Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper yesterday pledged that a PLP government would prioritize progressive initiatives geared toward women, including expanding paid maternity leave, child care at large government offices and possibly increasing the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18.
Cooper, who addressed significant challenges related to women in The Bahamas at a gathering of the PLP’s New Providence Women’s Branch, outlined these initiatives which would include addressing family planning, benefits for women and equality for women.
“A Progressive Liberal Party government would explore the expansion of maternity benefits for Bahamian mothers, and also explore extending legally-mandated paid maternity leave to allow mothers more time to care for newborn children and recover from pregnancy,” he said.
“We must encourage flexi-time and work-from-home programs where appropriate, especially for mothers of young children.
“The next PLP government would also explore a government-subsidized program to enable more lower-income Bahamian families to afford quality child care for children from birth to age 3.
“My employees tell me that because BAF offers after-school care that they are less stressed about school runs and can be more productive.
“We would also explore incentivizing businesses of 50 or more employees to allow childcare and wellness facilities on premises to allow parents more flexibility at work to increase productivity.
“I also believe this should apply to large government offices.”
The Exumas and Ragged Island MP made his case for widespread access to family planning.
“We must bring more focus to family life studies in our schools, and make some necessary social reforms,” he said.
“In the first instance, I disagree with our legal age of consent. It is my view that it should be 18 for men and women.
“We must protect vulnerable and inexperienced young women from being preyed upon.
“We are no longer in an age when young women get married at 16.
“…Better access to contraception and understanding reproductive and sexual health would help lower the rate of unwanted pregnancy and allow young women more educational and economic opportunities.
“Having the ability to control the timing and frequency of pregnancy and childbirth is critical for women to more fully participate in the workforce.”
In addition to this, Cooper also voiced his support for the removal of stamp duty and value-added tax (VAT) from all female hygiene products; the need to implement more stringent measures for collecting child support from men who do not pay to take care of their children, which could include a wage garnish system; and the need to explore a possible increase in the level of court-mandated child support.
“There continues to be inequities of gender bias entrenched in our constitution,” he added.
“Women still don’t have equal right to give their children Bahamian citizenship.
“Let us never forget the ill-fated referendum that women overwhelmingly voted against.
“We allowed politicians to play politics with these most important reforms and we must not rule out revisiting them when we return to office.
“And these are just some of the issues that I, as a man, understand women deal with that must change and we can change.
“And we must change them together.”
Cooper said that while women have broken many barriers, it cannot be ignored that historically they have been subject to a level of oppression and unfairness that men have not and pointed to the wage gap between the genders.
“Women are, in 2019, paid less than men on average, according to our Department of Statistics,” he noted.
“Women, for the first time in quite some time, now make up less of the labor force and more of the unemployed than men.
“This may not be an alarm-level issue at the moment, but great tragedies do not always happen in an instant, they sometimes gestate for years if not addressed.”
He further cried shame on the lack of representation of women in the House of Assembly, calling it a “national disgrace”.
“Women need to be playing a leading role in our country,” Cooper added.
“…We must now push the envelope. More women should be chairing boards, running for the House of Assembly and sitting in the Senate and Cabinet.
“Why have we not yet had a female prime minister?
“We are far out of step with many of our regional counterparts on this score.
“I will admit that I am often most embarrassed and bewildered when I walk into the House of Assembly and see how few women there are in that place.
“It is a national disgrace that in a country where women make up just over half the population, only five out of 39 of elected representatives are women.
“A national disgrace. This must change. And women and men must demand that it change and orchestrate that change.”
According to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the percentage of women elected to Parliament in The Bahamas is far below the United Nations’ minimum quota of 30 percent.
Of the 19 Cabinet ministers, only one is a woman.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications
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