Opinion

The fiction and fantasy of Perryland

August 28, 2014

We are living in a tale of at least two countries with starkly parallel realities. In the experience of the vast majority of Bahamians, the country continues to sink to new lows, with few hopeful signs.
For many, it is the worst of times. Many Bahamians barely have enough money to pay for groceries or to put gas in their vehicles. Many have lost their homes, businesses and dreams.
For his part and those benefiting from the largesse doled out by the PLP to cronies and benefactors, it is the best of times for Prime Minister Perry Gladstone Christie, who lives in a cosseted bubble of privilege, fiction and fantasy that may be described as Perryland.
The personal anthem of Christie in Perryland appears to be Pharrell Williams' song, "Happy":
It might seem crazy what I'm about to say,
Sunshine she's here, you can take a break,
I'm a hot air balloon that could go to space,
With the air, like I don't care baby, by the way,
Because I'm happy,
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof,
Because I'm happy...
Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah,
Well, give me all you got, and don't hold back, yeah,
Well, I should probably warn you I'll be just fine, yeah,
No offense to you, don't waste your time,
Here's why...
Hey, come on,
(Happy)
Bring me down,
Can't nothing bring me down,
My level's too high...

Under the current administration it continues to get worse from year to year and sometimes seemingly from month to month. There is widespread dread that there are approximately three years left in this term for the PLP.
Crime unabated
The virulence of crime, which the PLP promised to check, remains virtually unabated. The bloody carnage at Fox Hill at the beginning of the year, which left four dead and seven wounded, was a prelude to the frenzy of murders throughout 2014, with many especially bloody weekends, including six people last weekend, including a government official and another individual shot on the weekend who died yesterday.
In 2011, Christie and the PLP were largely blaming the FNM for the high level of violence, promising significant relief if elected to office, especially with the much-touted Urban Renewal 2.0. In a national address as opposition leader in 2011 Christie declared:
"...The tsunami of violence sweeping our nation was never inevitable. It tells you an important reason for the escalation of crime in The Bahamas is poor governance."
So what or who is responsible for the tsunami of violence three years later? On crime, mortgage relief and other policy areas, a mealy-mouthed prime minister is either not leveling with Bahamians or is painting a rosy picture which he alone must see through his rose-colored glasses and crystal ball.
With the introduction of a value-added tax next year, the poor will become poorer and prospects for an already struggling and hollowed-out middle class may worsen significantly. Some businesses may shutter their doors or reduce staff levels, with unemployment and the need for social assistance both rising.
The very day that the House of Assembly passed the biggest tax hike in Bahamian history, the self-absorbed prime minister (and minister of finance) was absent for the vote.
Instead, in what must be one of the more arrogant, callous and indifferent acts of his public career, he jetted off to Las Vegas on his birthday weekend, recalling the popular legend of Emperor Nero playing the lyre and singing while Rome burned.
Insensitivity
In a stunning display of insensitivity Emperor Christie and his entourage headed to Vegas for a pampered weekend, where he could celebrate his birthday in grand style, with his accommodations not paid for by the government, according to Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, but the travel presumably paid for by the very taxpayers on whom his government was passing a tax hike. Viva, Las Vegas!
We may never know the true cost and the price paid by the country for the Vegas extravaganza. Perhaps what happens in Vegas really does stay in Vegas.
Following his birthday weekend jaunt to Las Vegas, the prime minster returned home to further gamble away the future of the Bahamian people. We still do not know the results of the attorney general's meetings with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) concerning web shop gambling.
What we do know, is that Christie broke his promise to abide by the results of the gambling referendum. In a disgraceful betrayal of the national good, he is preparing to legalize a private lottery system that will further enrich numbers bosses to the tune of hundreds of millions and eventually over a billion and counting at the expense of poor and middle-class Bahamians.
A national lottery would likely get a green light from the FATF and better secure the country against certain money laundering activities. More importantly, a national lottery would provide the government with a source of significant ongoing revenue for things such as education, cultural development and sports.
Instead, in the world of Perryland, already fat cats will get even wealthier as living standards continue to decline for many Bahamians. Perry Christie is not a man of the people.
Long ago and faraway, many still believed the Christie shtick that he and the contemporary PLP were the man and the party of great compassion, especially for the poor. That patina of empathy has faded.
The stark reality is that the upper echelons of today's PLP are made up mostly of elitists whose claims of love for the common man and woman ring hollow. It is the FNM that now has a demonstrably superior record of social development and concern for the poor.
Following in the footsteps of Sir Lynden Pindling, Christie used the good people of his constituency to get elected, often doling out favors, but never significantly enhancing the infrastructure and quality of life of his constituency.

Extravagance
The elitism of the upper echelons of the PLP is one of extravagance and frequent luxury travel, of high coppice and entitlement, swarms of police outriders, luxury vehicles and pampered lifestyles, all the while boasting of a love for the poor.
As even more Bahamians now accept as bogus the PLP's claim of championing gender equality, the ruse is wearing thinner that it is the party of the people.
Meanwhile, the make-believe that is Perryland is collapsing. Even as Emperor Christie adores the trappings of office, his moral authority on policy matters has dwindled to next to nothing and his political authority is being shattered by a revolt on the PLP backbench and murmurings from Cabinet colleagues.
Considerably before Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins' scathing and broad-based assault on Christie in the House of Assembly, respect for and the credibility of the prime minister were already at rock-bottom throughout the country and within certain quarters in the PLP.
The comedy of incompetence and government-run-amuck that is the Christie administration continues to stun much of the public, with a Cabinet largely out of control and a prime minister too weak or too unwilling to rein in some of the worst excesses.
He remains intimidated by Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller, who should have been fired as BEC chairman weeks ago. The strange affair of Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells and that infamous letter of intent has further weakened a seemingly punch-drunk and embattled Christie.
Investigations he promised into matters concerning Miller and Wells will likely come to nothing, as have most of the investigations he promised over a 40-year public career.
The PLP is widely loathed, and Christie is so vastly unpopular that internal dissent within the PLP has risen dramatically, with the revolt of the backbench symptomatic of the prime minister's declining fortunes and weakness.
Rollins, Wells and Marco City MP Gregory Moss have struck sensitive nerves with Christie and the PLP, with the party hammered internally and externally for failing to fulfil key promises.
But in the make-believe of Perryland it's a different story. In response to Moss' assertion of the administration's failure to fulfil certain promises, Christie deflected that his government has five years to meet its promises and remains on track to meet its goals.
Except that, in the real world where most Bahamians live, quite a number have already lost their homes waiting on the PLP's promised mortgage relief. In the real world, those 10,000 new jobs in one year never materialized. In the real world, the promised National Health Insurance has not materialized in the time frame promised.
Christie promised in his crime address, "We intend to double our investment in education over the next five years", which suggests gradually over the course of five years. Instead the education budget was cut.
Christie recently said that, when one is in opposition, one can say what one wants. He should know. He is the master of promising heaven and earth. Having failed to provide either, today he retreats even further into a world of fiction and fantasy.
It must be nice to escape to Perryland or to Las Vegas for one's birthday. Sadly, the vast majority of Bahamians have to endure the escapism and fantasies of a prime minister and government who are wrecking the real world country in which most of us live.

o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Did Andre Rollins hijack the Bahamian Parliament

August 27, 2014

There's a lot of talk lately on radio shows, in social media, in grocery stores, in line at the chicken shacks, on bank lines and in private and government offices around Nassau about what Dr. Andre Rollins did or didn't do, said or shouldn't have said, during recent debates in Parliament and in the time that preceded his election to the House of Assembly as a PLP member of Parliament.
So many people have so much to say about Rollins' handling of political/government affairs in the House and in the media.
But all this talk about "Rollins should have known all along what the PLP was about" and chosen not to be a part of it, if he was in such great opposition to the PLP's methods and (unspoken) philosophies from the beginning, a sentiment being uttered by PLPs, FNMs, and DNAs alike, is really just amounting to spitting in the wind.
First of all, if Rollins didn't know what he was really and truly getting into, which may be a lesser possibility but a possibility nonetheless, then he also would not have known that the actions of the governing party could or would aggrieve him to the extent that they have, or that he would have become so impassioned about them that he would pitch a fit (or three) in the parliamentary debates and sessions.
It's also possible that Dr. Rollins knew very well what he was getting into, but sincerely thought he could make a real difference and that the PLP, as a unified group, would have been more attendant to his concerns.
But, what if neither of those possibilities was the reality?
What if Dr. Rollins knew about and considered - when he entered into politics and when he decided to cross over to the larger PLP that was ready and willing to embrace new blood to satisfy the party's own political agenda - all the possible ramifications and obstacles that would meet him along his walk with the PLP, but still decided to join them anyway?
What if, in fact, Dr. Rollins knew exactly what he was or could be getting into and foresaw the dissension between himself and his party, but chose to move forward anyway, in order to position himself strategically to create an unprecedented level of disruption within the party?
The changing landscape
Most young people were and, some are still, being taught to get a job, fit in, demonstrate ability and work their way up, doing whatever they have or need to do, in whatever capacity, until they can do differently.
But young people, nowadays, don't sit still for too long; the average time spent on one job is about two years. In a constantly evolving world driven by constantly evolving technologies and communications, and ferocious competition, it is almost problematic for an individual to believe he or she can get comfortable in one place for a long time; tomorrow's picture could easily be very different from today's.
By the same token, employers know that they have to remain modern; their company mandates and visions have to be focused on things that younger people find imperative: making improvements in their world, and not just making money for money sake.
Employers have to embrace new or restored ideologies and make concerted and consistent efforts to evolve with the universal mentality of the people they (now) hire.
Young professionals are primarily concerned today about growing by challenging the prevailing norms, preserving sustainable environments, committing to charitable causes and changing the world. And they're actually doing it.
For the PLP or FNM, as the two primary and longstanding political parties in this country, it must be obvious now, if it wasn't already, that the same old mechanisms and the tired old political claptrap is not what young politicians or young people are interested in.
And if the time comes for them to behave differently, in opposition to the norms, they will. When they have an opportunity to change the world, or in this case the political landscape, they will change it. And they will do whatever it takes to change it. They have new ideas, sharper tools, and they have more energy. This is not to say that they don't need certain wisdoms of the people who went before them, but young people and young politicians have something unlike most who did go before them; they are willing to take incredible risks. They will take whatever chances necessary to make the grandest statement and evoke the greatest change.
No mistake?
All that said, what if Rollins knew precisely what he was up against and chose to go against it anyway?
What if Rollins saw the PLP as a point of entry, to get the proverbial elder-advised 'foot in the door', and then create the beginning of a general uprising against the establishment? What if it was his intention all along to gain that access and to play by the rules until he could change them, or at least bring about the movement needed to change them, by using himself as the guinea pig?
Many are asking why he did not resign from his post as Gaming Board chairman, as he resigned from his position as party whip. But, given all of the above, and anything you could think to add to it, really, why would he resign?
Look back at history. Look back at Bahamian sociopolitical history. Do you remember clearly who resigned and why? Maybe not so much.
Do you remember more clearly who was fired and why?
It is far more memorable to be fired in politics or by specific politicians, than to resign. If you are fired, the impact is far-reaching and long-lasting among the citizenry. The fact that you were fired from such a position as the one Dr. Rollins held, and under such conditions, resonates among the people for many years to come.
It is regarded as a greater injustice in the hearts and minds of the people. They will see the person doing the firing as the wrongdoer and the person being fired as the wronged, and they will sympathize with the latter, especially when he is standing on principle.
Will you ever forget what was done to Edmund Moxey?
Take a look at the people who are supporting Rollins in his recent acts and words of defiance; they are mostly young(er) people. Compare that to the majority who condemn him for it; they are the not-so-young. This is not to say that older people have exceeded their 'use-by' dates, but, which grouping will matter most significantly, as an electorate, in the next 15 to 20, or 40 more years?
Current and staunch party members, PLP or FNM, must not regard Rollins' or any other young political candidate's actions as random or label her or him a firebrand. There is more at play than meets the eye.
o Facebook.com/politiCole.

