In celebration of a special occasion, I was one of four people having dinner at a fairly popular restaurant, known for its focus on meat, at a major resort in New Providence. The restaurant was selected to give the guest of honour as many options as possible, allowing her to be as indulgent as she wished. Since I choose not to eat meat, I looked at the menu online and identified the items that I could order and hoped to enjoy.

The service was far from exceptional, but we generally got what we needed. As I have done many times before at many different restaurants, I ordered an appetizer with a side dish to be served as my main course. No server has ever objected or shown disapproval. This time, however, the server cocked his head to the side, raised his eyebrows, sighed, and shrugged as he seemed to go from, “What in the world…” to “Oh, well, whatever you say” in a matter of seconds.

I ordered a rather popular beverage that is quite easy to make, but it left much to be desired. After one sip, it sat on the table as we had appetizers and the main course. It was not until we had finished the main course that someone on staff — not our server — finally noticed the glass was full and inquired about it. A replacement was offered, but at this point, it was not needed. The servers were simply not as attentive as they ought to have been, though they seemed to pass by often and stopped a few times to ask the oldest man at the table if he wanted more wine and if everything was fine. The rest of us did not seem to be of any concern to them.

When I go out for dinner, I look forward to having dessert. In fact, other people in my party always look to me at a certain point and ask me what I plan to order for dessert. It is expected, and it is no secret that I will leave my main course unfinished to ensure that I can enjoy dessert. A server came to the table and asked if anyone would be having dessert. This question, again, was posed to the oldest man. He looked to me, and I confirmed that I wanted to see the menu. The server returned with one dessert menu, held it out to me, and I reached for it, only for it to be swiftly retracted. The server closed the menu, walked around me, and offered it to the man. While I have experienced and witnessed patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism with regularity all my life, I was stunned. I looked at the other people at the table who were equally shocked by what had happened. There was uncomfortable laughter, but I could not participate. I was disgusted.

The man to my right asked, “Do you want to see it?” and held the menu out to me. I said, “No, apparently it’s for men.” At this, everyone at the table laughed. Someone else said, “Why would he do that?” Another commented that it was “wild.”

“It’s not like you’re children and you need your daddy to order for you,” the guest of honour remarked. No one could make sense of what had happened.

None of us ordered dessert. At the table, I was the only person who usually gets dessert. Sometimes another person is encouraged to get something sweet when I make a selection, but none of them ever order it unless I do first. When I shared this story with friends a few days later, they commented on the absurdity as well as the stupidity of the act. “Actually, it’s usually the women who order dessert,” one of them said. The rest of us nodded in agreement.

There are so many questions that arise from this experience. Why was only one menu brought to the table? Why was it offered to me in the first place, and then taken back? Why did the server think the menu should go to one particular person — a man? Was this a part of the staff training?

As I carry out my work as a women’s rights advocate and a gender consultant, people sometimes try to argue with me about the facts I present which have ever-present evidence. Patriarchy exists, and it leads to men — whether fathers, partners, or brothers — being regarded as decision-makers and custodians of women. Misogyny is ingrained, leading to women being disregarded, ignored, and intentionally excluded in favor of men. Sexism features prominently in our daily lives as the preference for men is demonstrated over and over again. I had dinner with three people, and these three ugly realities — patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism — were brought to the table. They are not just words or ideas. They are behaviour-shaping systems and beliefs. They impact our daily lives. On this particular occasion, they were a nuisance and a barrier to my favourite part of dinner, but they regularly bring much worse effects in the form of gender-based violence.

Women can give example after example of being patronised, infantilised, and disrespected by men, all because they are women. How many times have you heard a woman talk about the ridiculous behaviour of men when they are parallel parking or reversing? It is not because they lack the ability to do it, but that men are convinced that they are someone superior to women and that women need their assistance when driving. With rear and sideview mirrors and, these days, cameras affixed to vehicles, men still have a sense of self-importance and try to impose themselves upon women who are doing fine without them.

Over the next week, pay attention to the way men engage with women. Take note of the instances when you recognise patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism in action. Share your list on social media. Talk to your family members, colleagues, and friends about the incidents.

For the next week and beyond, when you have the opportunity and can do so safely, intervene. Call it by its name so everyone involved and observing can learn from it. It is not enough to say you love and support women. Address the people who are failing, help others to see the relatively small ways women are discriminated against, and promote gender equality through action.


1 Develop and commit to a savings plan. Whether you have your Christmas bonus in hand or it is on the way, this is a good time to make a commitment. Starting a savings practice can be difficult, from thinking $10 is not enough to make a difference to competing options for the use of $1000. It feels good to treat yourself to tangible goods and may be less immediately gratifying to, instead, put money in a high-interest savings account, but it is worth the exercise in discipline. Once your bills are paid and necessities are taken care of, make as generous a deposit as you can to start your new saving practice. Decide how much you will be able to add to the account on a weekly or monthly basis and make sticking to it easy for yourself. This could mean setting a calendar reminder for the first Tuesday in every month or being specific about where that money will come from. Maybe you will reduce your weekly purchased lunches by one or dedicate your overtime payments to the account. Do what works for you. Push yourself, but make sure you can keep the commitment.

2 Go to therapy. There is no substitute for it. No self-help books, religious books, long phone calls with friends, spa day, vacation, passion project, or workout can take the place of a trained professional listening to you and providing guidance to help you to improve your mental health and, by extension, your life. Addiction, anxiety, stress, depression, grief, relationship issues, swift and frequent mood changes, and big transitions are all good reasons to go to therapy. They do not, however, need to be the reason you start. It is helpful to have a strong relationship with a mental health professional before you are in crisis or need a specific type of support so you have the opportunity to get to know each other, and they can learn more about you, your background, and what you are working toward. Nothing has to be wrong for you to benefit from therapy. It is important to be able to unpack, pose questions, and have unfiltered conversations without judgment or biased responses. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right therapist for you, and the trial and error process is far less stressful when you are not in a rush or desperate for immediate help.

Published in The Tribune on December 14, 2022.

“Jada, I love ya, GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it, aight?”

That is what Chris Rock said on stage at the Academy Awards on Sunday night. He used the 1997 movie GI Jane which starred Demi Moore with a buzzcut to reference Jada Pinkett-Smith’s bald head. Pinkett-Smith’s bald head is not exactly a style choice, but the result of alopecia. On Sunday night, sitting in the audience, she was visibly annoyed by the comment, rolling her eyes, showing exhaustion.

In 2018, Pinkett-Smith shared on Red Table Talk, her Facebook Watch series, that she had been experiencing hair loss, had gone through many tests, and did not know what was causing it. She said, “It was terrifying when it first started.” She recalled being in the shower and having hair in her hands. In that episode, she talked about losing the choice to have hair or not have hair. In December 2021, she shaved her head and shared her new look on Instagram, connecting it to her struggle with alopecia.

Rock seemed to know the “joke” did not land the way he thought it would, and insisted that it “was a nice one”. He said, “Wuh-oh!” as Will Smith bounded toward him in a way that was clearly not friendly. He laughed until the point that Smith slapped him. ‘Oh, wow. Wow,” he said as Smith turned around, headed for his seat.

Smith told Rock, from the audience, to “keep [his] wife’s name out [his] [expletive] mouth.” Rock attempted to defend himself, noting that it “was a GI Jane joke.” Smith repeated himself, and Rock responded, “I’m going to, okay?” The video clip is being shared over and over again on social media and with that, of course, comes the commentary. The incident sparked conversation about violence, racism, respectability politics, ableism, and cancel culture among many others.

