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“Senate postings highlight gender issues”
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“Senate postings highlight gender issues”

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Alicia Wallace picRecent appointments to the national Senate raise questions about commitment to gender equality, writes Alicia Wallace, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Nassau, Bahamas. 

On December 11, 2016, Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner became the first woman to serve as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament in The Bahamas. This followed a petition by seven Free National Movement (FNM) Members of Parliament to the Governor General to replace Leader of the FNM Hon. Hubert Minnis with Mrs. Butler-Turner. The FNM’s four Senators — appointed by Minnis — resigned following the vote of no confidence, allowing Butler-Turner to appoint Senators to serve at her pleasure. 

Amidst the confusion and accusations of betrayal, a large (non-geographical) constituency supported this move, recognising in it democracy at work, a signal of a slow but inevitable shift in Bahamian politics, and a step forward for women in political leadership.

At the time, there was hope for a substantial shift to free us of the plague-like two-party system. Women, feminists, and supporters of women’s rights looked forward to potential benefits of a woman breaking precedent and having power to influence the national agenda. Instead, widespread disappointment, shock, and anger are the results of Butler-Turner’s first move in this position. 

Leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Branville McCartney was appointed to the Senate as Leader of Opposition Business. McCartney failed to support the marital rape bill tabled by Butler-Turner in 2009 and reiterated his position in 2012 saying, “I don’t think it should be illegal. I maintain that. I don’t think there should be an act or law for raping a spouse.”

It was officially announced on December 19, 2016 that Rodney Moncur, along with Jude Knowles and Monique Gomez, would also be appointed to the Senate. Moncur is known for his outlandish behavior and reckless commentary. He adamantly opposed the marital rape bill, referred to birth control pills as “devil’s pill” and demanded women “take man’s seed,” referred to constitutional amendment Bill #4 in the 2016 gender equality referendum as “witchcraft,” and encouraged Bahamians to join him at a beach party instead of voting in the 2017 general election. 

The move to appoint McCartney and Moncur is a direct dismissal of Bahamian women and women’s rights. Butler-Turner said there is “strength in diversity,” but diversity need not come at the cost of the most vulnerable among us. It only holds merit insofar as it spurs collaboration and cooperation, and brings added acceptance and perspective that diminish discrimination. It is possible to prove willingness to work across party lines without putting the country in the hands of people who disregard the humanity of half its population. Marginalised communities cannot afford such compromises, and to make this exchange for political expediency is an act of self-interest and poor judgment indicative of disinterest in the plight of women and girls.

Per capita, The Bahamas has the highest instance of rape in the Caribbean region, and is one of ten countries with the highest rates in the world. In 2012, Dr. Bernard Nottage stated that there are nearly 1,200 reported cases of domestic violence in the country, and it was found that 25 per cent of murders in the region result from domestic disputes. In 2011, Butler-Turner – then Minster of State for Social Services – stated that domestic violence accounted for at least half of the murders in 2010 and 2011.

During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence 2016, #LifeInLeggings launched and quickly went viral throughout the Caribbean. Hundreds of women shared stories of sexual violence, ranging from street harassment to rape. The danger of having McCartney and Moncur occupy 50 per cent of the Opposition’s seats in the Senate is obvious while the specific usefulness of appointing them, outside of the impression of an alliance – which could have been achieved in other ways – remains unclear.

While Butler-Turner is the first woman to hold the position of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, she has not come to save or represent women. As a reminder, she defended MP Richard Lightbourn after his suggestion that unmarried women be forcibly sterilized after the birth of their second child. Butler-Turner is not the quintessential Bahamian woman in leadership, but acting with political longevity in mind.

As we demand better of our leadership, let us remember that every woman is not a women’s rights advocate; however, women’s rights advocates are well-placed to influence women in leadership. We must lead the conversation about inclusivity and diversity in government to elevate the nation. If we do not first consider the lives of our most vulnerable, we are not doing our jobs as leaders, advocates, activists, educators, or citizens. Democratic rights do not begin and/or end with voting; we all have a role to play in holding our representatives accountable and reminding them of their commitments to serve all of us, the Bahamian people.

Reach Alicia on Twitter @_AliciaAudrey

Photo credit: –Sam– I Don’t Want Your Discrimination via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a writer and blogger, living and working in Nassau, Bahamas. I’m a women’s rights activist and youth advocate. Trained in economics and finance, I believe improving the educational system will result in a higher rate of civic participation. My work has been in the non-profit world. I am Director of Hollaback! Bahamas, a global movement to end street harassment, co-founder of Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination, and Director of Equality Bahamas’ educational campaign

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 Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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