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Confronting the real issue(s) in the gender equality debate pt. 2

August 25, 2014

This piece concludes a series that has sought to unravel some of the issues raised during the current debate on gender equality. The positive feedback and support from both men and women following the publication of the first part has been overwhelming and encouraging, signaling the fact that Bahamians understand what is at stake. It also confirms that our people know that which is right and are committed to fairness and equality.
The public discourse over the last few weeks has left many confused as to the actual topic in focus. This is because certain interest groups and persons have turned a simple discussion about granting Bahamian women the same rights as Bahamian men as well as gender equality for certain men into any and every thing including a performing arts theater, a court of law, a religious but not spiritual seminar and a forum for voicing concerns over illegal migration or homophobia or foreign persons. We conclude this two-part series by looking at the real issue(s) in this debate.
Distractions and irrelevant additions
One of the things we have mastered over the years is the art of adding irrelevant points to a debate. While the motivation for introducing distractions to public discourse include ignorance, a confused state of mind and a genuine concern, in some cases the underlying objective is to create mischief.
It is a well-known fact that in interpreting the law, the judiciary will often consider the provisions of the law and the intention of Parliament in promulgating a piece of legislation. The prime minister, attorney general, Constitutional Commission and other parliamentarians have clearly stated that the proposed amendments to our constitution to provide for gender equality will not change the definition of marriage under the relevant laws and will not allow for same-sex marriage in The Bahamas.
Dispelling the same-sex marriage bogeyman
In the event that this is not sufficient or there remains any doubt, reference needs to be made to the document that is the subject of the debate - the constitution. Article 26 of the constitution provides that "no law shall make any provision which is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect, except under prescribed circumstances which include laws with respect to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death or other matters of personal law." In essence, unless this specific provision is altered, marriage will continue to be defined as a union between a man and a woman. Section 21 (1) of the Matrimonial Causes Act, Chapter 125 clearly states that a marriage shall be void if the parties are not respectively male and female.
Was this just aimed at further complicating the discussion or is it designed to invoke the emotions of Bahamians? If the commentators have genuine concerns as true Bahamians, they should just propose alternative wording which removes the ambiguity they felt existed in the draft bills, rather than make this an issue for controversy. The saying is ever so true that if a person is not a part of the solution, he or she is a part of the problem. We are seeking solutions, not just persons that specialize in highlighting problems. Now that the Constitutional Commission has decided to revise the wording of bills numbers two and for to address the genuine concerns of the Bahamian people, it is hoped that we will be able to put this matter to rest and continue with the education of our people.
An alternative to the proposed changes
An interesting proposal has also emerged in this debate and that is, rather than changing the constitution to give Bahamian women the same rights as Bahamian men, the constitution should be revised to take away the privileges which Bahamian men have enjoyed for four decades with a view to putting all of us in the same position. This proposal is flawed in that it ignores international standards and does not compensate Bahamian men and women for the 41 years of injustice and discrimination.
Additionally, the proposal begs the question as to where the inventors of this new solution have been hitherto. Were they so busy developing this plan aimed at righting the wrong of gender inequality for all these years? Could it be that their creativity and brilliance was aroused as soon as it became apparent that the government is seeking to address this issue? The logical conclusion seems to be that they have found their religion and voice at a strategic and convenient time to question why men were given these rights in the first place. Hence, rather than give the Bahamian woman what is rightfully hers, they have taken the view that Bahamians should no longer have this right if women want the same rights.
That being said, if the goal is to bring about true gender equality, an additional question should be posed to the populace at the referendum. The question should seek the views of Bahamians on whether the exclusive rights granted to men and denied to women in our constitution should be revoked to promote equality. In essence, the questions should be phrased such that the outcome is either an expansion of all constitutional rights to all Bahamians including women or reduction of existing rights given to men to put all Bahamians, regardless of gender on equal footing.
The government and the debate
It is important that the quality of the debate is maintained at a high level and we remain civil to one another in spite of differing views. We must not allow the discussion to deteriorate in depth and substance such that we lose sight of the ultimate objective of the current proposals. Our political leaders, the religious community, civic organizations, professional bodies and the media must play their part and be responsible in the dissemination of accurate information to the general public.
The government, for its part, should ensure that the education process is comprehensive and effective in enlightening the populace and allaying any fears or concerns. More importantly, the government should be open to constructive criticisms, genuine concerns and reasonable proposals for amendments to the draft bills aimed at providing clarity on the issues. The government should also engage and enlist the support of non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders to pass its message along.
Conclusion
And so this piece concludes where it started; is the opposition to granting Bahamian women equal rights justified? It is apparent that the battle here is based on ideologies, complexes and loyalty to the status quo. Are we really progressive as a people or do we just delight in opposing any and everything? Are our Bahamian brothers secure enough to support an initiative that grants their Bahamian sisters equality? Do Bahamians trust Bahamian women to be patriotic and protect our cherished country and citizenship? If all the concerns are addressed and clarity provided, will we still vote against gender equality?
Once we have addressed the unclear aspects of the proposed bills, can we now move forward to have a sensible debate on gender equality in The Bahamas? If all the issues considered in this two part series have been ironed out, what stands in our way as Bahamians from doing that which is right? Is there an underlying issue or philosophy behind the opposition by some to gender equality in The Bahamas? This writer submits that those who oppose the principle of gender equality and equal rights for Bahamian women in particular have the mindset that Bahamian women are no more than chattel or property. These individuals believe that we, the Bahamian women, are inferior to men and lesser human beings than our male counterparts.
In the final analysis, the Bahamian women and the new generation of Bahamians will be watching and listening. It is said that action speaks louder than words. It is not enough to say with mere words that you support equal rights for women; you must prove it by your actions. In the words of the late Maya Angelou, we "will forget what you said and what you did, but we will never forget how you made us (the Bahamian women) feel" in our own country.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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Leaving the nest

August 24, 2014

"Your children are not your

children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you."
- Kahlil Gibran
(Author's note: This time of the year marks the moment for many parents and children when those we have lovingly and protectively raised leave the nurturing nest for the first time, bound for a school far from home and a new life, quite separate and apart from the one both parent and child have shared since that child's birth. Therefore this week, we are revisiting a column that first appeared in 2012, one that still resonates with those who are taking first flight and those who are left with one less in the nest.)
Just about this time every year, parents and students alike feverishly run around, making last minute arrangements for the re-opening of school with uniforms, new shoes, books, lunch boxes and school bags usually very high on the list of back-to-school purchases.
However, for some students, going back to school this fall is not the same annual routine that has been repeated over the years. For them, their purchases will include airline tickets, rental cars and hotel accommodations, because, for the first time, they will be leaving the nest of their home and country and traveling to school abroad. Therefore this week, we would like to Consider This... what are some of the sentiments facing parents and students alike, who, for the first time, are faced with leaving the nest?
It is amazing how fast the years fly by. On reflection, parents can vividly recall the birth of their children, and their early years of participation in church, school and extra-curricular activities. With the slowly advancing years come the "trials and tribulations" of childhood which children often believe are life-transforming, if not "world-ending", but which parents, through the wisdom of their years, recognize as inconsequential in the greater scheme of things, almost always ultimately fading into memory's abyss of oblivion. But the triumphs and failings that often confront youthful exuberance all factor into the development of the child's personality that will contribute to character building and will serve as a moral compass later in life.
Early childhood is also a time when children learn the importance of "the other", that is the existence and importance of persons beyond themselves, where friendships, some lifelong, are formed and developed. Some of my closest and deepest friendships to this day include persons whom I have known since our days in Kindergarten at St. Joseph's Catholic School on Boyd Road.
Through the years, as youthful life meanders through the streams of time, a child's values are refined and crystallized into a body of beliefs and volumes of values that will guide them through pleasant and fulfilling experiences as well as distasteful and turbulent challenges, ultimately combining to enrich and enhance their view of the world into which they are about to embark as young adults.
Suddenly, and almost without warning, the time arrives where the all-important question of the career path the student will pursue is presented. Accordingly, the last year in high school is filled with plans for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) and the dreaded Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Examinations (BGCSE), while simultaneously completing the essential and at times intimidating college applications.
The final semester of a high school student's career is saturated with sentiments about graduating and more importantly about which school abroad they will be invited to attend, if they decide not to attend the College of The Bahamas for further studies. Those students who decide to go abroad will spend much of that summer saying goodbye to one phase of their lives and preparing to leave The Bahamas, often accompanied by family members who will make the pilgrimage, with understandable ambivalence, to the mutually agreed upon - and sometimes long dreamed of - institution of higher learning.
The departure date finally arrives and with over-packed luggage and some family members in tow, the newly-minted freshman college student departs The Bahamas on a life-transforming sojourn which will forever be established in their being as perhaps not their first, but certainly their longest time away from that nurturing nest they have enjoyed for their whole lives.
Over the next few days, the student is deluged by conflicting sentiments of joyful anticipation, reserved anxiety and cautious optimism about their unfolding future. It is understandable that the student is nervous but excited, flooded with bitter-sweet sentiments of the joy of embarking on a new experience, while simultaneously sad about leaving the home of family and friends. Above all, the freshman is grateful for the prospective college experience, proud of the achievements of earlier years that made it all possible and glad that they heeded their parents' admonitions that hard work pays off and that good things happen to good people who give their best to every effort, no matter how apparently insignificant or inconsequential it might seem at the time.
The student is also grateful for the teachers who have assisted in shaping that person's world-view, both positively and otherwise, and for the opportunity to travel abroad extensively at a tender age. Some of these nostalgic sentiments are temporarily put aside, replaced by the hours spent shopping for college paraphernalia, ever-mindful that the dormitory room will be shared with another person, so the living space will be limited.
The parents share similar sentiments. There are mixed emotions of the need to let your child go into the world, fully cognizant that you have done all that you can to prepare your child for this day, while simultaneously recognizing that the world, albeit cruel at times, offers many wonderful opportunities for those who are prepared to embrace them.
Finally, the day arrives for the parent to deliver the freshman offspring to the school and depart. Although anxious, the parents are reassured in the knowledge that their child, who has been a constant presence in the home, with intermittent periods of respite for camp and related activities, and who will not be home until Christmas, has been given a great start in life these past 17 years. And, while parents fully experience momentary lapses of uncertainty, it is also their deep and abiding faith that provides the comfort and assurance that their child will be protected and preserved during these periods of absence and will make the most of the opportunity that has been afforded at this moment in time.
And therefore, after all the final farewells, the hugs and kisses and the torrents of tears exchanged in anticipation of the pain of separation, in recognition of the infinitely positive possibilities that lie ahead, parents are comforted by the words of Kahlil Gibran's poem "On Children", where he reminded us that:
"You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable."
In the final analysis, when all is said and done, the greatest responsibility for any parent is to properly prepare their children to leave the nest and fly, like Gibran's arrow, swift and sure to a shining faraway target called the future.
We will be back next week with the next instalment of our exhilarating exploration of another of the wonderful islands of our archipelago.
o Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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The state of democracy in the world

