Thu | Sep 21, 2017

David Rondon | Gender inequality in The Bahamas

Published:Friday | June 24, 2016 | 6:00 AM

On June 7, the Bahamian government held a constitutional referendum on gender equality. Despite being hailed by international observers as a potentially historic step forward in gender rights in the country, the electorate rejected these measures by a landslide. The question being asked by many observers now is what the government fail to do to galvanise voters to support their initiatives.

One of the reasons was the Bahamian government's failure to address inequalities in existing legislation prior to pushing forward sweeping changes that the electorate was not prepared to accept. Take, for example, the lack of equality that exists for single mothers and custodial fathers with regard to the welfare of their children in Sections 33 and 34 of the Bahamian Child Protection Act of 2007.

In a nutshell, these articles make single mothers primarily responsible for the welfare of their children, while minimising the responsibilities of married women. Conversely, custodial fathers are primarily responsible for the welfare of their children, while biological fathers who have not yet been recognised have significantly less responsibility. Jamaica rectified a similar injustice in its laws in 2005 through the passage of its Maintenance Law Act.

I represent a custodial father and his daughters before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with regard to the deficiency of protection for some children by this Bahamian act. As we are certain that Section 34 of this act egregiously and grossly discriminate against tens of thousands of single mothers and their children, we now seek the support of an NGO or other organisation to file an amicus brief in conjunction with our IACHR case illustrating the horror that many single mothers in the Bahamas or with Bahamian-born children go through to maintain their children.

The Bahamian government was made aware by the IACHR of our case against that state in February 2013. I am uncertain whether or not our case had anything to do with the Bahamian government's decision to push for gender equality. However, what is clear is that our case could have been used by that government to show its citizens why tens of thousands of single mothers and children, in addition to custodial fathers, are in need of equality - and encourage its citizens to vote YES in the referendum.

Now that the referendum has failed, the Bahamian government should focus on addressing inequalities within same genders such as those affecting my client and tens of thousands of single mothers, children and families. Once this is achieved, equality among the genders is quite achievable in the Bahamas.

 

THE GOVERNMENT'S FAILURE

 

Besides the Bahamian government's failure to obtain a 'yes' vote, the decision of the opposition, led by pastors Mario Moxey and Lyell Bethel, to promote an anti-gay agenda to obtain 'no' votes in the referendum is even more astonishing. Prior to the referendum, I contacted Pastor Moxey by telephone and email to seek his advice and potential collaboration in advocating for an amendment to the Bahamas Child Protection Act as a way to help children, single mothers, and custodial fathers.

We assumed that, as Christians, Pastor Moxey and his group would have a higher calling to help lift up some of the most vulnerable people in Bahamian society, such as single mothers, who lead up to 60 per cent of Bahamian households. Instead, it seems they wished to focus their platform on constant opposition to the gay community.

Even more stunning is what I read in the Nassau Guardian, a Bahamian daily, on June 10 when Pastor Moxey's group claimed to be "visible on other important" issues in the Bahamas. During a press conference, the following was stated: "They have no idea, the marriages that we are saving, the amount of youth we are interacting with in the school system, the amount of children we are feeding." I cannot think of an issue that is more visible and important than the issue of children's welfare that affects nearly every home in the Bahamas and that is central to our case before the IACHR.

For now, we continue with our case and we welcome the contact of any single Bahamian, Jamaican, Haitian or other single mothers whose children's fathers are Bahamians and who would like to be part of an amicus brief to be written by an NGO in collaboration with our present IACHR case. This, we believe, would help to finally bring positive changes to the Bahamian Child Protection Act that would promote equality in maintenance for children.

- David A. Rondon is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and abogadorondon@gmail.com.