In early April I was invited to address students of the College of The Bahamas Northern Campus on the Gender Equality Bills.
One of the young women a former student said to me Ms. Mcdonald can you provide a simple explanation of what the bills are about because most of the older persons like my parents have no understanding of what is going on. I promised her that I would try and simplify the bills so here goes.
The process of recognizing a woman as a person in her own right separate and apart from the man in her life began in 1888 with the passing of The Married Women Property Act by the British Parliament. This Act for the first time allowed married women to own and control property in their own right.
Around about 1979 the international community in convention decided that all forms of discrimination against women would be eliminated.
On October 6th 1993 The Bahamas Government acceded to the Convention. This means that the Government prior to 1993 never ratified or signed the convention.
As a result of acceding to the convention in 1993 the Government of The Bahamas had a responsibility to pass laws in The Bahamas eliminating all forms of Discrimination against women. This meant erosion of the traditional male and female stereotyping.
In The Bahamas presently citizenship is through the male bloodline. Unmarried fathers cannot automatically pass on their citizenship to their children however, because prior to the Status of Children Act which recognized all children as equal, a child born out of wedlock could not inherit anything from their fathers, including their citizenship. In 1973 when our Constitution came into begin about 1/3 of our population were not born in wedlock. Under international laws there is a concept that no child can be stateless. As a result our Constitution had to make provision for these children. Women did not pass citizenship to their children. So the Constitution had to provide that a single women could pass her citizenship to her children in order to ensure that these children would not be stateless.
The objective of the 4 bills therefore is to level the playing field so that whether they are married or single ALL Bahamians male and female would pass their citizenship to their children.
Bill No. 1 therefore will allow married Bahamian women to pass their citizenship to their children no matter where they are born. Presently, if the children are born in The Bahamas and they are married to a non Bahamian the children are Bahamians. If they are not born in The Bahamas they are not. So you can have a situation where as one non Bahamian male said if my Bahamian wife is sick and has to be airlifted to the USA it means that all of my children born in The Bahamas are Bahamians and the children born in the USA are not. Same mother, same father but not Bahamian like their brothers and sisters.
Bill No. 2 will give to a non Bahamian married to a Bahamian woman the right to apply for citizenship. The grant of citizenship is not automatic. It also abolishes the automatic right that a non Bahamian woman married to a Bahamian man has to citizenship in The Bahamas. Like the foreign man she if the Amendment passes also would now have to go through a process before she can get Bahamian citizenship
Bill No. 3 gives the right to children born to a single Bahamian man once a DNA test proves that they are his children to get Bahamian citizenship.
Presently single men have to adopt their own children in order for them to get citizenship
Bill No. 4 The idea that persons should not be discriminated against based on sex is in article 15 of the Constitution. The prohibition that parliament cannot pass laws discriminating against women or men is not in Article 26 which protects person from Parliament passing laws that are discriminatory. In The Bahamas therefore Parliament can pass laws discriminatory of women and men.
Bill No. 4 says that parliament cannot pass laws discriminatory of either men or women.
This is important because in 1973 there were laws that were discriminatory of both men and women. Bills No. 2, 3 and 4 are prime examples. Without this amendment however, a women or man could not go to court and say that my constitutional right have been violated because the constitution says that once like is treated as like that is not discrimination.
I have provided the back ground so that there is understanding as to why the changes are necessary. In a nutshell however that is all the bills are intended to achieve. My only question to us as Bahamians therefore is; Are we after almost 43 years of nationhood prepared to do the right thing?
Do we recognize that we are all equal under the law?
If we accept that we men and women are all equal under the law then we would vote yes to all the Bills.