August 22, 2014

If you are complaining about the Haitian legislature that spends its time doing nothing or blocking the forthcoming election on spurious arguments of constitutionality, go and read Gail Collins in her column in The New York Times: "The road to roads" and you will find the American Congress has not scored better than its Haitian brethren.
Republican Congressman Bob Corker of Tennessee summed it up best. "I've been here seven and a half years," Corker said in a phone interview. "We have not solved one single problem since I've been here. It's just so frustrating."
I have often been asked to run for senator in my North District of Haiti; my answer has been the same: What the hell I would do in that melee! It seems to me there is a better way to bring about democracy.
Greek in origin, the word made up of demos or people and kratos or power - people power, a government by the people and for the people - has been the canvas from Solon to Abraham Lincoln.
Democracy might have its origin in the city state of Athens in Greece, where Solon, a teacher of Plato, around the year 600 BC, was called upon to help the city liberate itself from the enslavement of the majority of the population by the rich citizens. Nothing new under the sun!
He devised a middle way whereby each citizen would have a role, as such enabling the better functioning of the city. He took the term citizenship to a higher plateau where each person would have rights and responsibilities.
Today in Haiti being called "a Citizen" has an honorable connotation with the all rights thereto. You are given the better seat on the bus. You are looked upon with some deference. (How do they detect that you are a citizen has been often my question.)
How we can create a critical mass of citizens and, as such, better nations in this world, is the subject of this essay.
The Swedish or the Scandinavian model
I was reading recently that Sweden has succeeded in taking the downtrodden from Somalia and transforming them into successful Swedish citizens. I set out to find out how they proceeded to do it. The literature on good citizens leads to Barbara Cruikshank (1999) who instructed that: "Citizens are not born, they are made; dependent, non-responsible, passive citizens need to be empowered."
The Swedish government, in a rite of passage that should be the model for every country, provides each of its citizens who attain the age of 21 a lesson in good citizenship from the "Citizenship Book". The curriculum includes instruction on the democratic heritage, the common interest of each group and the glue of solidarity and the feeling for the collective as well as the art of compromise. The school creates a better person who is self-conscious about responsibility and willing to enter into a social contract for the betterment of all.
As such, it is not a surprise that democracy is alive and doing well, not only in Sweden but in the whole Scandinavia including Finland and Iceland, that were once considered the backward states of the region.
The European model
The old man Europe that produced World War I and World War II has evolved thanks to the US Marshall Plan into a continent where democracy flourishes - maybe better in the northern part than in the southern one.
The European Union, setting itself as a European united nations, might be more functional and more efficient than the real United Nations. It has fostered and increased economic cooperation between the member countries. Yet, it has not fared as well in its mission of incubating human rights. The hordes of Africans or Turks or Arabs who knock at the doors to enter into Europe are clustered in a no-man's land with no welfare and no future.
The American model
Democracy according to Solon started flourishing in the United States upon the end of the Civil War around 1864. As in Athens, democracy had a short life in America, since its father Abraham Lincoln was assassinated two years after the end of the war. A full century had to pass before Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson joined hands to create a true union.
A black man (Barack Obama) has become president, yet democracy in the United States and its intervention in the world has been less than perfect. Rioting is taking place near St Louis, Missouri, at this writing, around the death by an unidentified police officer of a young man named Michael Brown. Operation Democracy sponsored by the United States in Iraq has been such a debacle that France is considering sending arms to the Kurds to protect them against the Sunni extremists.
Yet democracy is well and alive in the United States, with elections taking place at scheduled times, the institutions functioning well and the infrastructure extending into the most rural areas. The glass is half full in spite of the comment of Congressman Corker that "we did solve one single issue".
The fake nation and the fake citizen model
Amongst some of the 195 nations of the world, a majority of them fit the model or the canvas of fake nation and fake citizen scheme. The government makes believe that it cares for its citizen and the citizens make believe that they care for their government.
In my life, I have witnessed the unmaking of democracy by successive regimes that pretend to do better than the one before. The dethroning of the Shah of Iran was supposed to bring a government of the people by the people for the citizens of Iran. It has been anything but. Iran has been torn into a tyrannical state not only for its own people and for the region but for the entire world. The Ayatollah became the master ruler who defines the big and the small details that concern the state, muting the citizens into true zombies.
In my own country of Haiti, an old man of 87 made the confession with tears in his eyes that he is enjoying for the first time a government that seems to be caring for its people. Yet the compounding problems of Haiti wrought by the past governments in environment, mis-education, overpopulation, intergenerational poverty and the feeling for the collective are so severe that it that it would necessitate a government two thousand and fourteen times better than that one.
The old continent of Africa has moved from crass colonialism to crony paternalist regimes that seem to care only for the family members of the rulers and the very few loyal servants. The demos and the kratos of Solon do not enter into their line of governance. Zimbabwe is the extreme example where international as well as the national interventions have not been able to shake the old lion from domineering the entire field.
The old Soviet Union, the motherland of fake citizens and fake nations, disbanded through the clever gotcha of Ronald Reagan, has transformed itself into a state monopoly where the wealth of the nation is shared disproportionally with those closest to the government.
China is experiencing the model of "I will get you rich faster if you let me have the full command of the kratos/power." It has succeeded because not only it has raised some 800 million citizens from the squalor of extreme poverty but it also has a piggy bank filled with $700 billion in sovereign treasure, practically bankrolling the major powers of the world including the United States.
India, the oldest and largest democracy, has been a long way from the extreme policy of kratos/power to the demos/people. Only a few are empowered. The caste system maintains the rest in bondage. India's progress is minuscule compared to the leap forward made by China.
In conclusion
The democracy model framed by Solon had a short life. A cruel dictator named Pisistratus and his son Hippias put an end to the experience some two centuries later (508 BC - 322 BC) with power going to the mob or a collective tyrant. Here again, nothing new under the sun. The road to democracy leads to the concept of empowering each citizen - even the would-be citizen - so they will have a keen sense of rights and responsibilities.
The fake citizen model wrought recurring disasters and calamities. The tragedy of fake citizen and fake nation is very explicit in the beautiful and historic city of Cape Haitian from where I am filing this essay. The iron covers of the sewers have been stolen for sale as scrap metal by some citizens. The holes are now covered with detritus causing immense flooding as soon as the rain comes.
I remember how my CO (community organization) teachers Frances Piven and Howard Cloward, immortalized in the Cloward-Piven Strategy some 40 years ago, were leading the way for a better New York City from their chairs as professors at Columbia University. In the end we will need in this world more Solon-like framers ready to build the canvas for a better world that will begin with each nation like ancient Athens.
o Jean H. Charles, LLB MSW, JD, is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: jeancharles@aol.com and followed at Caribbeannewsnow/Haiti. This is published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Guarding against VAT fraud

August 22, 2014

Value-added tax (VAT) is a very attractive form of taxation for most governments simply because of the "catch all quality" of this particular tax mechanism.
VAT is a form of consumption tax. From the perspective of the buyer, it is a tax on the purchase price. From that of the seller, it is a tax only on the value added to a product, material, or service, from an accounting point of view, by this stage of its manufacture or distribution.
Manufacturers remit to the government the difference between these two amounts, and retain the rest for themselves to offset the taxes they had previously paid on the inputs. The purpose of VAT is to generate tax revenues to the government similar to the corporate income tax or the personal income tax. The value added to a product by or with a business is the sale price charged to its customer, minus the cost of materials and other taxable inputs. A VAT is like a sales tax in that ultimately only the end consumer is taxed. It differs from the sales tax in that, with the latter, the tax is collected and remitted to the government only once, at the point of purchase by the end consumer. With the VAT collection remittances to the government and credits for taxes already paid occur each time a business in the supply chain purchases products. It's also self-regulating as resources used in its collection provide a minimal input by a government-maintained revenue collection service. VAT therefore by its very nature is prone to manipulation as it depends on the honesty of business to account for their revenue intake from VAT.
A common criticism of VAT is that certain industries or services tend to have easier VAT avoidance. This happens where there is an industry where cash sales are predominant. In some countries VAT has even been seen as a cause of the increase in cash transactions, as it is very hard to capture VAT in these types of transactions. The Bahamas is just beginning to see positive growth in regards to electronic and check transactions outside of big business and it's expected that VAT will cause cash transactions to be viewed favorably by persons and companies trying to avoid or evade VAT.
In discussing VAT with various business persons throughout The Bahamas during the past year, it's clear the general feeling is that VAT is going to not only be burdensome, and but will also be a cumbersome addition to an already tough business climate. Several persons even went so far as to state emphatically their positions on evading and defrauding the government in this exercise. I don't personally or professionally believe that persons or companies should engage in fraud. Given the preliminary draft VAT legislation making the rounds I actually applaud the government of The Bahamas on its draconian penalties, which should help deter these types of activities.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a working paper released in 2007 states "like any tax, the VAT is vulnerable to evasion and fraud. Its credit and refund mechanism does offer unique opportunities for abuse and this has recently become an urgent concern in the European Union (EU)".
In the EU various types of fraud schemes have been developed in regards to VAT, but the most common is the missing trader scheme. This scheme involves a person or company buying goods from a country where VAT is not charged and then selling the goods in a country where it is; charging the consumer the tax and then pocketing the revenue without paying it to the government. You may wonder how that may work in The Bahamas. Well bear in mind that Grand Bahama may be a tax free zone; a company can simply import items there, ship them to Nassau and have them sold with VAT included and not turn over the revenue. It will require a bit of creative accounting but then again Bahamians are notoriously creative. Businesses therefore must practice a bit of their own "know your customer" or this case "company policy". Ensure that the company or vendor you're purchasing from is reputable; that they are compliant with regulators and are paying their VAT. Consumers likewise can also check with the Central Revenue Agency and the Consumer Protection Department, whom I am sure will create a fraud hotline for persons and businesses to report suspected fraud.
It will therefore be up to us to effectively combat VAT fraud by being vigilant. If the government cannot collect the needed revenue from VAT because of fraudulent practices, you can rest assured that they will add more taxes to cover the shortfall and therefore to quote Winston Churchill, "There is no such thing as good tax". So keeping them to a minimum should be everyone's goal.
So, as always, be aware and be safe.
o Gaylord Taylor is the managing director of AGT Security Services.

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Butler-Turner demonstrates leadership while Christie and Minnis flounder

