes to the systems, spaces, and, yes, people, to create environments of possibility.

The “Invest in Women” theme is not at all new. This phrase is thrown around almost as often as the meaningless, corporatised “Empower Women.” The investments seem to be made in photoshoots that tokenise women in the private sector in an effort to prove that various companies are “investing” in women — the women who work for them, bringing significant value while, in many cases, being paid less than men doing work of equal value. International Women’s Day should not be a time to ask women to do anything for you — especially businesses — but to do something for us. What investments are you prepared to make? Even the Government of The Bahamas did not manage to make the most of the day.

I was surprised to see a contribution on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) credited to the Department of Gender and Family Affairs. The Department could have ceased to exist, for all we know, given its long-term silence. Even during the first week of Women’s History Month, leading up to International Women’s Day, there was no communication from the Department on its plans or lack thereof, much less information on events or other initiatives planned by other entities. That aside, the contribution on CEDAW was unsurprisingly, but obviously missing any acknowledgement of the reservations that The Bahamas has on Articles 2(a) on policy measures and 9(2) on nationality rights.

The Government of The Bahamas ratified CEDAW in 1993 and reserved on these Articles, indicating that it does not hold itself accountable on those issues or making the necessary changes to come into compliance with those parts of the Convention. The CEDAW Committee has since expressed that reservations are not only not an excuse for failure to act, but unacceptable as human rights are interdependent. In particular, Article 2, as explained by Swiss human rights lawyer and former CEDAW Committee Member Patricia Schulz (in the Equality Bahamas CEDAW Speaker Series), reservations on Article 2 are in complete contravention with the entire Convention as it relies on Article 2 — policy measures to eliminate discrimination against women and embodiment of the equality of women and men in national constitutions. This is what brings the rest of the Convention into reality — legal and policy changes.

In its Concluding Observations following the sixth periodic report of The Bahamas, the CEDAW Committee said it “remains concerned that the State party maintains reservations to article 2 (a), on the general legal obligations of States parties under the Convention, and to article 9 (2), on nationality.” It called on the Government of The Bahamas to “demonstrate its commitment to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women by withdrawing its reservations to articles 2 (a) and 9 (2) within a clear time frame in order to ensure the full applicability of the Convention.”

Other recommendations (direct quotes) by the CEDAW Committee which absolutely should have been included in the contribution by the Department of Gender and Family Affairs include:

  1. Set a clear time frame for a constitutional reform, supported by a comprehensive educational and awareness-raising campaign and the inclusive participation of civil society organisations, to expand constitutional protection from discrimination under article 26 (1) to include at least the grounds of sex and gender.

  2. Ensure, without delay, that a comprehensive review of existing legislation is conducted, that a comprehensive definition of discrimination against women is put forward, in line with the Convention, and that the principle of gender equality is integrated into all national laws.

  3. Enhance awareness among women and girls of their rights and the remedies available to them under the Convention, including through awareness - raising campaigns, in cooperation with civil society organisations and community-based women’s associations.

  4. Strengthen the authority and the regulatory and oversight roles of the [Department of Gender and Family Affairs] and ensure its autonomy for improved effectiveness in the execution of its mandate.

  5. Accelerate the adoption of the draft strategic plan for the Department and of the draft gender policy and include specific indicators and targets in the policy to facilitate the accountability of stakeholders.

  6. Establish, as a matter of priority, a national human rights institution with a broad mandate in full compliance with the Paris Principles and provide it with sufficient resources and a specific mandate for ensuring women’s rights.

  7. Develop an action plan to eliminate discriminatory gender stereotypes, which incite violence against women and girls, and establish a monitoring mechanism to assess the impact of such measures, in particular in relation to women and girls facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

None of these recommendations have been actioned by the Government of The Bahamas. In response to recommendations for constitutional amendments during the Universal Periodic Review, The Government of The Bahamas stated that it has no intention of undertaking a constitutional reform exercise of any kind.

In February 2022, a National Gender-Based Violence Law Review Forum was held in a format that was completely inappropriate, supposedly as a part of the discriminatory law review process within which UN Women were engaged. More than two years later, there is no discriminatory law review report, and no one is willing to share a date for its release or to simply say that it, like so many other documents and processes, has been shelved or otherwise abandoned.

The government has done nothing to raise awareness of CEDAW or women’s human rights. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs is completely ineffective, even when considering its limited resources. The Strategic Plan to Address Gender-Based Violence was unearthed during the drafting and consultation on the gender-based violence bill which has also been shelved. No human rights institution has been established.

In a lazy and insulting move, the government instead established a parliamentary committee which does not come close to a national human rights institution and will likely fade into the background and be forgotten, and we can see that this has already begun. There is still no action plan to address gender stereotypes which fuel gender-based discrimination and gender-based violence.

Investing in women, in the truest sense, has to begin with the government. It is not about fancy brunches or overpriced one-time events. It is about making it possible for women to be free from violence and discrimination, and to not only have equality in opportunities, but in outcomes. This means establishing a national gender machinery, at the Ministry level, and allocating an adequate budget, hiring technical experts, and investing in cross-Ministry training for frontline staff and decision-makers. It requires a significant investment in public education and support of civil society organisations that are actually advocating for and working toward substantive equality. It is the dismantling of old, oppressive systems and the development, with the leadership of women and girls, of new, robust systems and processes that center women and girls and respond to our needs.

The government has not done what is required to promote, expand, and increase access to women’s human rights. Its participation in international human rights mechanisms appears to be perfunctory and disingenuous.

Until we see the investment made, we cannot take it seriously when it mentions “supporting” women, because we know it does not mean all women. Supporting all women requires an investment in the women who are systematically and routinely left out, creating opportunities for them to not only participate but to lead, recognising their expertise in their own experiences.

Whenever we see the hashtag #InvestInWomen, we need to ask where they put their money today or yesterday, and where they plan to put it tomorrow. Gender equality will not come for free. There is a price to be paid for being so far behind, so reluctant to change, and so committed to false pretenses for so long that people begin to believe they are real. Transformation will, indeed, take time as much as it will take technical expertise and commitment, and we need the money on the table now. Government, you go first.


1 Join Feminist Book Club. This month, we are reading Evil Eye by Etaf Rum, a Palestinian author who also wrote the New York Times bestseller A Woman is No Man. “After Yara is placed on probation at work for fighting with a racist coworker, her Palestinian mother claims the provocation and all that’s come after were the result of a family curse.” Equality Bahamas and Poinciana Paper Press will host the meeting to discuss Evil Eye on Wednesday, March 20 at 6pm, both at Poinciana Paper Press, 12 Parkgate Road, and online. Register to join Feminist Book Club at tiny.cc/fbc2024.

2 Attend the What More Y’all Want?!” collaborative exhibition. This is the first event in the ANTI series by Poinciana Paper Press. What More Y’all Want?! is a call-and-response interactive work that invites people to answer the ridiculous question posed by people who claim women “already have everything.” Join us on Saturday, March 16, at Poinciana Paper Press, 12 Parkgate Road, to let everyone know exactly what we want. Be ready to try letterpress printing and for your work to become a part of a loud, raw zine.


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