The general election came last week and brought many challenges with it, some of them noted by the election observers. There was not, in any of the reports thus far, enough attention on the disenfranchisement of voters. Many young people did not register to vote before the election date was announced as they were under the impression the election would be held in May 2022. People displaced from Abaco and Grand Bahama who intend to return home were unable to vote in their current islands of residence.
People were locked out of this important process — one many incorrectly believe is the only opportunity for Bahamians to have a say and participate in governance. Many people did not vote because they could not be sure it would safe to do so in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after it was announced quarantined people would be allowed to vote in person. This should not be glossed over, especially when we had the lowest voter turnout in our modern history. Voter turnout is usually around 90 percent, but this time around, it tanked to 68 percent. Contrary to what some may posit, this was not simply disinterest in choosing the lesser of two evils, but inability to vote and concerns about COVID-19. Many decided that things would go on in much the same way as before, so why risk it? As low as voter turnout was, we now have a new administration.
Seven of the 39 parliamentarians are women. This is directly connected to the the Progressive Liberal Party and the Free National Movement each choosing to have seven women on their slates. Much like 2017, if the winning party had more women as candidates, we would have had a higher proportion of women in Parliament. It simply has not been made a priority, and that is to our detriment.
This number, seven (out of 39), is being celebrated by some as a great feat. In 2017, 13 percent of the parliamentarians were women, so the current 18 percent is an increase over the last time. In 2002, however, parliament was 20 percent women. In 1997, it was 15 percent women. We have gone up and down, and we have yet to reach gender parity in parliament. In fact, we are still a long way off from the 30 percent target set by various regional and international mechanisms. In addition to the failure to reach the numbers — a result of the failure of both political parties to commit to gender equality — we had to contend with horrendous representation by two people in particular who made outrageous statements condoning violence against women.
We need more women in parliament; more than that, we need proper representation by women who understand gender, care about women and are committed to the work to promote, protect and expand women’s rights.
Now that we have seven women in parliament, we need to know their position on human rights issues. We do not need women who think marital rape is a private issue. We do not need women telling anecdotes in attempts to excuse violence against women under any circumstances. We do not need women impeding progress by refusing to do their jobs and/or preventing other people from doing theirs. We do not need women who are unwilling to acknowledge all women as women and all women’s experiences as relevant and core to the work they have been elected, and in some cases appointed, to do.
We need women who are going to push for the necessary amendments to the Sexual Offences Act. We need women who are prepared to work to end violence, in all of it forms, against women. We need women who are prepared to learn about the international mechanisms that support women’s rights and which The Bahamas has ratified. We need women who will facilitate the development of a comprehensive plan for the next referendum for constitutional equality. We need women who will ensure comprehensive sexuality education is in the curriculum and taught in all schools. We need women who will push for equitable, paid parental leave. We need women who will ensure gender is mainstreamed, understood as a cross-cutting element, so that it is attended to in health, education, environment and every other sector with an accompanying budget.
The seven women elected to parliament need to know their experiences are not the only experiences. They need to be prepared to listen, learn from and act on behalf of women with disabilities, migrant women, women who are experiencing poverty, LBTQ+ women, women who are unhoused, women who have been institutionalized and women of many other backgrounds and experiences. Being one in the number is not enough. Being there and having a seat is just one step.
We have not yet seen all of the appointments to Cabinet. On Monday, nine people were appointed, and there was only one woman among them. If the seven women in parliament are more than optics to the party and the new Prime Minister, several of them should be appointed to Cabinet. The case there is the same. We need all Cabinet Ministers to seek the information they do not have, listen to the advice of experts and act with the people in situations of vulnerability in mind. How will this affect women? How will this affect children? What does this decision mean for people who are unemployed? How does this help the people who need it most?
We certainly must acknowledge there is a significant burden on women in leadership. They are judged harshly. When they are not deemed to be too “emotional” or “soft” they are accused of trying to be (like) men. They must not blend in with the men nor ruffle too many feathers. When they are not expected to be invisible and silent, they are often expected to take on particular tasks and to present certain points of view.
While we demand these seven women put in the work and raise the issues important to us, we must also call on the men to publicly support women in leadership. We need them to learn about the ways gender has shaped their own experiences and impacted their leadership and performance. Gender sensitivity training, human rights training, workshops on ratified conventions, need to be arranged for all of our representatives, and these sessions would certainly benefit them as they set about the people’s work.
We need a government that is for the people. We need the women and men who serve as our representatives to put us first. We have, over the years, learned to have low expectations. In fact, we tend to expect the worst. We need to watch this administration, like any other, and measure it not only against its own plan, but against the overall needs of the country. Demand that it is accountable to us. Encourage the Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers to be communicative with the public and be effective in their work.
- The Great British Bake Off. In this show, amateur bakers compete, week after week, in a display of impressive baking skills and instinct. Each week has a theme — like bread, pie or biscuits — and there are three challenges. First, there is the signature challenge for the bakers to use a recipe they have had the chance to practice and taste-test. Next, the technical challenge tests their ability to follow a recipe with sparse instructions and fill in the gaps with their knowledge and experience as bakers. The Showstopper challenge is the last one, and bakers must both impress the judges with fantastic presentation and deliver on the flavour. At the end of each episode, a Star Baker is selected and someone else must go home. This show is great for easy, low-investment watching. You’ll have your favourites and be sorry to see them go, but the entire show is delightful, the judging is honest without being cruel, and while the pressure can get high, the competition does not overshadow the contestants’ love for baking.
- Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson. Mary has gone from “baby jail” to a group home for girls who have been similar kinds of trouble. She is a black teenager still paying the price for killing a white baby, allegedly. What would be the point of fighting the system when everyone believes she did it? Mary is just trying to get by, and she is not only challenged by her circumstances, but consistently discouraged by the adults around her when she pursues her goals. She has been all but abandoned by her mother, mistreated by the people running the group home and terrorised by the other girls living in the house. Luckily, she meets two women who are determined to support her as she tries to get her life back on track.