August 21, 2014

During debate in the House of Assembly on the upcoming referendum, in yet another display of astonishingly mangled syntax, pronunciation and thinking, Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis spoke of "a quagmire of web".
As is generally the case, Bahamians were left scratching their heads as to what exactly Minnis meant. His performance last week, perhaps the worst self-inflicted wound of his political career, was monumentally, unfathomably and incomprehensibly bad.
Many willing to offer him the benefit of any more doubt were stunned by one of the worst flip-flops seen in Parliament since independence, a flip-flop reminiscent of Christie and the PLP when they abruptly reneged on supporting the referendum in 2002.
After recently attacking the PLP for that staggering about-face, Minnis, without seemingly catching his breath, acted similarly, with his already tenuous credibility crashing to the floor of the House.
He has been roundly criticized for his about-face. His backtracking was not a profile in courage as FNM Chairman Darron Cash would have others believe in his comedic damage control statement issued to stem the fallout from Minnis' latest mega blunder. The week before, Minnis was doing damage control for Cash, who issued a bizarre statement of his own on the referendum. As in past policy debates, the joint performance of the leader and the chairman of the FNM has proven amateurish.
It is telling that they have had to rush to each other's defense over the past fortnight, especially as others in the FNM largely failed to defend either of them.
In a blistering assessment headlined "Does Minnis Speak for the FNM?", this journal editorialized: "Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday came across as a student of the Perry Gladstone Christie School of Leadership. The motto of that school being, 'Speak first, think later and never plan'".
Incapable
The editorial was perhaps overly generous to Minnis who has conclusively demonstrated that he is largely incapable of deep thought on policy matters, whether in the first instance or later. He has proven incapable of thinking for himself.
One reason that Minnis flip-flops on issue after issue is his lack of core convictions. Because he is generally an empty vessel when it comes to political philosophy, he is easily led by others, often down a primrose path strewn with nettles.
Even worse, he is simply incapable of understanding the complexities and nuances of public policy, so he swings wildly like a weather vane partly detached from its mount in the middle of a storm.
Minnis is a profile in capitulation because most policy discussions elude him. He often is incapable of grasping the issues at hand.
He fails to get the policy correct in the first place because he does not appreciate the implications of his statements or the contours of the debate. With this latest mega flip-flop Minnis has done irrevocable damage to himself.
Minnis does not now, nor will he ever possess the capacity to serve as head of government, especially in light of the stark reality that he does not possess, nor will he ever, the ability to serve effectively as leader of the opposition.
He has dragged the FNM to its lowest ebb since the split in the late 1970s. With his largely non-collegial, non-consultative and highly autocratic style of leadership, he is overwhelmingly responsible for the disarray in his party. He often fails to brief or to adequately consult his caucus, taking unilateral decisions which blow up in his face, with collateral damage to the FNM.
Recall any number of disasters directly related to his propensity to keep much of his caucus in the dark, most especially the matter of proposed salary increases for parliamentarians.
If he is this much of a disaster as opposition leader, imagine how disastrous would be his performance as prime minister. He is liable to make Christie seem like a paragon of competence.
Still, for Minnis to be compared to Christie is damning. It speaks to the deficit of leadership and irredeemable incompetence of both men.
Despite Minnis' mangling, there is a web of confusion and a possible quagmire in the making, mostly the fault of the Christie administration.
Watershed
Whether the various referendum questions pass or fail, this is a watershed moment for the country in terms of gender equality, the leadership aspirations of a number of politicians, and the reputations and influence of various political, civic and religious leaders.
For its part, the PLP has dissolved into a carnival with all manner of sideshows. There was the sideshow of Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller who claims he initially spoke out of ignorance. No surprise there. Still, he has climbed aboard the equality train, whether out of late conviction or quick convenience.
Labour Minister Shane Gibson claimed that he hadn't seen the referendum questions and must not have been paying attention in the House when they were read. What might one glean from this of his interest in gender equality?
Then there was the onslaught by PLP backbenchers, with Fort Charlotte MP Dr. Andre Rollins, Marco City MP Greg Moss and Bamboo Town MP Renward Wells at open war with their party. The internecine warfare in the PLP at times pitted Cabinet members against backbenchers, with Moss and Gibson respectively, and Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez trading barbs with Rollins.
The lead photo in this journal the day after Minnis' flip-flop was of Christie, head bent, eyes shut, with locked hands pressed against his forehead. What was running through his mind? Was he remembering how he abandoned Bahamian women and pulled the rug from under the FNM in 2002?
Despite having a well-earned black belt in flip-flopping, Christie seemed stunned as Minnis' demonstrated why he so quickly earned his black belt in the same art.
In stark contrast to the disastrous performance of Christie and Minnis, Long Island MP and FNM Deputy Leader Loretta Butler-Turner has demonstrated leadership on this issue. She has been clear, calm and consistent.
In her contribution to the House debate and in the media she has proven articulate and passionate, demonstrating a complex of leadership skills Minnis lacks and which Christie has failed to show.
While Christie and Minnis often seem prone to following certain public opinion, Butler-Turner appears to be the type of leader who is prepared to take on the task of moulding and shaping public opinion in pursuit of a desirable goal.
She articulated early and cogently the principles at stake: "What we are debating is this: whether to allow all Bahamian parent-citizens, regardless of race, creed or sex, to pass on - as a fundamental right - citizenship to all of their children regardless of the circumstances of their birth."
Consensus
Butler-Turner understands the politics and policy involved in the debate, seeking to forge consensus in various quarters while not losing sight of the end goal.
She has demonstrated good judgment and competence, proving that she has the mettle and leadership skills necessary to serve as leader of the opposition and as prime minister.
Butler-Turner also spoke of the "cowardice and gross opportunism" displayed by Christie in 2002. Christie is now seeing some of that same opportunism displayed by some of his opponents, but not by Butler-Turner.
Sir Milo Butler's granddaughter is demonstrating courage and conviction forged in steel. While the spine and brains of some appear not to be connected, Butler-Turner is demonstrating that she has a strong mind connected to an equally strong backbone.
She can be fiercely partisan in a contest of ideas and leadership, a necessary feature of our political system, but she can also be bipartisan when required in the best interest of the nation.
While Christie and Minnis have faltered terribly, Butler-Turner is winning praise across the political spectrum and throughout the country for her leadership and astuteness.
An editorial in The Tribune and a letter to the editor in that journal on Monday past noted Butler-Turner's leadership.
The letter writer praised: "I salute Loretta Butler-Turner for having the courage to stand by her convictions and not to capitulate to political pressure on the question of equal rights for women.
"Mrs. Butler-Turner's decision to rise above the political fray and to work with the government and the Constitutional Commission to iron out any anomalies in the bills before the House took guts.
"She is to be commended for displaying a level of political maturity not often seen in the country."
If the referendum passes, it will be in large measure because of the leadership of Butler-Turner. If it fails, it will be due in part to Minnis' blundering, incoherent and unfocused leadership.
The main architect of a failure to pass the amendments will be that of Christie who, by what he did in 2002 and by his performance today, may end up being written into history as one of the greatest barriers to gender equality in an independent Bahamas.
o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Has Christianity liberated Bahamian women

August 20, 2014

The chaplain at the House of Assembly, in one of his opening prayers last week and as a prelude to the continued debate on the equality of women and the proposed bills to amend The Bahamas constitution, said "Christianity has liberated women".
I found and still find this statement, at minimum, to be very interesting; more appropriately, deceptive. But mostly, in my mind, leaning more toward being very far from the actual truth.
No doubt this prayerful, elderly man, bless his heart, who has probably been a stalwart member of the Christian church for a long time, believes wholeheartedly that his proclamation is indeed reality.
No doubt others, especially those of the Christian faith, and the particular variety of Christian who is Bahamian, also believe strongly in the precursor to the chaplain's prayer.
But, being as I am, I immediately identified the irony in this declaration, thinking of all the women who have thus far sworn to high Heaven that they will not vote at all or will vote "no" to all of the amendments in the scheduled November 6 referendum on the full equality of Bahamian women and men in the very document that establishes our liberty. And that does not account for the Bahamian women who have chosen not to pay any attention whatsoever to this issue.
So, are these Bahamian women who deliberately ignore or intend to oppose the amendments really liberated?
These very same women - the fish and fritter-fryers - who organize the church cook-outs, prayer sessions, fundraisers, visits to the shut-ins, church fairs, praise and worship events, on and on. They are those who have taken the lead on these functions for years, cannot or will not see any inequality of any kind between themselves and men of the Christian church, because on the surface there is none.
Faults and defaults of the Christian church
The inequality of women to men in Christianity, especially the kind of Christianity adapted in The Bahamas, reveals itself in the deep rituals of the Christian church. It shows up, in particular, in the Christian principles which govern marriage.
It is an insidious inequality, which exists within the origins of the church's doctrines and, if you never had cause to examine it, you might find yourself persuaded that the notion of the inequality of women in the Christian church is unfounded. After all, Jesus the Christ, the man upon whose life of goodness the people of the time based the entire Christian religion, allowed women to wash his feet. He often came to the aid of women, in ancient biblical stories. But the question today is not whether or not these stories were good or real.
The question is: how did such a good man and character, or the representation of one, become the poster child for a worldwide following that saw fit to relegate women to subservience?
How did all the kindness that Jesus would have displayed to and for women end up as mental and emotional bondage for women throughout the many centuries that followed, even until now and even in the gut of the Christian church?
How do you preach (anything) in the name of Jesus and beat or curse your wife behind closed doors, perhaps even in front of them or publicly, whether you're the shepherd or the sheep?
How do you preach in the name of Jesus and have sexual relations with one, two or 10-plus other women in your congregation, whether you're married or not?
How do you preach in the name of Jesus and impregnate a girl or woman, who is 1) not your wife, and 2) a member of the "flock" you are meant to guide? (And "flock" they must be for blind obedience).
How do you preach in the name of Jesus and sexually molest the (altar) boys or girls left in your care?
How do you preach in the name of Jesus and kill hundreds of newborn babies of unwed mothers and dump them in a ditch to be hidden away for eternity?
How do you preach in Jesus' name and then torment the woman who became a wife to you, because she has a mind of her own and needs beyond you or yours, with a level of independent thinking you find threatening to your position as a man or as the man of the house?
Proof and history
The question of equality of women and men is not something to give answers to by fishing out scriptures of women heroes from the bible or any other literary, historic or religious text; it is a question of recognizing two sexes of human beings who have very unique functions and are as important as each other, because neither one of them could survive human existence, were it not for the other.
As knowledgeable and as modern as we are as a species, it continues to remain difficult, damn near impossible, to see what is before our very eyes. There would be no life on Earth without the 'partnership' of women and men. But, for the Christian church, this partnership, which tends to amount to ownership, must occur only via the process of marriage, where a man takes a woman to be his wife and a woman takes a man to be her husband, and together they swear, for all eternity, never to yield to the natural inclinations of the human species, knowing all along this cannot be done by mere humans.
Now you might introduce those human inclinations and weaknesses and the Garden of Eden and creation story here as the basis of all the allowable female-male imbalances in Christianity. Because Christians are taught that, in that same garden, Eve went and did something awful and therefore the doom of the world (to come) is assigned to her "disobedience".
That right there is the fundamental principle of female/male inequality in Christianity.
Bahamians: Christian-Muslims?
Because, if you believe, having been taught since you can remember yourself, that there were no problems in the world until women came along, that woman was a gift to man, an afterthought, a pleasure center, who did something horrible and caused the world to pay for it forevermore, then no doubt it is most likely that you will grow up into an adult who believes a woman is secondary to or less than a man. And, you won't even be aware of it, because it's so ingrained in your belief system.
As one Bahamian of Christian origin recently asserted, "Bahamian men need to take their rightful place in society". Where is that place, you ask?
Apparently, men lead; women follow. That is the rule of Christianity. Is this liberation?
The chairman of the Constitutional Commission remarked in an interview that "if these bills fail, we will find ourselves left in the company only of Muslim countries that don't believe in equality."
In other words, the only thing worse than blind Christianity, in its disregard of/for women, is Islam. And with that I might be inclined to agree.
It may never have been the intention, but today it is certainly the condition that Bahamian Christianity is the cause of Bahamian misogyny.
Who, predominantly, wrote the Bible? Men. Whether they were inspired or uninspired, they were still men. So the obvious expectation is that the Christian Bible would be at least a little slanted in the direction and favor of men - men in leadership and men in power. And as I write, now, or ever, I must constantly remind myself that it is okay to write "female/male", "woman/man" and "madam/sir", in that order, even though I, too, was once subjected to the indoctrination that the man should come first, even in writing.
Political cloak and shield
I wonder how many people realize why Hubert Minnis' position has changed regarding the bills to amend the constitution so that it affirms the full equality of women and men in The Bahamas. Women, especially those who vote FNM, those who have never voted and those who are not yet victims of religious brainwashing need to understand this.
Minnis' position has not shifted because it is a simple political tactic. His position has not shifted because the official opposition is still angry with the governing party for thwarting their referendum of 2002, wherein they brought the same issues of equality to the people. Minnis' position has not shifted because he thinks that, so long as there is more definitive language inserted in the fourth bill, gay marriage will be at all possible. His new position has nothing to do with his personal view that women and men should be regarded and defended as equal in all respects of the law and citizenship.
The real "red herring"
The new and sudden position of the leader of the opposition is a result of pressures from the most influential group of Bahamian activists, who stand to lose the most in the argument of female/ male equality, or stand to gain the most from its failure: the Bahamian Christian Church.
And that is the same institution that leapt to the fore on the gaming referendum, but slept through the 2002 equality referendum, and still continues to slumber.
It is not a stretch to imagine that the Christian Church is not fond of foreign, male spouses rewiring the thinking and perspectives of Bahamian women on their role in marriage, because, after all, the Bahamian man (according to the Christian Church) leads the home. To put it bluntly, if traditional marriages don't take place with the man in the ruling seat, the Christian Church goes out of business.
Nor is the Christian Church fond of endorsing the 'illegitimate' (more discrimination) children of Bahamian men, who are either unmarried or who are married and conceive children outside of their marriages. Because, in spite of the fact that it is already common practice in and around the church, it is still an abomination to them, something worthy of keeping secret and worthy of rebuke.
If a Bahamian man can be indirectly endorsed to have children outside of marriage, he can no longer be the reliable head of the church, and if the Christian doctrine of "no sex before marriage" or "no sex outside of marriage" cannot be upheld, marriage will no longer be popular, and the Christian Church goes out of business.
With all that said, is it not particularly revealing, then, that the two constitutional amendments Minnis now takes greatest issue with are the two that pertain to marriage? Who upholds marriage in the society, a concept and practice at the very center of the church itself?
What a surprise.
In the end, you cannot legislate what people choose to do with their lives. However, you can legislate that their fundamental human rights are all inherently protected in a country's constitution, regardless of their wise or poor choices.
No one truly expects that amendments to our nation's constitution will immediately end the misogynistic thinking of Bahamian men and women, but it's a very good and valiant start.
o Facebook.com/politiCole.