In the video, it is clear that Smith laughed at Rock’s reference to Pinkett-Smith as GI Jane. He, apparently, found it funny. In the same frame, it is clear that Pinkett-Smith was not amused, but Smith was not looking at her in that moment. The video does not show what happens next between Smith and Pinkett-Smith, but it is likely that he realised she did not appreciate the joke. We can guess that he was dealing with the negative impact that the comment had on Pinkett-Smith as well as his participation in the laughter by the audience. His reaction may have been more than anger toward Rock, but his own guilt for not remembering Pinkett-Smith’s struggle and laughing at her expense.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease — a condition in which the immune system attacks the body. Other autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Graves’ disease. In alopecia, the white blood cells attack the cells in hair follicles. It can affect people who are blood relatives of a person with alopecia and people who have thyroid disease, vitiligo, down syndrome, hay fever, and a number of other conditions.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley tweeted about the moments of vulnerability that only those closest to people with alopecia ever see. She emphasised the importance of loved ones being there to provide support. She also made it clear that people’s health should not be material for “jokes”. She said, “Our bodies are not public domain. They are not a line in a joke – especially when the transformation is not of our choosing.”

In recent years, there have been several public debates about comedy and what is and is not appropriate content for jokes. The generally accepted rule is that comedians need to “punch up”, meaning people in situations of vulnerability should not be disrespected or used to get laughs. Jokes should not be, for example, about survivors of abuse or people who are systemically disenfranchised. In his apology, Smith noted that being the butt of the joke comes with the territory of his celebrity, and that he did not expect Pinkett-Smith to be targeted. This seemed to be an acceptance of the idea that he, a wealthy person in the public eye, is fair game. He seemed to, in that moment on Sunday night, draw the line at Pinkett-Smith — also wealthy and a celebrity —being fair game due, not only to her having a medical condition, but her medical condition actually being the “joke”.

As people become more socially and politically aware, and more cognizant of issues of inequality, less and less of what was once considered funny is acceptable today. As such, it is not particularly surprising that there are conversations about the relevance of (certain kinds of) comedy and what it takes, and will take in the future, to command a stage and bring humour that engages, informs, and inspires as opposed to pandering to the people with enough power, influence, and health or disconnected enough from the realities of the world to be unaffected by unintelligent quips. There has to be recognition that what passes for comedy, in many cases, is violence.

Most of us understand that Smith’s actions against Rock were violent. He physically assaulted Rock. What happened before Smith assaulted Rock does not excuse this act of violence. It does not matter that his action came in response to an inappropriate comment directed at Pinkett-Smith and her reaction to it. What really matters here is that Smith’s immediate reaction, after laughing and then seeing Pinkett-Smith’s reaction, was to physically assault the person he thought was wrong.

Smith’s action has been characterised by one group of people as one of violence and by another group of people as one of heroism. The position of the first group of people is easier to understand, if only because the violence we understand best is physical. We understand it even better if it is between men. Then, it is treated as a special variant of violence when it occurs between two Black men. Of course, there has been the rhetoric about Black people’s behaviour in “mixed company” and the burden that is on Black people to be on their best behaviour when in view of white people who are known to use any and every opportunity to characterise Black people in certain ways which include inherently violent.

Black people are not allowed to make the same mistakes as white people because a mistake made by a Black person becomes a character trait of all Black people. We use this — is it knowledge or fear? — as an excuse for policing Black people, holding each other to impossible standards with the absurd expectation that our engagement in respectability politics will end racism. Wrong. Respectability politics and this constant policing of Black people is abhorrent and it does nothing to address racism or anti-blackness. Still, many people in that first group — the people who saw violence when Smith slapped Rock — are most upset that a Black man did this on one of the biggest world stages, concerned that it projected an image, a meaning, and a fate on every other Black man.

Unfortunately, that moment also led to projections on Black women who, somehow, continue to be blamed for the violent acts of men. This brings us to the second group of people. Those people believe Smith did the right thing, defending Pinkett-Smith’s honour and making a statement (about his wife and all matters related to her) to everyone who witnessed it.

The people chanting, “Protect Black women,” in support of Smith’s action are not seeing the continuum of violence. Yes, Black women are vulnerable. Yes, Black women are disproportionately affected by violence. Yes, the protection of Black women is, today, absolutely necessary, and we need to get to the point at which Black women do not need protection. Yes, Rock’s comment was violent and we saw a glimpse of the harm it caused. We cannot, however, see the violence in speech and supposed comedy and ignore or excuse the violence of Smith’s response. We must not try to portray particular types of violence as moral or good. We have to demand different, more effective responses. We cannot end violence or convince other people to stop participating in violence by enacting another form of violence and declare it superior or morally sound.

It is also important to note that Smith’s action was a way of actively participating in patriarchy, asserting his masculinity, and positioning Pinkett-Smith in a very specific way — in relationship to him. When he spoke to Rock from his seat, he never used her name.

Twice, he told Rock not to use her name, referring to her as [his] wife. He was saying that Pinkett-Smith is in relationship to him, and he would not sit down and watch her be discussed, targeted, disrespected, or embarrassed. This was not a moral position, or an attempt to protect all Black women, but a personal position about a personal relationship and the way Pinkett-Smith’s feelings and reactions impact the perception she and others have of him.

This led to conversations about what women expect of their husbands and boyfriends. On a radio talk show yesterday morning, it was suggested that men fight over women and go to jail because of it, and the women end up in relationships with other people. This comment seemed to have been made to suggest that women cause men to engage in violence. This is not surprising since women and girls are regularly blamed for the sexual violence they experience, whether it is sexual harassment or rape. Women are made responsible for the behavior of men while men are not held accountable for the decisions they make. In addition, it is rarely acknowledged that men behave in these ways, not out of love or concern, but out of a sense of ownership. “My girlfriend.” “My wife.” “My woman.” “My gal.” They see themselves as owners and women as property, so violence against “their” women is perceived as violence against them, an act of disrespect, and a call to prove their masculinity. This may be viewed as a form of affection or a way of proving or demonstrating relationship status, and some women may believe this is evidence of love, but it is violence and it is self-serving. Smith’s action did not protect Black women. In fact, it quite obviously contributed to the fodder of people who infantilise men by blaming women for men’s behaviour.

We desperately need to think about the place violence has in our lives, and the ways we are prepared to use it or encourage others to use it to get what we want. That may be respect, feelings of love, public demonstrations or evidence of relationships, or something else. Violence is not and cannot be the answer to our problems, the way we reach desired social status, or a means of protecting anyone, particularly from violence. As Smith stated in his apology, “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive.” Violence will not give us what we need. We need to heal, and we need to build.

Published in The Tribune on March 30, 2022.

On the weekend, it was reported that a four-year-old child was taken to the hospital. Soon after, there were claims on social media that the toddler had been sexually assaulted. The toddler, Bella Walker, died.

This assault, not yet confirmed by the Royal Bahamas Police Force which claims it is still waiting for autopsy results, has been met with outrage. People are angry about this child allegedly being abused, and the suggestion that the abuse caused her death. In this state of anger – one that comes and goes as the general public hears a horrific story and, given enough time, forgets about it – people are calling for action.

Anger can be a strong motivator and lead to things getting done, but those are not usually the right things. It is important for us to recognize this as a pivotal moment.

Nothing we do will bring Bella back or undo the abuse she went through or the suffering of the people who loved her.

While we honour her, mourn the loss and empathize with the people who loved her, we have to look at our circumstances. We have to see the gap between where we are and where we need to be, then figure out what we need to do to move from here to there. We will not get there by doing the first thing that comes to mind when we are enraged and want vengeance. If we are to address the scourge that is sexual violence, beyond individual incidents, we have to identify the issue and the systems that allow it to persist.

Gender-based violence refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender or that affects people of a particular gender disproportionately. Examples include sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, stalking and sexual violence. Gender-based violence occurs in both public and private spaces, and it can be perpetrated by individuals, organizations and states.

Sexual violence includes non-consensual vaginal, anal, or oral penetration, non-consensual capture or distribution of photos or videos and sex trafficking. Globally, 35 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence and 38 percent of murders of women are committed by intimate partners.

