21st Century citizenship
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1 v27, NIV translation
The season of independence gives us many reasons to think about the meaning of citizenship. I join others, in standing proud, when I think of the historic and progressive strides made by Bahamians.
These progressive strides do not extend to the provisions of the Bahamas Constitution, that in the grant of citizenship, still discriminate against women. In so doing, The Bahamas is a bird flying with one wing – one that cannot achieve full flight, nor its full potential.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Bahamian married women who do not live and work in The Bahamas, because their husbands cannot get a job or, cannot become citizens of The Bahamas.
Marriages have broken up because of the stress that this discrimination places on families.
We all know of families where one child in a family is a Bahamian, because he was born in The Bahamas (let’s call him Sam) and another child (let’s call him John), in the same family, of the same parents, is not Bahamian, because he was born in the United States.
Maybe John was born there when his married Bahamian mother (let’s call her Sue) was studying or while Sue was receiving medical attention.
If Sue’s married Bahamian brother (let’s call him Mike) has children abroad, Mike’s children are entitled to be registered as Bahamian citizens.
Why should Mike’s children be treated differently from Sue’s children? Why should Sam and not John be Bahamian? Both have the same parents.
This discrimination causes stress and hardship in families. These unjust discriminatory provisions destroy family life. If we support family life, how can we allow this injustice to continue?
The Bahamas has held two referenda to remove this discrimination from our constitution. Both referenda were defeated by citizens. Bahamians voted to uphold these discriminatory provisions of our constitution. Books can be written about why this happened.
So what can we do?
Our national response to COVID-19 has demonstrated that, when necessary, we can act immediately and cause beneficial transformation.
I endorse the suggestions of others who have stated that the government should table in Parliament, the legislation, now in circulation, that would, by law, allow for the following persons to obtain Bahamian citizenship: a husband of a Bahamian woman; a child, born abroad, to a married Bahamian woman; and, a child of a single Bahamian man.
Even though the law would not remove the discriminatory provisions of the constitution, it would remove the hardships that too many families now suffer. To those who say that a new government might bring forth laws to revoke these provisions, I say that, in my view, withdrawing these empowering laws would be highly unlikely.
Let’s see all members of Parliament united in promoting strong family life by removing this injustice and discrimination.
If, as in 1973, we want the world to mark the manner of our 21st Century bearing, justice dictates that Bahamian women and men should have equal entitlement to citizenship for their children and spouses.
We need Bahamian women and men, both created in God’s image, at the table, as equals.
All Bahamians have an interest in nation building and good governance as we march forward, upward and onward together.
Standing on the shoulders of the noble and courageous suffragettes, like my grandmother, Georgiana K. Symonette, Eugenia Lockhart, Mary Ingraham, Dame Bertha Isaacs, Dame Doris Johnson and others of their generation, let us urge the government to table in Parliament the legislation mentioned above.
It is time to stop institutionalized destruction of family life. The time is now, for the government to take the just, progressive and bold step of tabling and passing that legislation.
I commit my support. Do you?
— Allyson Maynard-Gibson