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Munroe backs yes vote - but urges 2015 date

August 19, 2014

RELIGIOUS Leader Dr Myles Munroe said yesterday that while he supports the upcoming referendum on gender equality, the government should have "left the date open" and "let the people decide" when they are ready to vote rather than set a fixed date...

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Confronting the real issue(s) in the gender equality debate, pt. 1

August 19, 2014

As one listens to public commentaries on the new hot topic of gender equality and the upcoming referendum, it is almost impossible to refrain from saying "Here we go again". This is because we have developed the habit of inserting politics into every debate and creating confusion among the populace on matters of national importance.This week, we begin our dive into the supposed issues highlighted in the debate for gender equality, in general, and equal rights for women, in particular. This review will conclude with the real issue that underlies the opposition to this progressive initiative.The parliamentary circus A circus is often characterized by the performances of actors and artists seeking to entertain their audiences who would have paid for their services. The Parliament of The Bahamas is supposed to be a place of honor where honorable men and women sit to represent their constituencies, debate and pass laws for the benefit of our people. It was therefore disappointing on Wednesday last week to see the parliamentary caucus deteriorate into a circus and members of Parliament transform into actors seeking to entertain their perceived audiences.What made the performances of the Bahamian drama kings more disturbing was that they chose a critical subject and debate as their avenue for performing, to the displeasure of Bahamians. They saw this as an opportunity to settle political scores, seek brownie points and grandstand at the expense of Bahamian women and men that have been discriminated against for decades.The return of the all-knowing commentators Outside of Parliament, the self-proclaimed experts and self-appointed legal luminaries on all matters in The Bahamas could not wait to commence their so called in-depth analyses and intellectual discussions on the issues associated with the four bills tabled in Parliament to rectify an obscurity that should never have been enshrined in the Constitution of The Bahamas in the first place. The thought legends in their own minds have begun their campaign to play on the emotions of Bahamians and create hysteria on a simple initiative aimed at granting Bahamian women the same rights as the men of this nation and more broadly address the issue of gender inequality in our constitution. The effectiveness of one synonym over another has also been revived as a weapon in the armory of persons that oppose a progressive effort. The question arises at this juncture as to whether there are justifiable reasons to fear or oppose leveling the playing field between the men and women of The Bahamas by amending our constitution.A binding referendumThe debate has resurrected actions and inactions of persons and political parties in relation to referenda in the past. While some old wounds have been reopened and bitter memories revived for different reasons, the biggest risk we face is allowing the past to cripple us and drive us to miss an historical movement in our commonwealth. No matter how hard we try and how much some persons deny the motivation behind their actions, it is obvious that political forces are at work and posturing in the name of conviction is alive in this debate.The upcoming constitutional referendum will be binding and the government is legally constrained to abide by the results or outcome. Hence, no one should use the government's actions in the past as an excuse to relinquish their right to shape the future and destiny of our beloved country. Such an action can be deemed unpatriotic and unfair to generations of Bahamians yet unborn. Whatever the position taken on the questions posed, all Bahamians should cast their votes for the sake of future generations; we owe them that much.Restricting access to citizenshipIt is often said that people fear what they do not know. While this could be understood in general terms, the danger comes when persons that do not know fail to educate themselves on matters they are ignorant on, but act like they have the requisite knowledge and seek to spread their ignorance among the populace. Indeed Confucius said it best when he stated that "true knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance". Sadly, we are all guilty sometimes of being too proud or reluctant to admit the limitation of our knowledge.This seems like the only logical way to explain the fallacy being spread in certain quarters on the proposed amendments to Article 10 of the constitution. The authors of confusion in this regard are suggesting that this change is designed to allow Bahamian women to instantaneously pass citizenship to their foreign spouses without any controls, checks and balances. In actuality what is being proposed is to grant Bahamian women the same rights as their male counterparts in relation to the acquisition of citizenship by their foreign spouses subject to paragraph two of the said article, which is aimed at preventing marriages of convenience. More specifically, Article 10 currently reads:"Any woman who, after July 9, 1973, marries a person who is or becomes a citizen of The Bahamas shall be entitled, provided she is still so married, upon making application in such manner as may be prescribed and upon taking the oath of allegiance of such declaration as may be prescribed, to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas:"Provided that the right to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas under this article shall be subject to such exceptions or qualifications as may be prescribed in the interests of national security of public policy."It is obvious that due process, including a formal application for consideration by the government, will still be required and the Cabinet's approval is subject to the conditions stipulated in the constitution.Paragraph two of Article 10 provides that a foreign party may be denied registration for citizenship if there is satisfactory evidence that the marriage no longer subsists, the marriage was entered into for the purpose of enabling the foreign partner to acquire Bahamian citizenship, the parties have no intentions of living together after the marriage or the foreign party was convicted in another country of an indictable criminal offense involving moral turpitude.This is only right to ensure that persons do not enter into the sacred institution of marriage for the wrong reasons and particularly just to obtain Bahamian citizenship. The weak and vulnerable vesselThe public discourse to date has also revealed the unfounded and insulting view of certain individuals among us that Bahamian women are not only emotionally vulnerable when compared to our male counterparts but also unwise and gullible, stopping short of expressly stating that we are stupid.These persons are seeking to perpetuate the myth that we - the women of this great country, are not only incapable of making our own decisions but are prone to making insensible choices particularly in the selection of our spouses. This is shameful, disappointing and unfortunate in a country that has relied on its strong women for every major feat in its history.The words of the late Dame Doris Johnson echo through time to the present in response to men who diminish the strength, fortitude and wisdom of the Bahamian woman.We are mothers of men. Several Bahamian men can attest to the fact they were nurtured and raised by their grandmothers, mothers or other mother figure. How could one question the endurance and might of the individuals that carry life for nine months and thrive in the midst of adversity? Do they consider these women, their mothers, wives and daughters as weak-minded?How does one define the working mothers and wives that help to keep the home together while contributing to the upkeep of the family? The only encouraging news here is that persons with such a mind-set appear to be in the minority and the prime minister has indicated that he does not have a similar view.o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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Constitutional referendum: Correcting an historical error pt. 3

August 19, 2014

The best rationale why sex should be added to Article 26 of the constitution as a prohibited category of discrimination by any law, as the fourth bill provides, is offered by Justice Brennan of the United States Supreme Court in the case Frontiero vs. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973): "[Our] nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination. Traditionally, such discrimination was rationalized by an attitude of "romantic paternalism" which, in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage... It is true, of course, that the position of women in America has improved markedly in recent decades. Nevertheless, it can hardly be doubted that, in part because of the high visibility of the sex characteristic, women still face pervasive, although at times more subtle, discrimination in our educational instructions, in the job market and, perhaps most conspicuously, in the political arena. Moreover, since sex, like race and national origin, is an immutable characteristic, the imposition of special disabilities upon the members of a particular sex because of their sex would seem to violate 'the basic concept of our system that legal burdens should bear some relationship to individual responsibility'."Since sex, like race, is an immutable characteristic, Article 26 of the constitution should be amended to prohibit the making of any law that discriminates against any person either of itself or in its effect on the basis of sex. That is what the fourth bill is about. It is not about sexual preference, which is an entirely different ground, as demonstrated by the Privy Council in the case Nadine Rodriguez vs. Minister of Housing et al (2009) UKPC 51. As a matter of constitutional practice, discrimination on the basis of sex, meaning treating a woman more or less favorably than a man, is treated differently than the ground of sexual preference. In fact, bill three removes the discrimination against unwed Bahamian men who are prohibited from passing their citizenship to a child born to a foreign woman. Therefore, the issue of sexual preference, or sexual orientation, should not be imported into the fourth bill before the House of Assembly, as it is neither a ground proposed by the Constitutional Commission nor a part of the fourth bill before the Parliament. As we approach the referendum on November 6, we should learn some lessons from the relentless efforts of the United States to remake its constitution to correct omissions of the past and to reflect changing circumstances, contemporary expectations of its citizens and evolving international obligations. The constitution of the United States, adopted in 1789, is the oldest written constitution in our hemisphere. As a living document, the United States constitution is given new meaning and vitality under ever-changing conditions through Supreme Court decisions and formal amendments. It extends its protection to all persons in the territory of the United States, citizens rich and poor as well as aliens. In establishing a national government, the United States constitution sets up three branches and provides mechanisms for them to check and balance each other. It balances central federal authority with dispersed state reserved power. It protects the citizenry from the government and gives the power of judicial review to the judicial branch of government.The imperfect nature of the original United States constitution is very apparent from a brief historical review. In 1789 when the constitution was founded, African-Americans were still in slavery and, as legally defined property, were not considered as full citizens. However, there has been a continuous process of correction and remediation, through constitutional amendments, judicial decisions, legislation and executive measures to create a more perfect democracy in the United States, as the society moved from an agrarian to an industrialized nation and assumed international obligations under international humanitarian law. The first 10 amendments of the United States constitution were passed in 1791. The 13th Amendment, adopted in 1865 immediately after the Civil War, abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, gives citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States and guarantees due process and equal protection of the laws to all persons in the United States. Bahamians who have children in the United States, such as the parents of Sir Sidney Poitier, were and are the beneficiaries of this provision. The 15th Amendment, adopted in 1870, guarantees the right to vote irrespective of race, color or previous condition of servitude. Up until 1971, the United States constitution had been amended 26 times.Similarly, our sister Caribbean countries have also been trying to bring their constitutions in line with the shared expectations and aspirations of their contemporary societies. Constitutional reviews have been undertaken and amendments proposed or effected, for example, in Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago have totally replaced their independence constitutions. Two week ago, the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago passed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 to limit the prime minister to two terms, to recall parliamentary representatives outside scheduled national elections and for a run-off poll in any constituency where contestants fail to secure more than 50 percent of votes cast.After 40 years of constitutional practice in The Bahamas, it is now time that we correct the discrimination against women in our constitution and to ensure that the constitution conforms to the demands and expectations of contemporary Bahamian society and the evolving humanitarian norm of non-discrimination. Further, one way of avoiding the recurrence of such historical errors in the future, as occurred in 1972, is to adopt recommendation 28 of the CEDAW Committee which requires that, "The state party [The Bahamas] adopt temporary special measures, such as quotas... to increase the number of women in political office and public life and decision-making positions."Beyond the referendum, I recommend that we implement affirmative measures to remediate the lack of female representation in the top public offices in The Bahamas. It was the lack of consultation with women and the absence of female representation at the Constitutional Conference that allowed subject discriminatory provisions to be inserted into the constitution in 1972. Therefore, we need to ensure that more women are represented, commensurate with the Bahamian population, in the Parliament and Cabinet so that we have the benefit of the collective wisdom of all of the Bahamian people inform the making of public policy in the future.The removal of these remaining vestiges of discrimination against women, contained in our constitution, is not only the responsibility of Bahamian women. I assume that no Bahamian man would want his mother, wife, sisters or daughters to be disadvantaged in a democratic Bahamas. Therefore, all Bahamian men have a duty to safeguard the human rights of every person in The Bahamas, including the right of women to equality of treatment, by voting in favor of the four bills, as amended in the legislative process, on November 6.The template of the Bahamian suffragettes should inform us during the upcoming referendum. The powerful lesson of that template was summed up brilliantly by Janet Bostwick when she said that, "Women suffragettes showed us that, in order to bring about significant change, we must accept sometimes that the cause is bigger than the individual, than a party, than any of the things which divide and separate us and that much can be accomplished when we unite."o Alfred Sears is a noted attorney, scholar and political figure who served in several Cabinet posts between 2002 and 2007. He currently serves as the chairman of The College of The Bahamas Council.