Intimate partner violence is a pattern of behaviour used by one partner to maintain control over the other, and it is disproportionately experienced by women. Domestic violence is an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour between people in the same household including spouses, people who are dating, parents, children and cohabitants.

Child abuse is the harm of anyone under 18, including one-time events and a series of events over a period of time. This includes physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Perpetrators of child abuse may include family members, friends, people in positions of authority over them, people in community settings and strangers.

Children are often afraid of telling anyone that they are being abused, but there are often signs of abuse. These include being afraid to be around certain people or in certain places, being unusually withdrawn, running away, not being taken to the doctor, and knowing things that are not suitable for their age. They depend on adults to see the signs and take action to protect them.

Neighbours told reporters that Bella’s mother was in an abusive relationship with a man who was not Bella’s father. They heard fighting, saw her locked outside while naked, and heard her say she was tired of him harming both her and her daughter. While one neighbour said they tried speaking with the couple, no one else intervened. They did not call the police nor the Department of Social Services.

On at least two occasions, four-year-old Bella was left home alone. This is only known because she left the house and went to neighbours where she asked for food. It was also said she told neighbours she did not want to go back home while the man was there.

This all points to an horrific example of intimate partner violence, domestic violence and child abuse. There are many questions and no shortage of blame to go around. Blame is of little use, but many of the questions, if we truly answer them and connect them to systemic issues, could lead us to a comprehensive plan to ensure that this does not happen again.

The neighbours decided to mind their own business. Why? One mentioned that the new people in the area do not have anything to live for. Many people choose silence in an attempt to protect themselves, thinking that speaking up would lead to them being harmed. Others believe their household is their business, and that is all.

There are two different ideas here that have the same result. People know something is wrong, but no one is prepared to do anything about it. How can we make it safe for people to report these incidents? How can we change our thinking about what is and is not our business? How much more likely would people be to report violence if they are certain to remain anonymous and safe, are certain that the entity they report to would respond in an appropriate, effective manner, know exactly who to contact and how, and it is an easy process?

There are two challenges here. We need a strong, accessible, trusted reporting mechanism that people are able to use with confidence, and we need to shift community culture and change our ideas about what is and is not our business. We need to understand that what we do and do not do matters, and can be the difference between life and death for the people who depend on others to do something.

A four-year-old child was left home alone on multiple occasions, and she is certainly not the only one. She was left in the care of a person who reportedly hurt her and, according to what we have read on social media, possibly sexually abused and killed her. This person was, reportedly, abusive to the child’s mother. People want to know why the mother left her child with a person she knew was abusing her, even if she did not know he was also abusing the child.

It is easy for us, on the outside, to say what we would never have done. We can easily swear that we would have done whatever it took to protect our children. We, however, were not in this woman’s situation, and we do not know her mental state.

We do not know the specifics of the abuse she endured nor the effects on her mental health. Putting her child in danger cannot be excused, yet we must make the connection between her behaviour and her experience of violence. To ignore it would be a failure to recognize the effects of violence.

We have to ask how and why this happened, and how we can prevent it from happening to anyone else.

We, in The Bahamas, do not have a proper social safety net which should improve the lives of people in situations of vulnerability. We have a desperate need for programmes that reduce vulnerability, and that includes poverty. We need a way to better manage unemployment, illness, disability and ageing. We need to prioritize care for children. Where can people with low incomes take their children while they are at work?

We know that many children are abused when they are left at home alone, with family members and with friends. Everyone does not have responsible, trustworthy family members who are able to take care of their children. For many, they have a trusted person, but their home is not safe because they allow other, not-so-trusted people to enter.

We need public childcare programmes and subsidies. Children are increasingly put in unsafe environments because their parents cannot afford childcare. This is not a private issue or a matter that is the sole responsibility of a household or a family. This is a national issue that needs to be addressed in national policies and programming with allocation in the national budget.

Just as we are outraged about the death of this four-year-old child as a result of injuries that, allegedly, were inflicted by her mother’s boyfriend, we have to be outraged by the negligence of successive administrations that have, without a doubt, been aware of the circumstances.

I have seen people calling for use of the cat -o-nine-tails, the death penalty, and a sex offenders registry.

These are all reactions. It is understandable that people are angry, and the first instinct is to demand the physical harm of the person responsible for the horrific acts we are discussing. People cling to “an eye for an eye,” and want to respond to inhumane acts with the same kind of punishment.

Whatever our positions on their use, the cat o’ nine tails and the death penalty do not solve the problem. They would be used after far too much has happened and at least one person has been significantly harmed. We can beat and kill rapists and abusers every day, and it would not address the issues that the killing of Bella make clear, if only we stop to think about it beyond the incident itself.

We are all angry. We know that Bella should not have been killed. We know this could have been avoided, if only.

We want something to be done. Let’s make sure that what we demand and what we get is not symbolic or ill-suited to our context.

We need to call for actions that will prevent gender-based violence, including domestic violence and intimate partner violence, and child abuse.

Our focus cannot be on what happens after these egregious acts have been perpetrated.

We need to stop them from happening. Let’s ensure that children are in safe, loving homes, that women and mothers are in healthy relationships, and that those who need help can access it with ease.

Let’s build relationships with the people around us so we can truly call ourselves communities, and ensure that we have the resources we need to address the issues we know exist and those we will surely come to know.

The outrage we see and feel will not last. It never does. Let’s do something that will.

Published in The Tribune on November 10, 2021.

Everyone is familiar with the term “domestic violence”. It, unfortunately, comes up often enough that it is a regular part of our vocabulary and we believe we know what it means. Domestic violence is violent or aggressive behaviour between people in the same home, and it usually involves partners. We know that it can be physical, but it can take other forms that are often not recognized as domestic violence, and it disproportionately affects women.

In a 2009 survey of 600 college students in New Providence by Susan J Plumridge and William Fielding, it was found that 21 per cent of students grew up in households where domestic violence occurred. There is also the 2014 study by (then) College of The Bahamas in which 58 per cent of high school boys and 37 per cent of high school girls participating said they believed men should “discipline” their partners. We know that what children experience at home helps to shape their world view and behaviour. It is not enough to educate children about healthy relationships and warn them about intimate partner violence and domestic violence. We have to be able to address what is happening now, causing harm to people experiencing and witnessing violence.

Domestic violence is largely understood as physical abuse. The billboards, pamphlets, and PSAs usually include graphic images of women with wounds and bruises, most often on their faces. In many cases, physical violence is hidden, leaving no visible evidence, or covered up by clothing and makeup. There are also many cases of domestic violence that do not involve physical violence. It can be the threat of violence, denial of basic needs such as food and clothing, isolation from family members and friends, deprivation of money or the ability to work, damage to property, and other controlling behaviour. These may not be immediately recognised as domestic violence by the person being violated or the people in their life, if ever. We all need to know the signs of domestic violence and how people change when they are experiencing it. For that to happen, we need to expand our understanding of domestic violence, indicate that it is not limited to physical violence whenever we talk about it, and portray it in more than one way. This work falls to non-governmental organisations, but the government is obligated to engage. It has a responsibility to the people and obligations through international mechanisms, and it must not be allowed to ignore or assign these responsibilities to other bodies, especially with proper resourcing.

Beyond a clear understanding of domestic violence, we need to acknowledge that people are at different levels of risk and require different interventions and support services. Domestic violence is experienced differently by people with children, and their opportunities to leave and to report are affected by having dependents. Domestic violence is different for people with disabilities. It is different for people who are unemployed. It is different for people who are living in a country where they do not have citizenship, family, or any other support system. Laws, policies, and services have to take these people into consideration and respond to their specific needs.

In her report on violence against women in The Bahamas, Dubravka Šimonovic — former Special Rapporteur on violence against women — noted that socio-economic status and social exclusion put migrant women at increased risk of various forms of violence and reduces the likelihood that they would report violence for fear of being deported. She also noted that crimes against LGBTQI+ people, including domestic violence, largely go unreported.

