|The independent woman?|
Published: Jul 30, 2012
Amidst the childish display of tit for tat politics surrounding former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham’s farewell speech, we can be most thankful for the unanimous support on the planned referendum to end gender discrimination.
We can breathe a sigh of relief that our politicians are able to put the interests of the Bahamian people first. But why in our fortieth year of independence are women still fighting for equal rights?
The Free National Movement (FNM) administration sought to eliminate discrimination against women from the constitution through a referendum in February 2002. Yet, the vehement opposition of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) at the time ultimately led to its failure.
While late is better than never, it is astounding that Prime Minister Perry Christie, when asked by The Nassau Guardian if the PLP’s stance against the 2002 referendum was a setback to women, said “no”.
No? Twelve years into the 21st century and women are still fighting for their rights? This, Mr. Prime Minister, is not acceptable. As we prepare to celebrate Emancipation Day, a day to mark the end of slavery in the British Empire with the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, discrimination continues today not by the color of your skin, but by gender.
To have even opposed the original constitutional referendum is difficult to comprehend. Why then even propose such a referendum? Such indifference to gender equality is concerning, particularly under the cloak of the church.
In 2002, the PLP chose to side with members of the religious community who were upset they were not consulted about the proposed changes. If some of our esteemed religious leaders were so offended by the lack of consultation, we question their commitment to the greater good. Why does gender equality even require consultation? Surely, our religious leaders believe gender equality is a basic human right?
Christie’s response to The Nassau Guardian on why the PLP plans a referendum in light of historical opposition provides some insight.
“I think the PLP’s opposition to the referendum was that you should never do something against the will of the people, and the FNM was actually acting against the will of the people,” he said.
He went on to say: “It was not a question of a judgment as to the substance of it; it was a judgment of the process. We attacked the process and we were successful in attacking the process. Now the by-product of it was that you say it wasn’t passed. Yes, it wasn’t passed, but we were never motivated against any issue on the referendum. We were motivated against the fact that it was being imposed on the Bahamian people against their will.”
By the prime minister’s account, the referendum on gender equality “was being imposed on the Bahamian people against their will” because there was no consultation with the church. The Bahamas is a Christian nation, but the church does not and should not represent the will of all Bahamians.
Under this veil of moral righteousness to end gender discrimination, the PLP must espouse why it supported the church, the purported leader of moral righteousness, to oppose equal rights for women some 10 years ago.
If the FNM was acting against the will of the people, it was the duty of the opposition to attack the issue on the referendum, not the process. Arguing on a technicality of the process of a referendum at the expense of equality is not a justifiable position.
Opposing the elimination of gender discrimination 10 years ago was wrong on any grounds, and even more so under the blessing of the church.
However, the PLP deserves praise for promoting this important referendum within its first 100 days. A party that can reverse its position shows strength in moving towards the greater good.
It is now the PLP’s responsibility to educate Bahamians about gender equality to garner their support to pass this referendum. We encourage the PLP to place this referendum before the people early in its tenure. Bahamian women cannot wait another 10 years to be considered equal under our constitution.
The FNM reaffirmed its support to end gender discrimination when Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis said: “I would encourage all Bahamians to vote for equality for women.”
We assume the church has received ample consultation this time.