Women in politics

We congratulate Dr. Mildred Hall-Watson on her election as president of the Senate. Her election is a further strengthening of the role of women in front-line politics in The Bahamas.

Dr. Hall-Watson is a widely known and well-respected American-trained obstetrician/gynecologist. She has long been active in Free National Movement party politics both at the constituency and national levels.

And, she has an impressive record of community involvement with organizations concerned with maternity and childcare and the promotion of the well-being of women. A past director of PACE (Providing Access to Continued Education) for teen mothers and a past president of the Family Planning Association, Dr. Hall is associated with The Bahamas’ chapters of ZONTA, Links Inc. and The Bahamas AIDS Foundation.

Dr. Hall-Watson is now the fourth female to lead the Senate since the appointment of Dame Doris Johnson in 1973.

After a break of nearly 20 years, Lynn Pyfrom-Holowesko was elected president of the Senate in 2000. Then, in 2002, Sharon Wilson was elected to the post followed by the election of Dr. Hall-Watson’s immediate predecessor, Katherine Forbes-Smith in 2017.

Both Holowesko and Wilson served second terms as president of the Senate, Holowesko from 2007 to 2012 and Wilson from 2012 to 2017.

Significantly, between 2000 and 2002 the make-up of the Senate enjoyed a 50/50 distribution of seats between women and men.

We welcome the continued practice of the major political parties in The Bahamas of positioning women to assume positions of consequence in government. This is particularly important given continued bias in the country against female candidates to elected political office.

The campaign to recognize women’s rightful place in the public life of our country has been long and fraught with more than its fair share of small advances followed by retreat.

Women were only granted the right to vote in 1962 following a long-fought campaign in which Dr. Doris Johnson together with Mary Ingraham, Eugenie Lockhart, Mable Walker and Georgianna Symonette distinguished themselves.

The first female elected to Parliament, Janet Bostwick, now the Honourable Dame Janet, entered the House of Assembly in 1982. She was re-elected consecutively on three subsequent occasions and in 1992 became one of three females appointed to Cabinet; the first such appointments since Dame Doris Johnson’s appointment to Cabinet in 1968.

Since the 1992 general election when Bahamians elected four women to the House of Assembly, the number of females elected reached a high point of eight in 2002 before falling to the current number of five or 12.8 percent of the total 39 members of the House. In February of this year the Inter-Parliamentary Union rated The Bahamas at 147 out of 192 countries surveyed regarding women elected to Parliament.

In 1997, after five years during which she served as deputy speaker of the House of Assembly, Italia Johnson became the first woman to be elected speaker of the House. She served a full term which ended in 2002.

And, in 2002, Dame Ivy Dumont became the first female appointed governor general in The Bahamas. She served until 2005. Almost a decade later, Dame Marguerite Pindling became the second Bahamian female governor general in 2014.

The Bahamas has since 1992 made considerable progress in the appointment of women to the Senate. Today though membership in the House stands at 5 out of 39 members, there are seven female senators out of a total of 16 or 43.8 percent, significant, but down from the 50/50 high point achieved in 2000.

On the other hand, there is now only one female in a Cabinet of 19, down from four in a Cabinet of 20 prior to May 2017.

The fact that females make up 50 percent of the population is alone sufficient reason for their larger representation among our elected and appointed officials.

Moreover, studies from around the world suggests that the presence of women in decision-making positions in government invariably result in increased attention by governments to issues impacting health, education and equity.

These are good things.

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