For both migrants and LGBTQI+ people, there is fear of the unintended consequences of reporting. Will they be blamed? Will their status or identity be made public? How will they be made to suffer because of it? Is reporting worth the risk? The government is obligated to ensure that it is not only possible, but safe for people to report domestic violence and that they will receive assistance beyond the option to prosecute.

Šimonovic recommended continued training for police officers on domestic violence along with training of people in various institutions that would come into contact with survivors of domestic violence, including healthcare facilities, welfare agencies, and immigration officers. As first points of contact, they need to understand domestic violence, its impact on people, and the way it disproportionately affects people who are already in situations of vulnerability.

It was noted in Šimonovic’s report that there is a need for more shelters in all of the islands of The Bahamas. It is important that people are able to safely report domestic violence and access safe temporary housing. It is particularly difficult for women with children, especially boys over the age of ten, to find appropriate shelter.

The report said: “At least one shelter capable of admitting women and children around the clock should be available in every region of the State, including rural areas.”

We are not there yet. It is unacceptable that domestic violence is such a common occurrence and we do not have resources in place to support survivors. Even worse, people are shamed for not leaving (sooner), as though they have somewhere to go. We, in fact, need to shift away from displacing survivors, instead requiring perpetrators to find other accommodations and stay away from the home.

We need to implement the National Strategic Plan on Gender-based Violence and legislation to protect from gender-based violence and domestic violence. In addition to changes in law and the support of plans and policies, we need to implement practices and procedures that support the work to end domestic violence and violence against women.

One issue that comes up over and over again on most issues, but especially issues of women’s human rights, is the lack of data. The absence of data is frequently used by detractors as “proof” that a problem does not exist, is not big enough, or does not affect enough people to even warrant a conversation. We need to do much better on collecting data, analysing it, and making it publicly available, not in response to the misogynists and anti-rights people, but to better understand the issue, how it is changing, the ways it affects people, and how we can more effectively prevent and respond to it. The issue of insufficient data has been addressed by various experts, entities, and mechanisms.

Šimonovic’s report calls on the government to “regularly collect, analyse, and publish statistical data on all forms of gender-based violence against women, through a femicide watch or observatory on violence against women, with aggregated data on the number of complaints, convictions, and reparations made to victims”. This is a reinforcement of an existing obligation through an Inter-American mechanism.

The Bahamas ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará) in 1995. Little has been done to familiarize the general public with this convention. We need to be aware of the international mechanisms that expand and protect our rights, especially when the State ratified them. The Bahamas is required to come into compliance with Belém do Pará which acknowledges that violence against women is violation of human rights. Article 2 says violence against women includes that which “occurs within the family or domestic unit or within any other interpersonal relationship, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the woman[…]”

The Convention also includes violence that is “perpetrated or condoned by the state or its agents regardless of where it occurs”. It obligates the state to prevent and investigate violence against women and include that in legislation and administrative measures, to amend or repeal laws that “sustain the persistence and tolerance of violence against women,” and to “establish fair and effective legal procedures” for women who experience violence. In addition to legal remedy, the Convention requires states to implement measures and programmes to address cultural attitudes and patterns of violence, raise awareness of the issue, and ensure proper data collection among other obligations.

Belém do Pará is an important convention that has gone without attention for a long time. It is relatively easy to read and understand, and it is imperative that we implement it. It is not enough to ratify. The government is obligated to educate the public on human rights mechanisms and what they mean for us. Civil society needs to be aware of what we have ratified and how it all applies to the lives of the people they are meant to serve.

As we get closer to the start of the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign which begins on November 25, take some time to read the Convention. Simply type “Belém do Pará convention” into your search engine of choice and it will be the first result. Get familiar with it along with other conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Equality Bahamas will be especially focused on domestic violence, femicide, and violence and harassment in the world of work in the coming weeks and will host a series of events on these topics as well as human rights, the importance of data, and the role of the media. Follow the organization on social media (@equality242) and look out for the calendar of events and calls to action to end gender-based violence against women and LGBTQI+ people.

Published in The Tribune on October 27, 2021.

Dress codes, to some people, are necessary. To others, they are restrictive. The way they are received depends heavily on the reason they are introduced, the effectiveness in addressing that cause, enforcement, and the consequences, both intended and unintended, of their existence. It often seems as though we like dress codes. It isn’t that we particularly enjoy being constrained, but watching other people fail to meet the standard appears to be a favourite pastime.

Last week, the opening of Parliament took place and, as usual, it was a POPPY SHOW. People watched closely to see who was wearing what and, in many cases, who was wearing whom. This is an exciting element of the affair — seeing the work of Bahamian designers and celebrating their talent. Many would say it was a time to “show up and show out.” The invitation to the invite specified lounge suits and short dresses with hats and gloves. Some adhered to this, some used it as a starting point, and others seemed to simply do their own thing.

Throughout the event, photos and videos circulated. The main focus, of course, was fashion. Predictably, the vast majority of the comments were about the women in attendance. From proclaiming love for a particular hat to projecting a deep meaning onto what others see a simple choice in colour, the participants in these conversations were determined to assess every article.

It was interesting to see people defend the dress code and attempt to be gatekeepers from their mobile devices. If a woman was photographed with gloves, it could not go without comment. “These people ain’ read the invitation,” or some variation appeared in the comments on many photos.

Even more telling were the comments on features that were not stipulated in the dress code. It was almost as though people took personal offence to the choices women made regarding their own clothing and on their own dime. They labeled dress lengths “wrong,” disturbed by the visibility of women’s knees. They were equally scandalized by the exposure of shoulders, insisting that sleeves are required for such events. Some even references the queen, saying that these women would not have been allowed to meet her dressed as they were. This is, by the way, completely incorrect. You can definitely meet the queen with exposed shoulders, arms, knees, backs, cleavage, and even bellies. She does not seem to care what anyone else wears. That aside, why the focus on what the queen might want to see at the opening of Parliament in The Bahamas, independent since 1973?

Dress codes and uniforms are often seen as almost interchangeable. One key difference, however, is that uniforms tend to unify, at least in appearance, a group of people by eliminating opportunities for their differences — especially in disposable income — to be visible. For schools, uniforms are said to reduce distractions and give students less to compare. As we know, they simply focus on shoes, belts, and backpacks. Who can afford which brand? Who gets new ones after the Christmas break?

For workplaces, uniforms are said to make it easier to identify staff. Many people prefer uniforms because it is easier to get ready for work. I know someone who makes it her mission to convert staff wherever she works to her position on uniforms. Some businesses even leave room for staff to add personal flair by allowing them to make articles with a particular fabric and issuing scarfs that can be worn in different ways.

Dress codes do not do the same thing. There may be more room for personal flair, but constraints are still there. One of the biggest constraints is financial. What is the woman with a very limited amount of money to spend supposed to do? In addition to a beautiful dress, she now needs to purchase a hat and gloves. In many cases, dress codes are also discriminatory. It is now widely accepted that women wear pants, so why would women be required to wear dresses for an event? Further, gender is a spectrum and people express their genders in various ways, so it should not be surprising that some women and nonbinary people would prefer to wear something than what is prescribed.

The other thing about dress codes, which also applies to many uniforms, is that they are completely unsuited to The Bahamas. Gloves are a ridiculous requirement, only adding to the cost of attending an event. Even what we consider business attire is absurd. Men are wearing suits and ties, office air conditioning is set to a low temperature to compensate, and the women learn to keep a thick sweater or warm jacket in the office and drink tea all day to warm up. “Professional” dress is an import and a result of colonialism. We need to let it go. It is costing us money, in more ways than one, and results in discomfort. With all of the Bahamian designers who show us what they’ve got when people wear their designs in pageants, at balls, and spectacles like the opening of Parliament, we can certainly come up with our own business attire. Countries in the Pacific have done it, making business attire well suited to the weather, culture, and the pocket.

