October 22, 2018
CEDAW is a powerful tool for women, and understanding it and its implications is a privilege. The Government of The Bahamas, like many other states, has signed numerous conventions and declarations without national dialogue.
Many citizens have never heard of CEDAW or, when they did, it was framed as an international agenda and attack on sovereignty. This narrative is dangerous, as is successive administrations’ decisions to take particular actions in international spaces, failing to communicate them to citizens.
The State must provide public education on CEDAW — along with other instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of a Child — increasing awareness of what has been signed, how the instruments are used, and ways to monitor State compliance. Failure to make these instruments accessible contributes to results like those in the 2016 referendum on sex-based discrimination.
The State must fulfill commitments, supporting moves to expand and protect the rights of the vulnerable. It is unacceptable for a Minister of Social Services and Community Development to say marital rape is a private issue, and for parliamentarians to express ambivalence or confusion about human rights. We call for education and training for elected and appointed officials, and for the expertise of civil society members to be acknowledged and engaged.
The State has a history of responding to issues raised by international bodies with promises to act, false starts, and delayed follow-ups as seen in the aftermath of the referendum and the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women’s late-2017 visit to The Bahamas. The State must act on its commitment to amend the Nationality Act to entitle the children of Bahamian women — born anywhere — to Bahamian citizenship, and return to the drafting of the marital rape bill, call it rape, and meaningfully engage civil society, beyond the Christian church, in consultation.
The State must give particular attention to the most vulnerable women. There are women experiencing poverty, who are differently-abled, who are members of the LBTQ+ community, and who are migrant workers. They are at the highest risk of discrimination and violence and have the least access to social and legal protection. Women are turned away from voter registration for “improper dress,” unable to sit in the gallery of the House of Assembly because it is not wheelchair accessible, and experience difficulty gaining employment, reporting crime, and accessing healthcare due to personal opinions and outdated policies about gender performance and belonging.
It is unacceptable to put rights of minorities to a majority vote. Progress demands state commitment, public education on existing mechanisms, regular national reporting, representatives’ firm positions in support of women’s human rights, and the intentional engagement and protection of those experiencing multiple forms of oppression and vulnerability as a priority.