By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Bahamas is one of many regional countries providing “barriers” to economic opportunities for women, an international report found.
A report by the World Bank Group, titled “Women, Business and the Law 2016,” listed The Bahamas as one of 22 countries in the world whose constitutions do not allow for married women to convey their nationality to their children and spouses in the same way that men can.
Similarly, the report noted that the Bahamas is one of 44 countries in the world in which spouses do not have equal rights to convey citizenship. As such, the report cited the Bahamas as being one country of many that hosts “gender-based legal restrictions.”
The report was released this week and focused on countries in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The issue of gender equality is a part of the long-delayed constitutional referendum.
Sean McWeeney, Constitutional Commission chairman, told The Tribune yesterday that to the best of his knowledge there has been “no further developments” on the referendum. He suggested that such information rests with the minister with responsibility for referenda, National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage.
The referendum has been delayed several times since 2013.
As it stands, only married Bahamian men are allowed under the Bahamas Constitution to convey their nationality to children born outside of the Bahamas to foreigners, as long as the father is a Bahamian citizen at the time of the child’s birth.
However, if a child is born outside the Bahamas to a married Bahamian mother and non-Bahamian father, that child must - at the age of 18 and no later than 21 - apply to be registered as a citizen of the Bahamas, according to Chapter II Article 9 of the Constitution. Regarding the rights for men and women to convey citizenship to spouses, Chapter II Article 10 of the Constitution states that any foreign woman who marries a male Bahamian citizen is entitled to be registered as a citizen of the Bahamas, but only upon “making application in such manner as may be prescribed and upon taking the oath of allegiance or such declaration as may be prescribed.”
However, this does not apply to a foreign man married to a Bahamian woman.
Because of these discrepancies, the report cited the Bahamas as one of many jurisdictions where “women may face constraints on their legal capacity to act or ability to conduct transactions.”
“Other issues arise when women cannot convey nationality to their children or spouses,” the report said. “A mother’s inability to pass her citizenship to her children may mean that they cannot access services, such as free public education or health care. It may also mean that when the children seek jobs, immigration laws will not allow them to work.
“This problem can be particularly acute in economies where the public sector is the largest employer and nationality is prerequisite for public sector employment.
“Of the economies examined by Women, Business and the Law, 22 do not allow married mothers to pass citizenship on to their children as fathers can, and 44 do not allow married women to pass citizenship to their spouses as married men can.”
The gender equality referendum was first expected in June 2013 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of independence. It was then delayed to November 2013, but it was later said the vote would happen by the end of June 2014.
The vote was again delayed to November 2014.
Prime Minister Perry Christie then said he hoped the vote would happen before the end of June 2015.
When questioned yesterday for an update on the timeline for the referendum, Mr McWeeney told The Tribune: “Since we last spoke there’s been no further developments of which I’m aware.”
In order for the referendum to take place, the four Constitutional Amendment Bills must be passed by three-quarters of support in both houses of Parliament.
Last summer, Prime Minister Perry Christie tabled the relevant bills in the House of Assembly. However, the bills have languished in the House of Assembly after pushback from some parliamentarians and the public over the wording of the some of the bills.
There is concern in some quarters that Bill Four in particular, which seeks to end discrimination based on sex, could pave the way for gay marriage. The government has repeatedly said this concern is unwarranted.
The first bill would enable a child born outside the Bahamas to a Bahamian woman and a non-Bahamian father to have automatic Bahamian citizenship at birth. However, the government does not plan to have the clause operate retroactively.
Other bills to be debated include allowing a Bahamian woman who marries a foreign man to secure for him the same access to Bahamian citizenship that a Bahamian man has always enjoyed under the Constitution in relation to his foreign wife.
The third bill seeks to remedy the one area of the Bahamas’ Constitution that discriminates against men based on gender. Presently, an unmarried Bahamian father cannot pass his citizenship to a child born to a foreign woman.
The bill would give an unwed Bahamian father the same right to pass citizenship to his child that a Bahamian woman has always had under the Constitution in relation to a child born to her out of wedlock, provided proof of paternity.