||Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM
On December 11, 2016, Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner became the first woman to serve as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament in The Bahamas. This followed a petition by seven Free National Movement (FNM) Members of Parliament to the Governor General to replace Leader of the FNM Hon. Hubert Minnis with Mrs. Butler-Turner. The FNM’s four Senators — appointed by Minnis — resigned following the vote of no confidence, allowing Butler-Turner to appoint Senators to serve at her pleasure.
A Glimmer of Hope, Disappeared
Amidst the confusion and accusations of betrayal, a large (non-geographical) constituency supported this move, recognizing in it democracy at work, a signal of a slow, but inevitable shift in Bahamian politics, and a step forward for women in political leadership. At the time, there was hope — for the coming months and leading into the general election of 2017 — that there would be a substantial shift and emergence of a new format that would free us of the fatigued two-party system now likened to a plague. For a brief time, women, feminists, and supporters of women’s rights looked forward to potential benefits of a woman breaking precedent and having the power to influence the national agenda or, at the very least, using a powerful platform to give voice and visibility to underemphasized concerns. This, unfortunately, has not come to fruition; instead, widespread disappointment, shock, and anger are the results of Butler-Turner’s first move as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
Announcement of Branville McCartney as Senator
Leader of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) Branville McCartney was the first to be appointed to the Senate and as Leader of Opposition Business by Butler-Turner. While public dialogue centered on party dynamics and possible merges, there was no mention of McCartney’s position on women’s issues. McCartney failed to support the marital rape bill tabled by Butler-Turner in July 2009 and reiterated his position in 2012.
“I don’t think it should be illegal. I maintain that. I don’t think there should be an act or law for raping a spouse,” McCartney said.
The announcement of Branville McCartney’s appointment to the Senate was made in the Minority Room of the House of Assembly. Butler-Turner said, “We must rid ourselves of this inept, ineffective, nontransparent, unaccountable government - period.”
Breaking the Two-Party Mold
It appears that Butler-Turner is acting in alignment with a new narrative — one that has been proposed by the Bahamian people in recent years, suggesting an alliance of parties. She seems to be attempting to demonstrate the ability to join forces with people from other parties and with other points of view. Perhaps more importantly, she is proving her ability to gain their trust. Unfortunately, her chosen method has driven a wedge between her political persona and her most ardent supporters — women and supporters of women’s rights.
Following the gender equality referendum which resulted in the death of four constitutional amendment bills, Bahamian women have been waiting for a win. Even people who do not support the FNM wanted to see Butler-Turner emerge victorious. Her withdrawal from the FNM leadership race was disheartening and, for many, unforgivable. Still, when the shock wore off, people were ready to rally behind her again, prepared to support a woman with the belief that she would reflect them — their needs, values, and beliefs.
Rodney Moncur Announced as Senator
It was officially announced on December 19, 2016 that Rodney Moncur, along with Jude Knowles and Monique Gomez, would also be appointed to the Senate. Moncur is known for his outlandish behavior and reckless commentary. He adamantly opposed the marital rape bill, referred to birth control pills as “devil’s pill” and demanded that women “take man’s seed,” referred to constitutional amendment bill #4 in the 2016 gender equality referendum as “witchcraft,” and encouraged Bahamians to join him at a beach party instead of voting in the 2017 general election.
The suggestion that Moncur represents the common man is an insult to Bahamian men. The assumption that the common man is misogynistic, unpredictable, and dangerous is an unfounded yet popular point of view. It is this thinking that keeps rape culture alive, and places the burden on women and girls to protect themselves, suggesting that men and boys are incapable of controlling their behavior. Patriarchy and inequality depend on these myths, and we need to be able to separate Moncur from the average Bahamian man, being careful not to conflate the two. Equating Moncur with the common man has put women at an increased risk as he consistently attempts to normalize violence against women and strip them of their humanity.
Diversity and Inclusion at the Cost of Women
Regardless of the undisclosed plan, it cannot be denied that the move to appoint McCartney and Moncur is a direct dismissal of Bahamian women and women’s rights. Butler-Turner said there is “strength in diversity,” but diversity need not come at the cost of the most vulnerable among us. It only holds merit insofar as it spurs collaboration and cooperation, and brings added acceptance and perspective that diminishes discrimination. It is possible to prove willingness to work across party lines for the betterment of the country without putting it in the hands of people who disregard the humanity of half its population. Marginalized communities cannot afford such compromises, and to make such an exchange for political expediency is an act of self-interest and poor judgment indicative of disinterest in the plight of, in this case, women and girls.