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Constitutional Referendum: Correcting an Historical Error Part 2

August 18, 2014

Unlike most Caribbean Constitutions, the nationality provisions of the Bahamian Constitution discriminate against Bahamian women, as is reflected in Articles 8 and 9 in particular. Under Article 8, a child born outside of The Bahamas after the 9th July, 1973 to a Bahamian father, inside of a marriage, shall become a Bahamian citizen automatically at the date of birth. Whereas, under Article 9, a child born outside of The Bahamas after the 9th July, 1973, to a Bahamian mother married to a non-Bahamian father, is not automatically a Bahamian citizen at birth. To become a Bahamian citizen, such a person must:

1) make application upon attaining the age of eighteen (18) years and before the age of twenty-one (21) years to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas;

2) renounce or make a declaration with respect to any other citizenship;

3) take the oath of allegiance to The Bahamas;

4) make and register a declaration of her/his intention to reside in The Bahamas; and

5) have been born legitimately.

Even after fulfilling these five requirements, such a person can still be denied citizenship on the basis of national security or public policy. These disabilities on a child born outside of The Bahamas to a Bahamian woman married to a non-Bahamian husband constitute invidious discrimination, when automatic citizenship is conferred at birth upon the child born outside of The Bahamas to a Bahamian father married to a non-Bahamian spouse.

Further, Bahamian women are treated less favorably than Bahamian men in granting Bahamian citizenship to their respective spouses. Under Article 10 of the Constitution, any women who marries a person who wishes to become a Bahamian citizen after the 9th July, 1973 shall be entitled to be registered as a Bahamian citizen, provided she makes an application, takes the oath of allegiance or makes a declaration and that there is no objection on the basis of national security or public policy. No such requirement is demanded of foreign spouses of Bahamian men.Ironically, also discriminates against unmarried Bahamian men, who are not able to transmit citizenship to their children; whereas, unmarried Bahamian women can transit Bahamian citizenship to their children at birth.

Further, the Bahamian Constitution does not protect a woman from a law that discriminates against her on the basis of sex.

However, Article 26 of the Constitution prohibits the making of any law, which discriminates on the basis of race, place of origin, political opinions, color or creed.

These discriminatory constitutional restrictions on the right of a Bahamian woman to transmit citizenship, I submit, reflect stereotypical and traditional male perception of the role of women and are contrary to contemporary international humanitarian law.

When examined objectively, these restrictions cannot be justified on the grounds of natural law, contemporary constitutional practice, international human rights law or democratic practice.

Under natural law, a progressive interpretation of the Bible would not support these restrictions. The Preamble of the Bahamian Constitution, in part, provides that the people of The Bahamas "recognize that the preservation of their Freedom will be guaranteed by a national commitment to Self-discipline, Industry, Loyalty, Unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law." One interpretation of Christian theology, it may be argued, is that, rather than female subordination, the Risen Christ showed a gender preference when he first revealed himself to Mary Magdalene before he revealing himself to his male disciples. However, it is the common fatherhood of God, in the Christian faith that establishes the equality of men and women. The acceptance of Jesus Christ as the basis for salvation, irrespective of one's gender, also establishes the principle of equality between men and women. Historically, portions of the Old Testament of the Bible were used to justify the discriminatory treatment of women and the enslavement of African people. Dilip Hiro, in the book Black British, White British, shows how portions of the Old Testament have been used to justify the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Eric Williams in Capitalism & Slavery, demonstrated, in compelling detail, that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was an economic institution for the benefit of Europe. Walter Rodney in the book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa marshals, in magisterial fashion, the historical data to demonstrate how the rich social, economic and political development

process of the African continent was interrupted by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and subverted into a pattern of underdevelopment for the benefit of Europe.

In support of the economic institution of slavery, religious, philosophical and pseudo-scientific justifications were developed to support this cruel and exploitative institution. Dilip Hiro shows that, through religion, philosophy and pseudo science, slavery in the Caribbean and the Americas was justified by asserting that Africans were the descendants of Ham, the black son of Noah condemned being "hewers of wood and drawers of water" and made a moral equivalence between the black skin of Africans with Satan; David Hume, the British philosopher published an essay "Of National Characters" in 1753 arguing the inherent inferiority of the African; and Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in his book the Origin of Species published in 1859 was used to justify European dominance as proof of the survival of the fittest. Today, we are still dealing with the legacies of this racial ideology that was preached, taught and propagated for 400 years to justify the exploitation of Africa and the Americas to fund the industrial revolution in Europe and European global empire. While the European empire, built on the profits of slavery, has been decolonized, the racial ideology still persists.

Similarly, many of the stereotypes of the role of women in society are also rooted in portions of the Old Testament of the Bible to justify male dominance and the inferior treatment of women. Traditional notions of male dominance are also justified by reference to many other religions and traditions to support honor killing of women, female circumcision, denial of education for girls and the confinement of women and girls to the home. All of these practices, including the discriminatory provisions of the Bahamian Constitution, offend the global bill of human rights and norm of non-discrimination. From a Christian perspective, how can one justify treating women less favorably than men, when both claim a common fatherhood in God and equal right to salvation through an acceptance of Jesus Christ?

These discriminatory restrictions against women cannot be justified under the evolving constitutional and international humanitarian law.

The liberal philosophy of John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Emanuel Kant establish that both men and women, as rational beings, prefer to exist, on the basis of equality, in a social contract rather than in an Hobbesian state of nature. Based on these liberal ideas, the world community has affirmed global democratic representative governance and the norm of non-discrimination, linking human rights and peace in the global order.

Since the Second World War, the evolving global norm of non-discrimination and women, with respect to the acquisition and transmission of nationality, is grounded in Article 1 (3) of the United Nations Charter that states that its purpose is to promote and encourage "respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion."

Further, it is also grounded in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965; and in Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW") of 1967 which provides that "1. State Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality. They shall ensure in particular that neither marriage to an alien nor change of nationality by the husband during marriage shall automatically change the nationality of the wife, render stateless or force upon her the nationality of the husband. 2. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children."

Countries, upon acceding to CEDAW at Article 2, agree to condemn all forms of discrimination against women and to "embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions . . . to ensure, through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle."

The Bahamas acceded to CEDAW on the 6th October, 1993, with reservations to Articles 1, 2(a) and 9. For the past 21 years, The Bahamas has not been in full compliance with the provisions of CEDAW because, in part, of the aforesaid discriminatory provisions in the Bahamian Constitution.

The non-compliance of The Bahamas with the provisions of CEDAW was the subject of our country's fourth periodic report to the CEDAW Committee.

In July 2012 Minister Melanie Griffin and a Bahamian delegation appeared before the CEDAW Committee at the United Nations to explain the current indefensible discrimination against women in The Bahamas. While the Committee commended The Bahamas for such measures as ensuring universal and equal access to education, the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, the Trafficking in Person, the Committee expressed concern that the Bahamian Constitution and national legislation do not contain an explicit definition of discrimination in accordance with the CEDAW. CEDAW, at Article 1 defines "discrimination against women" as "any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field."

Further, the CEDAW Committee recommended that The Bahamas withdraws its reservation to Article 2 (a) of the Convention and integrates the principle of equality of women and men in the Constitution.

Therefore, the four Bills before Parliament and which, if passed by the requisite majority, will be the subject of a constitutional referendum on the 6th November is an effort to implement the recommendation of the CEDAW Committee.

In 2000 The Bahamas demonstrated the political will and bipartisan collaboration in complying with its international obligations when the Parliament, in record time, passed a compendium of over 20 pieces of legislation to become compliant with the 40 Recommendations on anti-money laundering and the 8 special recommendations on combating the financing of terrorism of the FATF. Today, The Bahamas must demonstrate equal political will and bipartisan collaboration to amend its Constitution to become fully compliant with its international obligation under CEDAW and provide women with a fundamental right not to be discriminated on the basis of their sex.

I recommend a yes vote on the proposed four bills, as will be amended in the course of the legislative process, in the upcoming referendum in order to make our country compliant with its international obligations under CEDAW and to secure the dignity and equality of our mothers, sisters, spouses, daughters and all women in The Bahamas.

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Petty politics, homophobia bedeviling equal rights for women in The Bahamas

August 16, 2014

In 2002 voters in The Bahamas rejected a national referendum "to change the constitution to eradicate language that made men superior to women" - as the February 12, 2012, edition of The Nassau Guardian framed the issue. I was so shocked and dismayed that I wondered aloud if we were vying to become the new Taliban paradise, given that the United States had just bombed to smithereens the one that thrived in Afghanistan.This is why I am not at all surprised that a toxic mix of political ignorance and moral outrage is bedeviling the Bahamian government's attempt to hold a second referendum to do the same. Specifically, for almost two years now, the government has been trying to move a series of bills through Parliament before putting them to a referendum. As The Guardian reported (on October 3, 2013), these amending bills are primarily intended to:o Amend the citizenship provisions of the constitution to achieve full equality between men and women with respect to the acquisition and transmission of Bahamian nationality; and

o Expand the definition of discrimination in Article 26 to include discrimination based on "sex" as a prohibited ground so that women would be able to enjoy the same level of protection from discrimination that men already enjoy.Never mind the reasonable interpretation that Article 15 already grants women the fundamental rights and protections this referendum purports to grant, with its express provision that every person in The Bahamas is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual - that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, color, creed or sex [to] life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law [etc.].In any event, the government appointed a Constitutional Commission that waged a year-long "public education campaign" to impress upon voters the existential importance of codifying these amendments. Unfortunately, political mischief and religious dogma have so undermined this campaign that the government seems poised, yet again, to postpone the enabling referendum, which is scheduled for this November. If it does, extraneous objections, of one form or another, will have postponed it for the fourth time, given previous postponements, from June 2013 to November 2013 to June 2014.To appreciate a little of the pettiness involved, consider that members of the ruling party championing this latest effort are from the same party (the Progressive Liberal Party) whose members betrayed the effort in 2002 referenced above. And, presumably as payback, members of the opposition party maneuvering to betray this year's effort are from the same party (the Free National Movement) whose members championed the effort in 2002. In other words, it has been and remains more about petty party politics than women's rights.

Given this tortured background, I submit that if the ruling PLP was serious about ushering in gender equality, it would have done so by an act of Parliament instead of pursuing this fraught process of amending the constitution. Not to mention that it offends all notions of fundamental rights for the government to be putting to a national vote whether or not Bahamian women should enjoy the same constitutional rights and protections that Bahamian men already enjoy.Mind you, the constitution of The Bahamas does not expressly discriminate against women (for example, the way the constitution of the United States discriminated against blacks) such that constitutional amendments would be necessary to correct an "original sin". It just does not include "sex" in Article 26, along with "race, place of origin, political opinions, color or creed" (as it does in Article 15) as a personal attribute that should not give rise to any form of discrimination. This is hardly the forum to delve any further into constitutional provisions, especially given that minds far more brilliant than mine can interpret them differently -- as members of the U.S. Supreme Court demonstrate with distressing regularity these days. Therefore, I shall suffice to proffer that, because the constitution does not expressly prohibit equal rights for women, no act of Parliament granting women those rights can be deemed to alter or violate it. In fact, it is instructive that the Equality Act of 2010 did not violate the constitution of the United Kingdom, and the Fair Pay Act of 2009 did not violate the constitution of the United States. No referendum was needed in either case. Perhaps even more instructive is that the United States has been trying since 1923, to no avail, to amend its constitution (with an Equal Rights Amendment) to guarantee equal rights for women. Yet acts of Congress over that time have slowly but surely redressed every case where the laws of the United States discriminated against women, such that nobody can gainsay that American women enjoy more equal rights than women anywhere else in the world today (more famously, acts of Congress did the same with respect to civil rights for blacks. They would still be living in Jim Crow America if their equal rights were dependent on a national referendum). Meanwhile, apropos of the specter of postponement or outright cancellation, here's the ominous, and arguably predictable, note the government sounded just days ago:"Whether we have a referendum or not, the prime minister has always said that we would not go to a referendum without general agreement between the parties... "If it becomes clear for us that there is not unanimity, then we will not proceed with the referendum" (as reported in The Nassau Guardian, August 9, 2014).Ominous, and arguably predictable, because this is akin to the Obama administration declaring that it will not proceed with a bill granting women unqualified rights to abortions...if there is not unanimity between Democrats and Republicans. Duh.What's more, there's a very high probability that voters will reject this latest referendum too, if it were ever held. Nothing telegraphs this quite like the national debate on its ballot questions being hijacked by religious leaders hurling ignorant fulminations about equal rights for women being dependent on what the meaning of "sex" is.I doubt, for example, that those voicing the loudest objections are even aware of the differences between "sex" (biological/sex organs) and "gender" (cultural norms/masculine, feminine). Gender is the more debatable term. But the irony is that this referendum would have been less controversial if the proposed expansion of the definition of discrimination included discrimination based on "gender" instead of "sex" as a prohibited ground. As it stands, people are clearly reading into the term "sex" an expansion of the constitutional definition of discrimination based on "sexual orientation", which would provide LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) the same level of protection from discrimination heterosexuals already enjoy. Not that there would be anything wrong with that, of course.But the prevailing absurdity of this whole exercise is brought into eye-rolling relief when one considers that even the U.S. Constitution (as amended) does not prohibit discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. This is why legislatures have been enacting laws to redress these omissions on a state-by-state basis - based on local religious and cultural norms.Alas, such norms in The Bahamas militate against our pandering parliament following suit by enacting LGBT laws, let alone our homophobic people doing so by passing a referendum. More to the point, in a country where church leaders proselytize homophobia as an article of faith, this misreading of the language in the tabled bills is spreading faster than the Gospel at Pentecost.

Frankly, one could be forgiven for thinking that this referendum is more about marriage for gays than equal rights for women. In any case, whether by using the word "sex" or "gender", whether by an act of Parliament or referendum, it is a categorical imperative that the laws of The Bahamas provide women the same rights, privileges and protections men enjoy. Period.Accordingly, I urge all Bahamians to support this referendum, bearing in mind that, if only every female voter realized and acted upon her enlightened interest, it would pass in a landslide.

o Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant headquartered in Washington, D.C. This article is published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.

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Constitutional referendum: Correcting an historical error - part 1

August 15, 2014

On Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Prime Minister Perry Christie, in a Communication to the House of Assembly, foreshadowed the introduction and first reading of four separate bills to amend the Constitution of The Bahamas "to institute full equality between men and women in matters of citizenship and, more broadly, to eliminate discrimination in The Bahamas based on sex."Prime Minister Christie asserted that the purpose of these four bills is remedial in nature: "The changes to the constitution foreshadowed by these bills will not only help remediate the problem of structural gender inequality and discrimination in our country but will also assist in bringing greater inclusiveness and cohesion to family structures while at the same time ensuring that The Bahamas lives up to its international obligations in these matters."In a mature gesture of bipartisanship, the leader of the opposition, Dr. Hubert Minnis stated that while "there is much which divides us in this place, let us speak with one voice when the issue is equality before the law. Let us Mr. Speaker, speak as one in this place. If we can do so, we will signal to every Bahamian and the watching World our unified commitment to the advancement of Human Dignity in our beloved Bahamas."The four bills represent the culmination of the work that was done by the Constitutional Commission, appointed on August 1, 2012 to review and recommend changes to the Constitution of The Bahamas, in advance of the 40th Anniversary of Bahamian independence.The Commission was chaired by Mr. Sean McWeeney, Q.C. and the members included Loren Klein, a member and technical co-coordinator of the Commission's Secretariat, Carl Bethell, Justice Rubie Nottage (retired), Mark Wilson, Lester Mortimer, Tara Cooper-Burnside, Professor Michael Stevenson, Dr. Olivia Saunders, Michael Albury, Chandra Sands, Brandace Duncanson and Carla Brown-Roker.The commission completed the constitutional review process that had been started by the earlier Constitutional Commission that had been appointed by Prime Minister Christie on December 23, 2002, under the joint chairpersonship of Paul Adderley and Harvey Tynes, Q.C., but which process the government under Hubert Ingraham abandoned after the 2007 general elections.The American legal scholar, Professor Myres McDougal, asserted that a constitution should be "a living instrument, a dynamic and continuing process of communication, practices and decisions. It is made and continually remade in response to the changing demands and expectations of the people under ever-changing conditions. It should reflect not only the shared expectations of the original framers of the constitution, but also those of succeeding generations. It should also reflect the contemporary shared expectations and experiences of community members today."The Bahamas Independence Order 1973, an Act of the British Parliament, provided for The Bahamas to become an independent sovereign nation. The constitution is actually the appendix to The Bahamas Independence Order 1973. The representatives of the Bahamian people at the Constitutional Conference in London in December, 1972 comprised the following individuals: Sir Arthur Foulkes, Sir Orville A. Turnquest, the late Sir Lynden O Pindling, The late Sir Clement Maynard, Arthur Hanna, Paul Adderley, Philip Bethel, George A. Smith, Loftus A. Roker, Cadwell Ambrister, Norman Solomon, Sir Milo Butler, the late Sir Kendal G.L. Isaacs, the late Carlton Francis and The late Henry Bowen. These 15 men are collectively known as the Framers of the Bahamian Constitution.As I will demonstrate, it was an historical error not to have included any women at the Constitutional Conference of 1972 in either the delegations of the Progressive Liberal Party or the Free National Movement. Further, It was also an historical error not to have consulted with Bahamian women and their organizations on the issues of nationality, given the obvious discriminatory impact on them and their children of the nationality provisions agreed to in London. These omissions on the part of both political parties is particularly striking, given the prominent and decisive role that women had played in the affairs of both parties and the struggle for majority rule. These omissions also require that we engage in a national reflection on the persistence of the singular male perspective in the Bahamian body politic, legacies of the politics of colonialism and the merchant elite who dominated politics in The Bahamas until 1967.Prominent Bahamian women in the Progressive Liberal Party included Effie Walkes, the unheralded strategist of the dramatic Black Tuesday incident, whose role in that historical event was captured brilliantly in the documentary, Womanish Ways, by Marion Bethel, Maria Govan and Kareem Mortimer.The fact that Effie Walkes is unheralded even to this day for her role, in comparison to the male protagonists, illustrates this blind spot in the political sociology of The Bahamas. At the time of the Constitutional Conference In 1972 the suffragists Doris Johnson, Mable Walker, Albertha Isaacs, Ethel Kemp, Madge Brown and Althea Mortimer, just to name a few, were still alive.Other prominent women in Bahamian civil society at that time included Jenny Thompson, Janet Bostwick, Judy Munroe, Pauline Allen, Susan Wallace, Telcine Turner, Margaret McDonald, Mizpah Tertullian and Eileen Carron.The lack of female representation on the Constitutional Conference is the more stunning because by 1972 the women suffragist movement had already provided The Bahamas with the template for an inclusive and bipartisan coalition to achieve universal suffrage for women in 1962.The template of an inclusive national coalition for constitutional change existed, according to Janet Bostwick. In her thoughtful essay "Bahamian History - The women suffrage movement in The Islands - then, and now: Women's struggle in The Bahamas", she wrote that the women suffrage movement "reached across partisan lines, racial and social class divides . . . started by a black woman who, after party politics was introduced in The Bahamas, was a member of the UBP, it was embraced by the PLP, it was adopted by women without party affiliation, supported by women of different races and social standing, and it was championed by progressive men."Our approach to the upcoming referendum should be framed in the context of seizing the opportunity to build a progressive national coalition of women and men of all party affiliations, without party affiliation, of different races and social standing to ensure the success of the referendum on November 6, 2014.Because Bahamian women were not engaged in the historical error of 1972, the proposed referendum of the constitution on that date will afford Bahamian women, for the first time in our history, an opportunity to be directly involved in the remaking of our constitution, exercising the hard earned right to vote gained in 1962, as members of the Constitutional Commission, members of parliament and electors, to remediate this historical error.Sir Lynden Pindling, at a colloquium on reform of the constitution convened by Michael Stevenson, Felix Bethel, Raynard Rigby and myself at the College of The Bahamas in June, 1998, presented a paper entitled "Refining the revolution".Sir Lynden, with the perspective of 36 years of an independent Commonwealth of The Bahamas during most of which he was prime minister, implicitly challenged us to correct this historical error of discriminating against Bahamian women and their children when he posed the following question: "While defining the rights of Bahamian citizens for the 21st century, don't you think favorable consideration will have to be given to the question as to whether children born outside The Bahamas to Bahamian mothers and foreign fathers should become Bahamian citizens on the same terms as children born outside The Bahamas to foreign mothers and Bahamian fathers?"

o Alfred Sears is a noted attorney, scholar and political figure who served in several Cabinet posts between 2002 and 2007. He currently serves as the chairman of The College of The Bahamas Council.

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Male supremacy and privilege: Why many men feel superior to women

August 14, 2014

To understand why the upcoming referendum is a long shot to succeed is to appreciate how entrenched is sexism and misogyny in the Bahamian psyche, especially that of a large number of men as well as women who have internalized a paralyzing sense of the inferiority of women.And to better understand the idea of male supremacy and privilege, root causes of misogyny and sexism, is to appreciate by analogy the nature and depth of white supremacy and privilege. Imagine the reaction of many Bahamian men, including various MPs and religious leaders, to a white American issuing this racist declaration: "As a white person God made me superior to black people.Black people should not have all the same rights that I have because of the color of my skin. History has shown that black people are inferior to whites."Yet, shockingly, this is the quintessential mindset of many Bahamian men when it comes to women. They may couch their words and even speak glowingly of loving women. But in the end, in questions ranging from full citizenship to marital rape there is a continuum of male supremacy and privilege. In their hearts and in various actions and inaction they believe that they are superior to women. God made it this way and history bears this out.

To extend the analogy, in an imagined mimic of Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller's abusive rage about beating a former girlfriend, imagine a white member of the U.S. Congress saying during the days of Jim Crow how much some slaves enjoyed getting beaten, a sign of how much attention their slave master paid to them.

Imagine
Imagine if Miller had spoken of beating Haitians. South Andros MP Picewell Forbes would likely not have dissolved into mindless and body-shaking guffaws, and fellow male MPs would have condemned Miller.

Yet, when Miller bragged about his battering a woman, neither Prime Minister Perry Christie nor Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis nor DNA Leader Branville McCartney condemned his sickening boast. In so many other countries such leaders would have roundly and speedily confronted such disgraceful sexism. But not in The Bahamas! Nor, for that matter, did most of the male religious leaders in the country come to the defense of Bahamian women. This collective silence demonstrates the depth of the sexism and male supremacy in the country, from pulpit to Parliament.That depth is such that Forbes initially doggedly claimed that he had nothing to apologize for after enjoying Miller's boast of domestic abuse. He only apologized after being hammered by the press and others.

Had Miller gibed about just any other group in the country, save perhaps for gays and lesbians, he likely would have been severely criticized by Christie, Minnis, McCartney and other men who maintained a stony silence after he bragged about severely beating someone who could be a sister or friend. While race is a social construct rather than a biological reality, an individual is born with certain skin pigmentation. Correspondingly, though there are biological anomalies, we are born male or female. Further, the analogy between race and gender is highly compelling and demonstrative if not necessarily exact. The diabolical nature of racism and sexism is the pernicious belief that a class of individuals is superior because the complexion of their skin is white or because they were born with a penis.

The lie continues: One is born inferior because one has a darker complexion or is born with female genitalia. Racism and sexism are that absurd, and it is an absurdity that has fueled holocausts and genocide, as well as the subjugation of women for millennia.

Nugget
The lie and the absurdity are purposeful - the domination of one group by another, insistent on their interests and privileges. The absurdity of sexism is captured in this nugget of male supremacy by Leslie Miller: "If my sister marries a foreigner, I expect for that foreigner to take her home to his country and support her. What they bringing him here for? Don't come to my country and take a job from one of my Bahamian brothers."By Miller's absurd logic Arnold Pindling should have taken his Bahamian wife back to Jamaica with the result that Lynden Pindling, whom Miller and others adore, would likely never have become leader of the PLP nor prime minister. Imagine how difficult it may have been for Sir Lynden's mother to get her Jamaican son citizenship after 1973.

