Equality Bahamas draws attention to the current situation wherein The Bahamas is in contravention with the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, Belem Do Para, and numerous other conventions with its Sexual Offenses Act which provides a definition of rape that ensures women have no legal recourse when sexually violated by their spouses. The issue has been raised numerous times including the 2009 tabling of the Marital Rape Bill by Loretta Butler-Turner and the statement by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Dubravka Šimonović in 2017 following her country visit. Now, on the heels of participation in a meeting on reforming discriminatory laws convened by the Equality and Justice Alliance (EJA) in St. Lucia, Speaker of the House Halson Moultrie has made wrongheaded remarks spurring commentary from the public.
Moultrie clearly spoke from a personal point of view, allowing his religious affiliations to overshadow his role as a legislator. There is no way to simultaneously believe that a woman should have bodily autonomy and that, in a marriage, a spiritual oneness means one person cannot physically violate the other. It is clear that legislators know this is not true as charges can be pressed against a spouse for domestic violence.
Contrary to Moultrie’s comment, the spiritual interpretation is the most dangerous option. It is the interpretation that leads to the right to bodily autonomy being violated and the sanctioning of sexual violence. It is the interpretation that assumes a woman loses her personhood and ability to give or withhold consent when she marries, thereby becoming a sex object. Equality Bahamas rebukes this notion and implores everyone to free themselves of this fallacy.
Director of Equality Bahamas Alicia Wallace said, “We call on Moultrie to respect his own position and conduct himself a representative of the people, responsible for the protection of vulnerable people and a participant in the legislative process in a democracy that regards that responsibility with seriousness and dedication. The country does not need to hear about religious texts or interpretations when we are faced with laws that are discriminatory, fail to protect vulnerable people, and are inarguably unequal, particularly when their drafting was already influenced by a religion to which the law does not require the people to subscribe.”
We cannot continue to impede progress, realization of human rights, or access to justice with religious rhetoric. We cannot continue to govern The Bahamas in five-year cycles with representatives more concerned about favor with groups like Bahamas Christian Council and re-election than they are with building a better country and improving conditions for women, children, differently-abled people, people experiencing poverty, LGBTQ+ people, migrants, and other vulnerable communities.
Marital rape has been criminalized in dozens of countries over the past three decades including South Africa in 1993, United Kingdom in 1994, Trinidad and Tobago in 2000, Rwanda in 2008, Guyana in 2010, Grenada and Sierra Leone in 2012, St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2015, and Dominica in 2016. Director of Equality Bahamas Alicia Wallace said, “It is unacceptable for the marital rape issue to be constantly put on the back burner. Nothing is more important that the safety and wellbeing of residents of The Bahamas. The Bahamas has chosen to sign conventions, takes advantage of opportunities to perform before treaty bodies, but often fails to do the work. It is time to meet these obligations, not only to satisfy the requirements of external bodies we have chosen to engage, but to expand the human rights of the Bahamian people and, in particular, women.”
Reports like Criminalization of Marital Rape and Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Across the Commonwealth – authored by Bahamian attorney-at-law, CEDAW Committee member, and women’s rights advocate Marion Bethel – are critical to the process of advancing women’s rights. Ms. Wallace said, “It is unfortunate that the government of The Bahamas responds most, best, and loudest to international embarrassment. It is also incomprehensible that Moultrie would speak to the content of the report or media would report on it without noting and explicitly stating its Bahamian authorship as is clearly noted on page two of the document. We must understand issues of women’s rights as close to us, part of our daily lives, and worthy of our attention.” Equality Bahamas extends its thanks to Ms. Bethel for her work on the thorough report now being shared across the Commonwealth as a guide and motivation to governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the general public.
Equality Bahamas calls on Attorney General Carl Bethel to prioritize Bahamian women and finish what was started with the drafting of the marital rape bill. We encourage Mr. Bethel to find the motivation he had in 2017, to call rape by its name and not be persuaded to create another category to appease men, and to move expeditiously as the issue has waited for too long. It calls on Minister of Social Services and Community Development Frankie Campbell to step out of the shadows, be as vocal as he was during and immediately following the CEDAW session in October 2018, and engage his colleagues in dialogue on women’s rights and the importance of enacting laws to expand and protect them. It calls on members of the public to speak out against violence in all forms and lobby for better laws that can improve all of our lives.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her
private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of