In a push for full constitutional gender equality, Attorney General Carl Bethel yesterday asserted that the government needs to find the right formula for the Bahamian people to accept equal rights for men and women in the country.
“I want every Bahamian to be reminded of the fact that both governments in this country that we’ve had since independence have gone down to shocking and crushing defeats on this issue of the equality of women when submitted to referenda,” said Bethel, during the morning sitting of Senate where senators gave contributions in honor of the International Day of the Girl Child.
“It is unfortunate. I won’t give any statistics but I must say this, in my ignorant point of view, since women are more than half of the voting population of the registered voters, they are more than half, and if every registered woman had voted in favor of either of the referenda we would have had constitutional equality a long time ago.
“So this is a question we in society must ask ourselves. Would it take the prime minister and the leader of the opposition hugging one another up on stage, is that what we need?
“Or is it something deeper in our psyche in our mental approach?
“Is it the mixture of the issue of constitutional equality with other issues like immigration?
“Are these the things that cause us as a people, and in that I include men and women voters, to have consistently rejected the idea of full constitutional equality?
“It is a work in progress and perhaps we were able to craft the correct mix of constitutional equality with constitutional limitations.
“Some day we will get it right.
“I pray that day is soon because we cannot all have the equality that we have functionally…in my view there’s functional equality but there can never be full equality until the rights enshrined in the constitution and reserved to men equally apply to Bahamian women.
“So, whether we do it in a way that limits everybody’s rights in certain areas so that there’s equality in limitation as well as equality in the rights that are granted, there has to be a formula and hopefully if we can achieve that formula we can eventually, and I hope soon, move to a status of full constitutional equality between men and women.”
Last November, the government said it will amend the Bahamas Nationality Act and the Status of Children Act to ensure all children born outside The Bahamas to Bahamian women automatically receive Bahamian citizenship.
The Christie administration sought to enact a similar amendment during its 2016 gender equality referendum.
One of the constitutional amendment bills sought to give a child born outside The Bahamas to a married Bahamian-born mother and non-Bahamian father the same automatic right to Bahamian citizenship that the constitution already gives to a child born outside The Bahamas to a married Bahamian-born father and a non-Bahamian mother.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposed amendments.
A similar exercise in 2002 was also rejected.
Bethel said yesterday that while constitutional equality is a goal to be aimed for, equality still exists functionally.
“There is nobody who can look at the legal structure in The Bahamas, absent of the constitution, the rights enjoyed, the privilege extended, who could possible suggest that women, girl children, vis a vis boy children, women vis a vis men, that functionally there is any form of inequality, functionally and under the ordinarily law of the land,” he said.
“And if there is any wage discrimination in the private sector we need to find out about it but certainly in the public sector there is no such thing.”
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications