With last week’s resignation of Lanisha Rolle from Cabinet, the country now faces a dire situation in which not one single member of the Cabinet of The Bahamas is a woman.
In the 21st Century, this should be unthinkable. This is a sad comment upon, but – we are forced to admit – also a fair reflection of, the truly shameful state of gender rights in this country.
The truth is that we really shouldn’t be surprised by the state of the Cabinet, living as we do in this country where harsh employment prejudice and gender-based pay gaps persist; where sexual harassment is not at all taken seriously; where the sexual abuse of women and girls is routinely swept under the rug while the police decline to properly investigate.
It should be expected in a country where rape within a marriage is still legal, where domestic abuse is normalized, and where Bahamian women do not have the same right to pass on citizenship to their children as their male compatriots.
At the end of the day, in The Bahamas, women are still second class citizens, both in law and in terms of the attitude of wider society. Until this embarrassing state of affairs is fully acknowledged and addressed, we should not expect to see more women in political leadership roles.
If government is a reflection of the society, then we must look in the mirror and admit that when it comes to gender issues, we have ended up with exactly the government we deserve.
That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.
The prime minister is responsible for appointing the Cabinet, which in turn has the ability to forcefully address the many gender equality issues that continue to keep Bahamian women subdued and oppressed.
Human Rights Bahamas urges Prime Minister Minnis and the members of the current Cabinet to be agents for change.
First, they should take steps to redress the shameful lack of balance among their own number. Then, they should present an agenda for tackling the many forms of institutionalized misogyny in this society and the various cultural attitudes that flow from them.
Back in 2015, former Social Service Minister Melanie Griffin told a high level UN meeting in New York that The Bahamas was “committed to achieving full equality in our constitution for men and women,” specifically gender equal nationality laws. Of course, that went nowhere.
In calling for change, I do not mean more false promises and empty words of this kind. What is needed is a concrete legislative consultation and public education agenda, clearly articulated and put into action with energy and initiative.
It is now very late in the political term. The current government has had years to address gender equality issues but like their predecessors, failed to do so. And now, with very little time remaining, they find themselves saddled with the sad, regressive spectacle of an all-male executive team.
But every crisis is also an opportunity.
I encourage the government to make this issue a central focus of its remaining time in office before the election.
If they can be successful in achieving meaningful and historic change, win or lose, they will have cemented a legacy for themselves and be ensured of the gratitude and affection of future generations of Bahamians.
— Joseph Darville
Human Rights Bahamas vice president