We need to think about what we consider “right”, “good”, and “proper”, and how we came to these ways of thinking. We need to be prepared to learn and do better or, at the very least, accept that others will move beyond these old, tired ways of thinking and there is no reason to be offended by their growth. There is a difference between holding the opinion that women should wear dresses that cover their knees and saying that women who wear shorter dresses do not know what is or is not appropriate. You believe one thing, and someone else has acted on their own position, liking with thinking about or knowing you, or having any loyalty to your fashion (in)sensibilities.

When we start to assign moral value to people’s attire, we leave room for much greater errors. People are blamed for acts of sexual violence against them. Women are turned away from voter registration because their shoulders are visible. Women fashion skirts out of shopping bags in the parking lot because the Department of Immigration deems that more appropriate than their uniform which includes shorts (which are longer than the shopping bag skirt). Students miss class because their skirts do not touch the floor when they kneel. We can and must do better than this.

Dress codes are, in most cases, unnecessary. They are used to exclude people. They are a tool of gatekeepers. They are usually rooted in sexism, racism, and/or classism. Dress codes are not about cohesion and do not have anything to do with the quality of an event. They are an excuse for people to say that certain people do not belong. To gain access, you must be able to afford a dress, hat, and gloves, and you must at least appear to believe that the shoulders and knees of women are an embarrassment that must be concealed in the hopes that everyone else forgets they exist. Dress codes are an arbitrary set of rules that some follow with ease and others struggle to meet in order to be accepted by a person or set of people who consider themselves worthy of other people’s deference, thereby validating those setting the rules and their positions, even if their intent was simply to insert themselves into a particular class of people. It is quite the tool, powerful enough that people on the outside — with no invitation — help with enforcement, announcing those who slip in with minor infarctions, dedicated to making their failures known. Keeping these old rules only encourages this kind of behaviour and does nothing to elevate any of us. Again, we can and must do better than this.


1. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson. After spending the summer with her grandmother, Claudia returns home to find that her best friend Monday is not there. She was already confused by the lack of response to her letters, but when Monday doesn’t show up at school, especially on her favorite day of the week, Claudia gets more concerned. It seems like no one else is particularly interested in looking for Monday, so Claudia is on her own to look, ask, and recruit adults to help her. The premise of this story seems quite simple, but the two timelines — before and after — create more investment in the friendship and finding out what really happened. It gets more complicated when an unexpected piece of information about Claudia is shared with the reader. From the beginning, we know Monday isn’t coming, but finding out what happened to her is quite the ride.

2. Grow your own food. Last year, many people got excited about starting kitchen gardens. They posted their successes on social media and shared the bounty with family members and friends. It is now, again, time to start planting. It is already October, but still quite hot, so talk to the staff at your favorite plant nursery to find out what you can plant now. Be sure to tell them where your garden space is — for example, on the western side of your house — so they can let you know what will do best there given the amount of sunlight your plants will receive. If you don’t have much yard space, don’t count yourself out! You can grow a number of vegetables and herbs in small spaces.

Published in The Tribune on October 13, 2021.

The US Embassy has been flying the Pride flag for two weeks as Pride Month continues. It is a great time to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community. If you do not know what the L, G, B, T, Q, or plus stands for, get ready to learn.

Before we get into sexualities, it is important to understand some of the basics that apply to everyone. By now, we should all be familiar with the terms “sex” and “gender”. They often appear on forms we need to complete and frequently with the wrong options and with insufficient options.

Sex is assigned at birth based on visible sex characteristics which do not always match chromosomal sex. We are taught about the XY sex-determination system in which XX is female and XY is male, but it is now known these are not the only combinations. This means there are more than two sexes and it is not binary. The continued use of a binary system is also evidence that sex is a social construct.

Gender is the set of characteristics, including behavior and expression, of women and men that are created and enforced by society. These characteristics are taught to and expected of people based on their sex. For example, boys can play rough and get scrapes and bruises, but girls must play more carefully and reduce their chances of getting physical imperfections while having fun.

Girls help to cook and clean, and boys take the garbage out and help to wash the car. Girls can cry, but anger is inappropriate for them; boys must not cry but displays of anger are expected.

Men are sexually attracted to women and women are romantically attracted to men. When women and girls or men and boys step out of these gender prescriptions, people do not like it. In fact, people start policing them, claiming the need to correct and/or punish them. Gender is a social construct.

The LGBTQ+ community includes people of all sexes and genders. They are not all attracted to people of the same gender. They are a part of the community because their sex, gender, or sexuality is not the same as those assigned to or expected of them.

The terms “women” and “men” are used below for ease and understanding of people encountering this information for the first time. Please keep in mind there are non-binary, gender non-conforming people, gender neutral and gender fluid people who do not identify as women or men. Definitions of LGBTQ+ terms are evolving and being developed as we learn more about gender and sexualities and people explore identity and expression.

What do all of those letters stand for, and why is there a plus sign?

Whether we say LGBT, LGBTQ, or LGBTI, or another version, we need the plus at the end in order to include the people whose letters are missing. LGBTQ+ does not just mean gay. The community is far more diverse than that.

Lesbians are women who are attracted to women. It is important to note lesbians are not attracted to all women. Lesbians are not all masculine-presenting. Some lesbians prefer pants. Some like more loose-fitting clothing. Some like dresses. Some lesbians wear make-up. Some lesbians love wigs. Some keep their hair short. Some lesbians change their looks all the time. Some lesbians are quiet. Some are very loud talkers. Some drink while others do not. What lesbians have in common is that they are women and they are attracted to women.

Gay, these days, is used to refer to men who are attracted to men. It is still, from time to time, used to refer to both men and women, but “lesbian” is a more suitable term for referring to women. Gay men, it must be noted, are not attracted to all men. All gay men are not feminine-presenting. Some go to the gym and talk a lot about their gains. Some have long hair, some have piercings, some have tattoos and some drive large vehicles. Some gay men have full beards, some groom their eyebrows, and some are very particular about the wine they drink. What gay men have in common is that they are men and they are attracted to men.

Bisexual people are attracted to people of more than one gender. In years gone by, it was said that bisexual people are attracted to “both genders”, but given what we now know about genders—that there are more than 50 of them—that definition reinforces the idea that there is a binary. Instead of “both,” we say “more than one” to indicate that bisexuals are not attracted to just one gender.

Contrary to popular belief, bisexual people are not trying to have it all. They are attracted to more than one gender, but this does not mean they pursue or maintain relationships with people of different genders at the same time. There are, however, people of all genders and orientations who engage in multiple romantic and sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Those people are polyamorous. While some are, not all bisexuals are not polyamorous.

Transgender (abbreviated to “trans”) people have a gender identity that is not typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. “Q” sometimes appears twice in the initialism because it stands for both queer and questioning. “Queer” was a pejorative and it has been reclaimed as an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities. “Questioning” describes people who are still exploring their genders and sexualities.

Intersex people have sex characteristics that do not fit the female-male binary. These characteristics may or may not be visible and they may or may not be recognized at the time of birth. In some cases, people do not know they are intersex until puberty when changes in their bodies alert them. For example, a person assigned female at birth may notice the growth of facial hair or experience pain caused by undescended testes. Only upon consulting a doctor does this person learn that they were incorrectly assigned female at birth and they are actually intersex

Other LGBTQ+ identities include asexuals (people who are not sexually attracted to others or have low or not desire for sexual activity) and pansexuals (people who are attracted to people of any gender).

What should aspiring allies do during Pride?

During Pride Month, pay attention to what is happening around you, what is being said, and what is being left unsaid. What were the responses of your family members, friends, coworkers, religious leaders, social media contacts, and radio hosts when the Pride flag was raised at the U.S. Embassy on June 1? Do they support the LGBTQ+ community or not? Did they choose to focus on who did it rather than why it was done and who it was for? Based on their reactions, do they value the lives of LGBTQ+ people?

