In light of the celebration of International Women’s Day, Senate President Katherine Forbes-Smith called for an end to discrimination against women in the constitution yesterday.
“I just briefly would like to join all the voices of women around The Bahamas and globally as well as we recognize and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and the call to action for accelerating equality and empowerment for all in our society,” she said.
“I trust in the not-too-distant future, The Bahamas will remove all forms of discrimination from our constitution, especially as it relates to women.”
The Bahamian constitution does not protect against discrimination based on a person’s sex.
The constitution also does not allow women and men the same rights to pass on citizenship to children born outside of the country.
A 2016 referendum to address these issues and others was overwhelmingly rejected by Bahamian voters, even though the majority of voters were women.
A similar exercise in 2002 was also rejected.
Forbes-Smith’s comments came after Englerston MP Glenys Hanna-Martin raised the issue in the House of Assembly on Wednesday.
“Women have progressed tremendously over the generations, but we still see patriarchy subsisting in many, many institutions and in many subsets and circumstances. We may even argue that in this Parliament we see only five members,” Hanna-Martin said.
She added, “While we champion the progress made by women over the years, those women who demanded the right to vote in the suffragette movement and all the other advances women have made, I want to use this opportunity to remind us that we have a very long way to go.”
Hanna-Martin continued, “While we celebrate, we want to remember that women are disproportionately represented in the unemployment ranks. We want to remember that single mothers continue to struggle, particularly with fathers of children assisting in the maintenance of those children.
“We have to remember that there continues to be wage disparity, with women earning less in many circumstances. We have to remember that women continue to be primarily the subjects of gender-based violence, including rape.
“We have to remember that there’s the intangible, the cultural bias and the negative stereotypes, which we see all the time, and which women have to resist and reject.
“And we also must be reminded that we have unequal rights in our constitution to this moment, and the time must come when Bahamian women should be able to pass citizenship to a child that comes from her womb.”
She added, “We would like to see a constitutional provision, which was so controversial in the last referendum exercise, where it is unconstitutional to discriminate against someone based on their sex, like women. It would be unconstitutional, not just wrong or not so nice, [but] it would be unconstitutional.
“It would be good to see that.”
According to the 2019 Rule of Law Index, The Bahamas scored well below the Latin America and Caribbean average for its efforts to ensure an absence of discrimination.
In 2017, the Minnis administration 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, but there has been little movement on the matter.