March 01, 2015
Long Island MP and former deputy leader of the Free National Movement (FNM), Loretta Butler-Turner, has charged that women are “vastly underrepresented” at the levels of ultimate political power in The Bahamas, despite considerable progress in terms of the involvement of women in the political process.
The one-time candidate for leader of her party proposed the possible establishment of targets in terms of numbers and deadlines for the inclusion of women as candidates for political office, and she prescribed “vigorous recruitment efforts and training programs for women”. She was speaking at a public event hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) Follow-up Mechanism of the Belém do Pará Convention, in Washington, D.C. last week.
Butler-Turner, who is a former vice-president of the CIM, spoke on a panel entitled “The role of political parties in addressing political violence against women”. She reported that The Bahamas has made considerable progress in terms of the involvement of women in the political process, as exemplified by the considerable involvement of women in the civil service, on government boards and in other areas of public life.
“But as a citizen and a woman, my task is to ask what else needs to be done to ensure greater equality for women in political parties generally and in the political process at every level of government,” she said.
“There is still a long way to go in terms of the number of women in the elected lower chamber of our Parliament and the number of women as Cabinet members. These two areas are where ultimate political power resides, and where women are vastly underrepresented,” Butler-Turner asserted.
Addressing the issue of violence against women, she noted that in the political process, such violence might be in the form of words as well as in how systems are rigged against the fuller participation of women in leadership in political parties.
“One does not have to be physically harmed to be intimidated or to feel that one is being marginalized. On a range of issues important to women, as well as issues related to gender equality, females in the political process often feel intimidated and afraid to speak for fear of not being a member of the political club, or marginalized if one does speak out on various issues,” Butler-Turner said.
She talked about the subtle — and not-so-subtle — ways in which women are intimidated and sidelined.
“When one is the only, or among the few women in the room when important discussions are taking place, there is often the pressure to conform or to remain silent... As political office or power is often seen as the preserve and prerogative of men, women often tread lightly and minimize their voices,” she said.
“The way to change this equation is to have more women at the seat of political power at every level, especially in national legislatures. Toward this end political parties may wish to devise targets in terms of numbers and deadlines for the inclusion of women as candidates for political office,” she added.
“Correspondingly there will need to be vigorous recruitment efforts and training programs for women, especially as women have typically been more reticent in running for office for a variety of reasons... There is the need for urgent and greater effort by political parties to create the climate and conditions for more women to feel empowered and inclined to seek elected office.”
Referencing the overall cultural climate, Butler-Turner suggested that political parties must help to foster a climate of inclusion and tolerance at the local and national levels, arguing that more women will run for office if there is a greater sense of equality within the national culture and women feel less intimidated and marginalized.
“In this regard political parties must be more robust in challenging the offensive and abusive language directed toward women in public discourse,” she said. “Remaining silent sends a message. A non-response is so often a thunderous response... Political parties must also be at the forefront of refashioning and constructing the architecture of equality, i.e. promoting laws, programs, systems, and opportunities for women to be more involved in decision-making at the highest level and to better address political violence against women.”
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