By paying attention to what people say, you find out what they believe. You find out what they are willing to do, and for whom. Are they people you want to support and be in relationships with? Allyship is about taking action. It is not sitting quietly, thinking, “Wow, that’s terrible.” It is using your privilege, as one of the people who is not directly impacted by hostility against LGBTQ+ people, to challenge other people’s positions and stop them from spreading hate. You may not be able to change their minds, but you can let them know you do not think the same way and show those around you that there are other ways—much better ways—of thinking and behaving. Remember there are people around you who are LGBTQ+ without you knowing, and they observe your actions. Make sure your actions make them feel loved, valued, and protected.

During Pride, many businesses take advantage of the news coverage and the focus on the LGBTQ+ community by selling Pride merchandise. They may even offer Pride discounts. While they may seem well-meaning, it is most likely that they are focusing on the bottom line. Similar to the pink-washing during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, many businesses use LGBTQ+ people and the month dedicate to the community to make money without giving anything back. When you see those rainbow ads and Pride hashtags, find out where the proceeds are going. Ask businesses what they are doing to support the community. If the answer is nothing, it is exploitation and another example of the commercialization and co-opting of causes while ignoring the needs of vulnerable communities.

Listen to what people are saying. Interrupt hateful, dangerous, violent commentary. Share accurate information. Challenge businesses and others who try to co-opt movements and causes to do something that would have a positive impact for the LGBTQ+ community (and not their image or revenue). Insist that LGBTQ+ people are recognized as people who have human rights that need to be protected.


  1. Children of God. This 2010 film was written and directed by Bahamian Kareem Mortimer. At the micro level, it centres the relationship of two Bahamian men. At the macro level, it portrays the hostility against LGBTQ+ people in The Bahamas. It has won over a dozen awards.

  2. Follow Equality Bahamas on social media. The organization usually celebrates Pride in July, but it is starting early this year. Stay tuned to learn more about LGBTQ+ people, Pride, and what we need governments, nongovernmental organizations, and members of the public to do to protect and expand the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Pride is not just a celebration, but an opportunity to highlight issues and demand change.

Published in The Tribune on June 16, 2021.

This week, a family’s story was made public in a request for financial assistance. The wife and mother had been financially supporting the family of four while the husband was a stay-at-home father. The mother is now seeking financial assistance to help her support herself and her children because her spouse has abandoned them. There is more to the story, but the part that is relevant here is that, in both anger and humour, people have made comments that make clear their disregard for domestic and care work because it is still considered “women’s work”.

In January, I wrote in this column about domestic work. There was a focus on Bahamian attitudes toward migrant workers, domestic work and what it is worth. This time, let’s look at domestic and care work within the family and as a contribution to economic production.

A New York Times article published in March last year, for International Women’s Day, put the value of women’s unpaid labour at $10.9 trillion – higher than the revenue of Walmart, Apple and Amazon. It noted little attention is paid to this labour until it is disrupted, and it is unequally distributed. In the US women do four hours of unpaid labour while men, on average, do two and a half hours. Countries with the largest difference in time spent on unpaid labour between men and women are India, Turkey and Portugal. It is not surprising those with the smallest difference are Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Canada.

For many years, women were relegated to the domestic sphere while men went out to work and earned the income needed to provide for their households. They paid for accommodation, food and other necessities. Women were tasked with keeping the house clean, doing laundry, grocery shopping, preparing meals, taking care of children and other tasks such as collecting mail and rearing animals depending on the family’s resources. Some women took on work they could do from home such as dressmaking to help make ends meet.

During the Second World War, many (white) women entered the workforce for the first time. The men were away and there was work to be done, so women became factory workers, auxiliaries to the armed forces, drivers and nurses. With women working, it was critical that care needs be otherwise met. For example, nurseries were funded by states.

Since the Second World War, women continued to work. Even in homes where the men returned, women continued to have the responsibility of domestic duties. The economy changed and women’s participation in it changed significantly, but gender ideologies remained the same. Women then starting working two shifts — their paid work outside of the home and the unpaid labour at home that was not shared by the men.

Before women started entering the workforce, their domestic and care labour was what allowed men — their husbands, sons and brothers — to undertake paid work. While the men were out working for pay, women were ensuring their homes were clean, meals were prepared for them, clothing was washed, dried, and ironed and children were clean and being educated. Men’s paid work was made possible by women’s unpaid work which means the economy was not only fuelled by men’s labour, but by the labour of women that took place behind the scenes.

Today most households depend on two incomes. It is not as easy and, in many cases it is impossible, for a family to get by on one income so we do not see as many stay-at-home mothers. Still, like decades ago, there is the misconception that domestic and care work are for women, regardless of whether or not we are in the workforce. Feminist organisers are talking more about the burden of domestic and care work, the need to value it, and the importance of sharing it. Feminist economists point out this unpaid work should be factored into the gross domestic product (GDP) as it is directly linked to economic production.

Of course, there are households that are far ahead having recognised that domestic and care work are, in fact, work. No matter who is doing it, it requires time, effort and skill. It is full-time work when a household can hire someone to do it, but simply a duty when someone — usually a woman or girl — in the family does it. We are seeing more men participate in domestic and care work. It may not be a 50:50 split, but some people are realising it should not be the women’s burden and it is unfair to expect one person to take on so much work in addition to their formal employment.

All work has value, no matter who does it. We have to not only recognise that value, but share the burden of unpaid work. It is unacceptable to expect women to take on these tasks simply because we are women. We are not naturally better suited to it. Society has taught us there are specific requirements we must all meet in order to be seen as “real men” and “real women” and those requirements are based on the social construct of gender. This construct limits us in many ways and leads to dehumanisation of certain groups of people.

The suggestion that a man is not a man because he is a stay-at-home father who takes care of his children and the household is ignorant and harmful. Just as women have done this work for decades, enabling their husbands to work, men can do the same to enable women to work. In dual income-households, it is favourable for people to share the unpaid labour so that no one has to work the entire second shift.

Contrary to the misguided assertions made on social media over the past few days — and for much longer in social dialogue — when someone is earning an income while their partner takes care of the household and children, it is a fair exchange. The income-earning partner is not “taking care of” the partner working in the home. Income does not determine whether or not an activity is work and it certainly does not determine the value of that work.

The story that was shared about the Bahamian woman in need of assistance is sad. It is upsetting. It looks as though the woman and her children have been wronged, abandoned by her partner and their other parent. It is possible to express displeasure and even disgust at the actions of her partner without insulting people — both women and men — by devaluing the domestic and care work they do. We do not “take care of” live-in domestic or care workers. We compensate them for their work. It is quite similar in the household. One person’s work makes it possible for the other person to work.

Dusting the furniture, sweeping and mopping the floor, making the beds, doing the laundry, making the bank deposits, paying the utility bills, supervising the children’s virtual schooling, visiting grandparents and cooking dinner are tasks that can be done by people of all genders. They are disproportionately done by women and mostly women who also have paid work. Men need to share the burden of that work.

We need to understand the gender boxes we have been put in do not serve us. They were built to make it easy to profit off of us, convincing us that our value was tied to what we were able to produce. By now, we should know we are more than that. Given our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, we should also see and feel the weight of the invisible labour other people have been doing while we were not looking.

It is not too late to make the shift for an equitable division of labour which is not based on gender but our care and commitment to each other as families, communities and nations.

Spare moments . . .

1. The Body Myth by Rheeaa Mukherjee.

In this novel, Mira is drawn into the lives of Sara and Rahil by what seems to be a chance encounter—seeing Sara have seizure in the park. Sara’s husband Rahil recruits Mira to be Sara’s friend. Mira tries to figure out whether or not Sara is truly sick and, if she is, how Rahil may be causing it. What seems like a story of friendship becomes a love story, a mystery and commentary on the human body.