The responses of many Bahamian women to the outmoded thinking of men like Miller ranges from the complicit to the baffling. Having previously failed to condemn Miller's remarks about brutalizing a woman, Social Services Minister Melanie Griffin, according to a report in The Tribune, "defended Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller against criticism of his 'personal view' on one of the constitutional amendment bills".Griffin advised: "Mr. Miller has assured me that the view he gave was his personal view, and he respects the rights of Bahamian women in the same situation to be able to make that decision. I'm confident that he supports the bill."His personal view? He is a sitting MP in the governing party. He also bragged of his personal view about battering a woman. Suppose he openly expressed a personal view about disliking white people or Haitians? It is unlikely that Griffin would react similarly in these instances. And when did Miller become such an advocate for equality and the rights of women, before or after he screamed: "That's like beating your wife or your girlfriend every time you go home. You just beat her for looking at her. I love ya. Boom, boom, boom. I had a girlfriend like that. When I didn't beat her she used to tell me I ain't love her no more 'cause I don't hit her. But seriously I had one like that. I had one..."

Benighted
While the executive chairman of BEC and a union leader representing electrical workers may be on opposing sides of various issues, they are united in a certain form of benighted logic. As reported in this journal the union leader declared: "I cannot trust my daughter and granddaughter to do the right thing... I am not going to put that kind of pressure on them, not with these clowns out there; these lackluster, shiftless, trifling negroes out there. Are you crazy?" So is it okay if a Bahamian woman marries a foreign man who is Latino, white or Asian? Never mind, here we have male supremacy married to xenophobia. Bahamian women need not marry a foreigner to get hitched to "lackluster", "shiftless" and "trifling" men. There are plenty highly irresponsible men here at home, many who often abandon or fail to take care of their children, polygamous to their heart's content, while failing to live up to many of their responsibilities as men. Of note, there are many good Bahamian men struggling to be good spouses, partners, fathers and sons, as well as good citizens. The mindset of the union leader and so many other Bahamian men is that women are not as smart or as discerning or as cunning as are men. Or to put it in the language of male supremacy, "Women are too emotional, stupid, permissive, they can't think like a man."This is a curious mindset in light of the fact that the vast majority of the students at COB are women, that it is overwhelmingly women who pursue tertiary studies overseas, with most of them not returning to The Bahamas after graduation, many because of perceived greater opportunities overseas and quite a number because of the rank sexism in Bahamian society.We are supposed to believe that those many Bahamian men who found brides of convenience are somehow smarter than Bahamian women in choosing a spouse. Judgment in choosing a spouse has little to do with gender and more to do with the ability of an individual, male or female, to decide for themselves whether they choose wisely or not. Equality means that we are on a level playing field in making decisions, however they may turn out. The definition of this is freedom, equality's guardian. Equality means that there should be no superior class when it comes to democratic rights as guaranteed by the constitution.

Next week: The deficit of leadership on the referendum

o frontporchguardian@gmail.com, www.bahamapundit.com.

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Bahamian women: Slaves to religion, culture and tradition

August 13, 2014

She - her body and mind - was once owned by her slave master.She - her body and mind - is now owned by her husband, her pastor, her priest or her political leader. So, what has really changed since the abolition of slavery in The Bahamas, if Bahamian women have dropped one slave master and picked up three more by buying into the belief that the man is head of the woman? The real and unending problem of slavery is the warped mentality it left behind to be further cultivated by the inequity of a superimposed religion, and the layers of tradition and culture that emanated from it.

The very things that define our society, culture and religion, are the same things that break it down, through all of the prejudices and discriminations that go along with them.Is it in the nature of Bahamian women to be owned, controlled and cajoled by Bahamian men? Did our master forefathers do such a perfect job of dismantling our psychology to cause us to think that, for the duration of our visit on this planet, it was/is essential to be someone's property? You - Bahamian woman - you, who like nothing more than to boast about your 'independence', and how you have your own money, pay your own bills and buy your own clothes. You - who tell Beyonce to "preach, gyal", when she throws these lyrics out and her hands up.Perhaps you didn't recognize that, according to Bahamian constitutional law, you are not equal to your Bahamian man, and, therefore, you really are not Beyonce's 'independent woman', who is "always 50/50 in relationships".Perhaps, like many others (including myself until I paid attention and learned differently), you assumed that everything was fine in your Bahamas and there were no issues with the question of your inherent citizen rights and freedoms.Perhaps you (still) don't understand why it's important to be considered in law and in practice as equal to a man, because you've been brainwashed by years of religious tradition and culture which tell you that you are not and will never be because you were never meant to be.The same god you believe in, the all-powerful, ever-present, all-seeing one - the very one at the center of the belief system you hold dear that preaches male supremacy, somehow you think the love "he' has for you is worth less than the love 'he' has for your father, brother, son, uncle and other male relatives or friends. But surely 'he' could not love you equally and simultaneously hold the man in higher esteem, could 'he'?Would a god so comprehensively loving and eternally just ever pick favorites amongst 'his' children?

Why would you ever think that?

Why would that good god that taught all 'his' biblical children to stand firm - be they female/woman, male/man - not inspire the same in you today and every day? Do you think that same god would want or take delight in you being regarded as less than human compared to any man, by being the receiver of physical, sexual, and psychological turmoil and other abusive acts brought on by the mere fact that you are born a female?Because, if so, would 'he' not have to be a pretty violent and hateful god to find it alright for you to be trampled on, to be responsible for the trampling (because it's 'God's will'), and to ultimately infer that you were not worth enough, so that you were trampled on in the first place? What about the comprehensive and equal love for all 'his' children?If you could believe that same god has such a split identity, then surely you must either be mistaken about who or what 'he' is or represents, or 'he' is not what you have been made to believe all along. Which is it?But you and Beyonce stay singing about how you "depend on no one else to give you what you want", and on the other side of that tune you're waitin' around for your politician, priest, pastor and/or partner to decide your fate? Why allow them to decide your fate, when you are the vehicle for their own existences? Why allow them to decide your fate, when they will never take the blame for your fate?

Unless they are the perpetrators - which they very well could be - they won't be there the next time you get boxed in the eye or lip, punched in the ribs, cussed at, put in a chokehold, slammed in the head with a chair, held at gun-, knife-, cutlass-, bottle-, rock-, or fist- point, raped or molested in the streets or behind closed doors.And, if they're not there for all or any of those incredibly difficult and lonely moments, they certainly won't be there at the simpler but no less important times when you don't get a job, a raise, or a promotion because you have milk-producing breasts, a period, and can get pregnant. And there will be no one there but you to fight your cause.And when you or your loved ones have to stand in fear and loneliness, to deal with the problems that arise because your protections by law and by practice are not fully recognized or exercised, how would you then feel to know you could have made a difference in your daughter's, sister's, mother's, aunt's, friend's or your own life, and been protected, instead of subjected, by your politicians, police, priests, pastors and partners, if only you had made it clear to them without hesitation or reservation that for now and all time beyond now, in spite of our man-worshipped constitutional origins, the law will clearly state that you and all the women you love with the equality of 'God's love' are equal to men as human beings, with equal human rights and opportunities as the men who have, thus far, choreographed your lives in every sphere?

o Facebook.com/politiCole

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Emancipation and the 21st century slave masters

August 11, 2014

A week after the celebration of Emancipation Day in The Bahamas, it would seem obsolete to have a topic such as the one above. Furthermore, a quick look at the title of this piece would have led a number of readers to form a view on the angle from which this article may have been written.
This commentary begins with reference to a popular saying that an individual is a slave to that which controls him or her. "That", as used in this sense, could be an individual, group of persons, entity, habit, vice or, more broadly, a way of thinking.
In the strict sense therefore and drawing from this saying, slavery has not truly been totally eliminated in The Bahamas but has evolved and now appears in a new form. The danger in this new dispensation is revealed when individuals seek to impose that which has them in bondage on others confirming that misery indeed likes company. This week we consider the role of 21st century slave masters and our quest for true emancipation.
The new slave masters
A new form of slavery that has reared its head in our country of late has been pronounced in the ideology of certain persons in public life or with uninhibited access to the populace due to their occupation. The new-age slave masters are not content with being masters of their enslaved selves but have sought to enslave the vulnerable among us using false teachings and misguided thoughts as their tools.
There is no doubt that individuals should take responsibility for their own destinies and should determine their own future. In pursuing this goal, they will subscribe to certain beliefs and uphold unique values. The worrisome aspect of this accepted notion occurs when a person feels that their thoughts, regardless of how unreasonable, archaic or shallow they are, represent the only truth and anything or anyone contrary is perceived as an enemy. No one but the most high God is omniscient and all-knowing, which means that no human being is the repository of all knowledge.
Shackles revealed in a debate
We had barely begun the celebration of Emancipation Day and a comprehensive debate on the proposed constitutional referendum on gender equality when the chains on the minds of some of our leaders, leadership aspirants and public commentators became obvious for all to see. Here we are at the door of history only to find that there are others that are determined to keep us in the past and maintain the status quo. They have chosen to stand in the way of progress and are determined to keep us in an age of stagnation.
During the course of the debate on the upcoming constitutional referendum, it is normal to expect supporters and opponents of the proposed amendments to make their voices heard. This is not only healthy for our nation but also a beautiful display of our democracy at work. However, persons charged with educating the public and presenting the facts should be careful not to let their personal views, especially when they are grounded in unnecessary hysteria and selfish motives, overshadow a sensible discourse on this vital subject.
Freedom from discrimination
As we consider the meaning of true emancipation, a number of questions come to mind. How can we be truly free in a country that views one gender as being superior to another? This does not suggest that the hierarchy of the traditional family as demonstrated in the Bible should be abandoned, neither does gender equality in this sense oppose that structure.
How can the men and women of this land justify the notion that Bahamian women are lesser human beings than their male counterparts? What argument can we put forward in support of maintaining an environment that discriminates against the mothers, wives and daughters of our Bahamaland?
Can we in good conscience accept the belief among some Bahamian men that we - the women of The Bahamas - are inferior to Bahamian men and are nothing more than property or chattel?
The new generation of Bahamians in general and Bahamian women in particular will not conform to this primitive mindset that seeks to perpetuate slavery in the form of discrimination based on gender in our country. We seek emancipation from an ill that has survived decades in our midst due to the deliberate actions and inaction of our leaders while we the people have accepted the current state of affairs for far too long.
Political aiding and abetting
The political class and politicos in general have been true to their colors over these years of injustice and inequality based on gender. They have played the proverbial football with a matter so critical to the future success of our country to preserve their own interests and further their selfish ambitions. Some politicians have formed an alliance either consciously or unconsciously with the new slave masters to keep the Bahamian people in bondage by adopting a divide and rule strategy. In some instances, it is sad to see that the politicians and wannabes are also the slave masters.
As the debate on gender equality intensifies, it should be made very clear to the masses that what is being generally proposed in simple terms is to grant Bahamian women the same rights as Bahamian men.
The political pundits and surrogates should rest assured that they will have their day and say in due course; they should save their theatrical performances and rhetoric for the election campaign in 2017. This is not the time for seeking political brownie points or pointing fingers. This is the time for action; the time to put our differences aside for a common loftier goal and stand on the right side of history. The time for emancipation from the 21st century slave masters in relation to gender equality is upon us and the time for action is now.
The struggle continues
It would be disingenuous to suggest that the push for amendments to our constitution to give equal rights to Bahamian women is all that is required to emancipate us from the new slave masters. The fight for equity and fairness must not end at the polls but should now be extended into our social landscape and corporate world. Bahamian women must be respected in the same manner as their male counterparts. There must be equal pay for equal work and opportunities should not be denied us because of our gender.
The clarion call for equality and fairness in the treatment of Bahamian women should not be interpreted as what it is not. Bahamian women are not seeking to replace our male counterparts but clamoring for the opportunity to hold hands with them to build our country.
The reality is that greater inclusion of women in nation building can only benefit this country we all love and the new form of slavery stands in the way of our progress as a nation.
o Arinthia S. Komolafe is an attorney-at-law. Comments on this article can be directed to a.s.komolafe510@gmail.com.

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