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Columns : Letters to The Editor Last Updated: Jan 16, 2019 - 1:26:06 PM

Equality Bahamas on Minister's refusal to address increase in rape
By Equality Bahamas submission
Jan 16, 2019 - 12:54:48 PM

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Alicia Wallace, Director, Equality Bahamas

(Statement) Nassau, Bahamas - On Tuesday, Minister of Social Services and Community Development refused to answer questions about the increase in rape from 2017 to 2018 because, according to him, that is not his lane. It is unfortunate and unacceptable that the minister chose to put distance between his portfolio and the pervasive issue of rape. Rape disproportionately affects women and girls who should be prioritized by the Department of Gender and Family Affairs which is under the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development.

The Ministry of Social Services and Community Development exists to address the needs of vulnerable populations. These are not limited to people living in poverty or the provision of food subsidies. The Ministry is not just for “poor people who need food.”

Equality Bahamas director Alicia Wallace said, “Vulnerable populations also include women and girls, children, the elderly, and differently-abled people, and effectively serving them requires collaboration with other ministries including Ministries of Environment and Housing, National Security, Education and Technology, Health, and Finance.” She said, “Relationships with these ministries is critical to addressing issues of homelessness and displacement which occurs when women leave abusive partners. They are needed to respond to the increase in sexual violence which specifically targets people on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and ability. These relationships can ensure access to education for children, provision of health care and medical examinations for victims of abuse, and budget allocations to carry out the Department’s mandate.”

The minister’s portfolio includes the Department of Gender and Family Affairs and its mandate, made particularly clear at The Bahamas’ review by the CEDAW Committee in October 2018. When Committee members asked questions about immigration policies that render people stateless, the minister did not argue that immigration is not his lane. He answered them, and responded to questions about crime saying there is no passivity to any form of violence and The Bahamas is invested in reducing all forms of crime. A Committee member highlighted the need for inter-ministerial cooperation and said, “You need a dynamic, fit for purpose team that is able to engage issues across sectors so when you set your targets, you have people who have oversight […],” and noted the need for substantive understanding of issues and gender mainstreaming across ministries.

Ms. Wallace said, “Ministries need to work together, be fully aware of pressing issues, able to access and share information necessary to appropriately respond to issues and queries, and to resist any desire or directive to operate in silos. A multi-sectoral approach to violence against women and other issues of gender is critical.”

The Department of Gender and Family Affairs — an expansion of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs — was established in November 2016 and has put significant focus on violence against women. In addition, the Department has chosen to put resources into what it considers “low-hanging fruit” which includes the engagement of men and boys.

“A simple matrix of areas of focus and low-hanging fruit would show the need for the Department to engage men and boys on the issue of violence against women which includes intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, and rape. This is one of many examples of the relevance of the increase in rape to the Department of Gender and Family Affairs and the Minister overseeing it.” Ms. Wallace added that Equality Bahamas rejects the false barrier the minister attempted to construct between himself and rape, noting that rape is a social issue and relevant to everyone.

Equality Bahamas calls on Ministry of Social Services and Community Development to lead the government’s effort to address issues of gender through the expertise of its staff and civil society partners. It reminds the minister of the years-old national gender policy and a gender-based violence report, following years of work by the National Task Force on Gender-based Violence, that have not been implemented. It is unclear whether or not these documents have been reviewed by the minister, but they provide guidance and will assist current staff in carrying out the mandate of the Department of Gender and Family Affairs and meeting standards agreed to by ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Equality Bahamas encourages the minister to actively change his thinking about the social services portfolio, and understand his role in working toward gender equality and building a resilient, inclusive Bahamian society through not only the provision of services to vulnerable populations, but also policymaking to protect them and programming to educate, train, and transform individuals and communities.

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