2. A Million Little Things.

On its third season, this ABC drama series follows a group of friends immediately after the death of one member of the group. When Jon dies by suicide, everyone is shocked because he always seemed so happy and was a central figure in their lives. As they band together, this group of friends deals with the reveal of secrets new and old. From Rome dragging himself through a job he hates to Gary refusing to accept Maggie’s decision not to have chemotherapy, season one is packed with important themes, tough decisions and tests friendship.

3. Sunday Drive.

Every week, Bahamian DJ Ampero creates a playlist this is perfect for, you guessed it, a nice drive on a Sunday. It is also perfect for relaxing showers, dinners at home and doing laundry. Sunday Drive is a great way to find new songs and artists to add to your own. This week’s playlist includes Carry Me Home by KOKOROKO, Pineapple Jam by Saib and As You Are by cktrl. Find it on Spotify and Tidal.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on March 24, 2021.

International Women’s Day was on Monday and, of course, it came with radio talk show slots, panel discussions, presentations and purple attire. It is an annual day to celebrate the progress women have made and to take action toward the changes that still need to happen.

The global campaign’s theme was “Choose To Challenge” and the UN Women theme was focused on women’s leadership (in alignment with the upcoming 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women). Both themes were taken up and used to frame events and initiatives. It was great to see Corporate Bahamas make space for discussions about women in leadership and the issues we all need to choose to challenge. It is even more important that they contribute to the efforts through resources, including funding, and structural changes that ensure women are in the leadership pipeline, compensated fairly and working in enabling environments.

The Prime Minister recently stated that “the representation of women in Cabinet is at an historic low”. He said he challenges himself, political parties and the nation to ensure more women are in the House and the Cabinet.

These words, of course, are nothing without action. It is not enough to wish for better representation of women. The Prime Minister claimed “a number of women” declined the offer to run on the Free National Movement’s ticket and that he is pleased that more women are running this time around. It will be interesting to see how many women the Free National Movement puts forward. The current proportion is abysmal with only five of the 30 ratified candidates being women.

Unless eight of the nine candidates to be announced are women, there is very little to show for the Prime Minister’s statement about including more women as the party would not even have 30 percent representation. How can we expect more women in Cabinet if they are not going to be on the ballots?

The Prime Minister said he was frustrated by women declining opportunities to run. He did not give the reasons. Maybe they did not see the Free National Movement—or any other party, for that matter—taking firm positions on issues of importance to them. Maybe they do not want to be collapsed into a system that was not built for them. Maybe they do not see the political environment as one they can survive in, much less thrive.

Aside from all of the issues with party politics and the failure of every political party in the country to make clear their positions on important issues, there are specific actions that need to be taken in order to create an environment within which women can safely and successfully participate.

If party leaders care about women’s engagement in political leadership, they need to take decisive, targeted action.

Here are five actions the Prime Minister and all political parties need to take in order to successfully recruit, retain and run women as candidates in general elections:

  • Institute a quota. Go beyond 30 percent which is a low bar and does not result in gender parity in a world, and a country, in which more than half the population are women and girls. Low bars do nothing for us. Let’s start with acknowledging that we have a long way to go, then figure out how to get there. Make the quota 50 percent, and do it now. The current administration can still do this on a national level. All political parties can do it for themselves. Let’s call on all political parties to make their positions on women’s leadership clear by instituting party quotas of 50 percent now. This commits them to do the work of recruiting and training women, creating enabling environments within the parties, and improving the conditions of all women so that they are able to pursue opportunities in frontline politics and other forms of political leadership.
  • Provide training and mentorship for women. Boys and men are raised and trained to believe that they are destined for leadership while girls and women are often taught that they are to play supportive roles. What we see in the leadership of men and boys and in women and girls is not a result of natural abilities or inclinations on the basis of gender, but gender ideologies that have been used to put people on particular paths. Men and boys have long been considered more suitable for leadership and certain kinds of work, so women and girls have been dealing with implicit and explicit discouragements from leadership and the areas of work that have been reserved for men. This needs to be intentionally interrupted and corrected. We need specific programmes and initiatives targeting women and girls, preparing them for leadership.
  • Reject gender stereotypes. Publicly challenge and rebuke all suggestions that gender is a determinant of ability or suitability. Create opportunities for women and girls to pursue education and careers in areas that continue to be dominated by men. Run campaigns that highlight women already working in these areas, their contributions to the industries and to the country, and the support that has made it possible. Encourage the private sector to do the same. One example is providing scholarships and other opportunities such as fellowships to girls and women pursuing education in STEM and trades.
  • Reduce the burden of care work. One of the factors that impacts people’s performance in the workplace and both ability and willingness to pursue ambitions is the work they have to do outside of their formal employment. Women are often tasks with the upkeep of the home. Even if a household can afford to employ domestic workers, the supervision and management of household tasks still tends to be the responsibility of the women. Childcare and eldercare are often the responsibility of women as well.

There is so much to be done at home that it is known as “the second shift” and can prevent women—and the girls often enlisted to help and learn from them—from studying and participating in other activities that could help to advance their careers. Recognize that women’s time is not elastic, acknowledge that women have taken on much of the work that the state is obligated to do, and make structural changes to allow and encourage men to share the domestic labour and support women in reclaiming their time. For example, change the expectation that women are solely responsibly for childcare by amending legislation to give parental leave so that fathers have more than five days to help with newborn care, leaving postpartum women to heal and care for babies alone.

  • Protect women from gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue that is affecting families, communities, islands, and the country. It can be physical or non-physical, and it takes place both in person and online. Social media has been weaponized by men, used to discourage women from engaging in public life and punishing them for it if they dare to enter public life anyway. This administration and all political parties need to rebuke all forms of violence against all women, regardless of political affiliation or position. Disparaging comments and ads that target women on the basis on their gender need to be banned.

There are many other ways to create an environment that is conducive to participation of women and other marginalized people.

This needs to be regarded as a matter of priority and a marker of the commitment of the Prime Minister and all political parties to ensuring, not only greater participation of women in politics, but gender parity.

It’s not just about recruiting women and hoping they accept under the current conditions.

There is a responsibility to create a better environment through systems and initiatives that not only demonstrate personal and political commitment, but contribute to a cultural shift that creates space for women to not only lead, but do so with support and the reasonable expectation that they and their families will be safe.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on March 10, 2021.

International Women’s Day is next Monday, March 8. The theme set by UN Women is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” This theme is meant to align with that of the upcoming 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)—“Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” Both themes are important and need more than one to 12 days of discussion, analysis, and action planning. We can see that quite clearly in the national context, particularly as we are in the midst of election season.

Political parties continue to announce the ratification of candidates and are far from gender parity. Not even 30 percent of the slates are women. This is no surprise considering the fact the two major parties had four and six women on their slates of candidates. We currently have five women in Parliament — 12.8 percent. It stands to reason that if both political parties had more women as candidates, women would comprise a higher proportion of Parliament and we may have actually had better representation.

It is important that, even as we advocate for a political quota, we emphasise the need for quality candidates. We do not need more women in Parliament who will not only fail to represent women in all our diversity and work to address issues that directly and disproportionately affect us, but embarrass us repeatedly and help to set us back.

We do not need women who simply want to be a part of the “boys club” or want to set themselves apart by distancing themselves from women’s rights issues or “feminine” characteristics.

We do not need more people who simply want to occupy a seat. We need women who are well-equipped to represent their geographic constituencies and the larger constituency of women.

It has been particularly interesting to watch the hypocritical response to the resignation of Lanisha Rolle from the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture. All of a sudden, people and organisations are concerned about the absence of women in Cabinet.

