By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE FAILURE of the proposed gender equality referendum should not be an option, Sea Breeze MP Hope Strachan said yesterday.
Women parliamentarians held a joint press conference to clarify their position on the timeline for the referendum following the headline “PLP Women Want Referendum Delay” published in The Nassau Guardian yesterday.
Englerston MP and Minister of Transport, Glenys Hanna-Martin, confirmed that a bipartisan caucus has been assembled to mobilise a public campaign to support the proposed constitutional amendments.
The group met last week, according to Mrs Hanna-Martin, who confirmed the participation of FNM Senator Heather Hunt and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Loretta Butler-Turner.
Mrs Hanna-Martin said that while parliamentarians were eager to see gender equality enshrined in the constitution, they could not overlook the concerns of stakeholders and the need to ensure that there is enough time for public education.
Ms Strachan, State Minister for Transport, said: “The PLP women do not want a delay. What the PLP women want is to give this referendum the best chance of success. For us, this issue is one where failure is really not an option for us as women in this country.
“So while we do not want a delay, we recognise that in the reality of the situation it may actually require one. To forge ahead with a set date because there is a date set could be damaging to us in terms of what this referendum means for us as women and, as far as the country is concerned, the international reputation of the country.
Ms Strachan added: “The degree to which we as women, how we view our relationships with our children, with our spouses.”
Last week, National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage told the House of Assembly that the government will make an announcement on a possible date change for the referendum by today.
Dr Nottage, the minister responsible for elections, said the Constitutional Commission was considering a possible delay to the proposed date of November 6.
The government has received significant push back from members of the FNM, backbenchers in the Progressive Liberal Party and others who have issues with the Constitutional Amendment Bills.
When asked yesterday by The Tribune if he thinks the vote should be postponed, Dr Nottage said it makes sense to delay the referendum “only if we are satisfied that the public does not yet understand what we are seeking to achieve.”
“We are now in the stages of joining forces with former female parliamentarians,” Mrs Hanna-Martin said, “with a view to beginning a very aggressive programme that will seek to advocate, educate and enlist the support of women and men throughout this country to vote in favour of constitutional amendments that bring equality between men and women.”
“The questions raised by the Christian Council have delayed the process, there was a certain timeline and those questions that they have raised, they are being addressed and so it has affected the movement of the process. The bills are now in committee.”
“We’re not asking for a delay, we want it now. However, having regard to where we are in terms of the issues raised by important stakeholder groups in our country and the fact that the Bill remains in committee there are some realities about the time.”
The four Bills before the House aim to eliminate gender discrimination in the Constitution and once passed, will be followed by the referendum.
Bill one would enable a child born outside the Bahamas to a Bahamian woman and her foreigner husband to have automatic Bahamian citizenship at birth. However this would not operate retroactively. An illegitimate child, born to a Bahamian woman, already has that right.
Bill two will give the foreign spouse of a Bahamian woman the same right to apply for Bahamian citizenship as the foreign spouse of a Bahamian man.
Bill three will give an unwed Bahamian father the right to pass on his citizenship to a child born out of wedlock, once paternity is legally proven.
Bill four seeks to make it unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of sex by inserting the word “sex” into Article 26 of the constitution.
Yamacraw MP and Minister of Social Services, Melanie Griffin, said: “What was really the focus of that particular meeting for us was actually refocusing and reconfirming the support of female parliamentarians across the divide for the constitutional amendments, and our strategy as we move forward as to how we would join the public education campaign, and launch our own campaign as female parliamentarians of one accord to move the process forward.”