Must we rid ourselves of the PLP at the expense of women? Is the impact of such people spewing patriarchal misogynist rhetoric and seeding the idea that women are subhuman being severely underestimated? Can we recover from the long-term impact their voices, in positions of power, will have on Bahamian society? Have we forgotten the 2014 study by the Bahamas Crisis Centre and College of The Bahamas academics which found 58% and 37% of high school boys and girls, respectively, believe men should discipline their female partners, and 46% of boys and 16% of girls believe a wife must have sex whenever the husband chooses? Do we not recognize the connection between dangerous assertions by national leaders and both the law and societal behavior?
Highlighted Issues and Links to Domestic Violence
Butler-Turner, in her statement on the three new appointments to the Senate, pointed to the economic crisis, criminal violence, and decline of quality of life in The Bahamas. Oddly, no connection was made between these issues and the rights of women. Per capita, The Bahamas has the highest instance of rape in the Caribbean region, and is one of ten countries with the highest rates of rape in the world. In 2012, Dr. Bernard Nottage stated that there are nearly 1,200 reported cases of domestic violence in the country, and it was found that 25% of murders in the region result from domestic disputes. In 2011, Butler-Turner — then Minster of State for Social Services — stated that domestic violence accounted for at least half of the murders in 2010 and 2011.
During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence starting on November 25, 2016, the #LifeInLeggings hashtag launched and quickly went viral throughout the Caribbean. Hundreds of women shared their stories of sexual violence, ranging from minor incidents of street harassment to rape, and Bahamian women were a part of that movement. It put names, faces, and stories to the statistics we often hear — and some of us promptly forget — serving as a reminder that these are real events in the timelines of at least one-third of women’s lives. Issues like marital rape are not hypothetical, and are not taken seriously when supposed leaders discount them. The danger of having McCartney and Moncur occupy 50% of the Opposition’s seats in the Senate is obvious while the specific usefulness of appointing them, outside of the impression of an alliance — which could have been achieved in other ways — remains unclear.
How is a woman, being raped by her husband, to look to a leader who has chosen McCartney as Senator? How is a Bahamian woman, whose children are not Bahamian, to look at a leader who has chosen Moncur as Senator? Does inclusion and collaboration across party lines necessitate the compromise of one’s own values?
While Butler-Turner is the first woman to hold the position of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Bahamians must be careful not to be swept up into the history-making, and distracted from reality. She has not come to save women, or with a particular interest in representing them. As a reminder, she defended MP Richard Lightbourn after his suggestion that unmarried women be forcibly sterilized after the birth of their second child, and has now made two horrifying appointments to the Senate. Butler-Turner is not the quintessential Bahamian woman in leadership. She is not a women’s rights advocate, nor is she an altruistic figure in the political arena, but an active participant in the system she now appears to want to dismantle, or at least reshape. She is a person exercising new-found power, acting with political longevity at the forefront of her mind. This, in and of itself, may not yield criticism, but should raise widespread concern about her Senate appointments which suggest there is more than the promised shock and awe at play.
There is a real fear of what could happen next, and loss of a hope that has been dashed too many times in a few short months. While we do not oppose collaboration or respecting differences, the Bahamian people must demonstrate that we are not prepared to accept that these two men were the only — or even the best — people available for the job. As we demand better of our leadership, both sitting Government and Opposition, let us remember that every woman is not a women’s rights advocate; however, women’s rights advocates are well-placed to influence women in leadership. We must lead the conversation about inclusivity and diversity in government in ways that elevate the nation and do not put members of vulnerable communities at risk. If we do not first consider the lives of our most vulnerable, we are not doing our jobs as leaders, advocates, activists, educators, or citizens. Democratic rights do not begin and/or end with voting; we all have a role to play in holding our representatives accountable and reminding them of their commitments to serve all of us, the Bahamian people.
Wallace is a Bahamian writer, blogger, and social and political commentator. She
holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from St. Mary's University,
Halifax, NS. She is a women's rights activist, passionate about public
education, community engagement, and the empowerment of women and girls.
Alicia is the Director of Hollaback! Bahamas- part of a global movement to end street harassment - and Co-founder of the Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination. She serves
as the Youth Ambassador for The Bahamas to End Sexual Violence, and is one of 60 recipients of the Queen's Young Leaders Award in 2015. Alicia lives in Nassau, Bahamas. Connect with her on Facebook.
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