Over the past four years, very little was said about there being only one woman in Cabinet, and that one women being among the worst of Cabinet Ministers. Her earlier appointment to the Ministry of Social Services and Urban Development was cause for great concern. Those who were paying attention knew that it would not go well. Giving Rolle oversight of the ministry with departments responsible for serving people in need and meeting international obligations such as CEDAW made no sense. The Department of Gender and Family Affairs was suffocated by her refusal to recognise the necessity of its work. It was devastatingly stagnated, despite the work of some of the most dedicated, qualified staff – and it has yet to recover.

Rolle, when asked for her position on marital rape, said marital rape was a private matter. Are other forms of violence within the home also private matters? The personal is political. This is not just a saying. It is a truth we need to understand. The decisions we make as individuals and the structures of our relationships and institutions, including families and businesses, are directly impacted by and directly impact the economic and political spheres.

We can look at the state of households during the COVID-19 pandemic (though the same dynamics existed before this exacerbation). We continued to work, whether on-site or from home, and took on the additional work of supervising virtual learning and the tasks that could no longer be done by others due to restrictions. Most of the added labour fell to women who had to continue their regular work, help children with virtual learning, look after elderly family members and keep the house clean and prepare meals on a more frequent basis. Before this, women and men were working and, in most cases, women came home to the second shift, handling domestic tasks and care work. Some may say this is a personal matter.

The way people divide their household work is up to them, right? Well, how do they come to these decisions? Are they actual choices, made consciously, or predetermined due to circumstance or the (often unspoken) gender division of labour?

The way tasks are divided are home depend heavily on the ways women and men see themselves, not only on a personal level, but culturally, politically, religiously. If only one person in the household can work overtime in order to ensure household matters are dealt with, it is likely to be the person who is making the most money. This is directly impacted by the gender wage gap and the difference in opportunities available to and accessed by men and women.

A woman does not truly choose to spend less time on paid work and take care of the children if the issues are that no one else is available to do it and/or the man is able to make more money in less time. This “private matter” is affected by public issues of education, employment, and social security, among others.

Returning to the absurd idea that marital rape is a private matter, we have to look at the factors that affect and are affected by dynamics within the home. When we create this kind of divide between private and public, we leave people defenceless. Rolle’s comment communicated to the public that what happens to any woman at home is her own problem. The government is not concerned about such matters and sees no need to interfere.

Miriam Emmanuel, no better than Rolle, saw fit to share a disturbing anecdote about her father’s victim-blaming regarding intimate partner violence. Comments like these send the message that women are disposable, unprotected, and complicit in their own harm while men are excused or even revered for their brutality, creating the environment for violence in the home to proliferate. It is important to understand that the effects are not limited to the individual, but affect public health and the economy. Hospital visits and sick days do not affect just one person.

We need true representation for women in Parliament and Cabinet. We need women who are aware of the issues affecting women, care about about addressing them, and are prepared to do the work with minimal support. Rolle is not a loss. She was a liability the entire time she was a Cabinet Minister and remains a liability as a Member of Parliament.

This month, as we advocate for women to be in positions of political leadership, it is critical that we are clear in the demand for feminist leadership and true representation. We do not simply need women, but women who believe in equality. Women who understand and explicitly state that marital rape is rape. Women who advocate for comprehensive sexuality education in all schools. Women who have studied and have mastery of international mechanisms and declarations such as CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action and have fresh ideas and plans of action for legislative reform and implementation. Women who are engaged with civil society organisations that are engaging in women’s rights work.

The Prime Minister said he wants to see a woman be Prime Minister one day, but he has done nothing to move us in that direction. Look at the 2017 slate of candidates and look at the ratified candidates to date. Is there representation? Are the candidates equipped for the task at hand?

Taking notice of the lack of gender parity now could be a sign of opportunism because it is election season or because it is a global priority. Better late than never when the latecomers are ready to go the whole way. Let us not lament the resignation of Rolle as though we have suffered some great loss. We have not. Focus the discontent on the actual tragedy — the continued lack of representation for women and all indications that the next term, no matter the administration, will be quite similar to this one. While all parties still have room on their slates, pressure them to ratify qualified women who believe in and will advocate for human rights. Pay attention to what The Bahamas says in international spaces. Hold the government to the commitments it makes. Call it to a higher standard.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on March 3, 2021.

Last week, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka met again at the Australian Open. I have always been TeamSerena. I often watched tennis with my father and great-grandmother who both wanted to see Venus and Serena Williams win. I thought nothing would be nearly as difficult than watching the sisters play each other, wanting the impossible – to see them both win. Watching Serena play Naomi, however, was particularly difficult at the 2018 US Open and again last Wednesday at the Australian Open.

Serena is and always will be an icon, not only of tennis, but of sports. She has consistently been referred to as the G.O.A.T. — greatest of all time. She has been asked far too many times whether or not she considers herself the greatest female athlete of all time. After her 2016 Wimbledon win over Elena Vesnina, she corrected reporters who asked if she was the one of the greatest female athletes of all time. “I prefer the words ‘one of the greatest athletes of all time’.”

Named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2015 and having secured 21 grand slams by that time, she had a point. While some continue to question her position, Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian wore a t-shirt with her photo and “Greatest female athlete” with a strike through “female” on it. The message is clear.

The G.O.A.T. has goals

For Architectural Digest, Williams opened the door to her Miami home and, even with an art gallery instead of a living room, her trophy room is what got a lot of attention. It was clear that all of her trophies were not in that room. She had to a pick up a few of them to remind herself of what they were. At one point she said: “I see a second place trophy, but I’m gonna put that one in the trash. It shouldn’t be in here. We don’t keep second place.”

Serena Williams now has 23 grand slams. It is common knowledge she wants a 24th to tie the record set by Margaret Court. She has never been satisfied to simply play. She likes winning and, perhaps even more than that, she likes to be at her best. When she is not, her frustration is obvious, and it can affect her game.

We also know that she is her own best advocate. She does not hesitate to speak her mind or defend her position. She is both fierce in her pursuit of every win and human.

She has experienced racism and misogyny from the beginning of her career. Serena and Venus Williams were two little Black girls playing tennis, and doing it incredibly well. Everyone was not happy to see it. The sisters likely had to learn to be confident in their skill and the positions they have earned in the sport. They were not always able to depend on a crowd or the general public for support. It should be no surprise that Serena Williams can stand on her own, sets high goals, and doggedly pursues them.

I recently saw a lengthy Facebook post by someone who likely considered himself to be defending Williams. His position was that she is being forced to push herself too hard in order to prove herself to the world, and her goal to get her 24th grand slam is not important. He said the record is only “such a make it or break it” because of the racism she has endured. This argument does not really make sense since Williams has proven, over and over again, that she, a black woman, is the G.O.A.T., but even if she solely wanted to prove racists wrong or upset them, so what? It is ridiculous to make such assertions about her goal and to invalidate it. Can she not want to tie the record for her own satisfaction?

Williams has been shaking up the world of tennis from the beginning. Braids, beads, catsuits, razor sharp words, winning while pregnant and coming back to win after giving birth are among her badges of honour. It should be clear by now she does what she wants. No one can control her motivations or her goals.

Serena Williams can be “enough” and have “enough” and still want to keep playing, winning and setting records. She knows she can stop at any time. To suggest she plays the game she loves to prove her greatness is insulting. She has already established that she is among the greats. She does this for herself.

Osaka has a different approach

Most of the world met Naomi Osaka just a couple of years ago when she was set to play Serena Williams at the US Open. It was a highly anticipated event and no one knew quite what to expect. Osaka plays with what appears to be tremendous calm. She does not seem to get riled up nor put too much pressure on herself. It may be her ability to focus only on what is immediately in front of her that helps her to win.

In the on-court interview after winning the semi-final at the Australian Open against Serena last week, Osaka said: “I was a little kid watching her play and just to be on the court playing against her, for me, is a dream.” She added that it is fun, as a competitor to play another competitor. She made the crowd laugh with her response to a question about reading Williams’ serves, saying she was guessing. “I don’t know, it’s either going this way or that way. I just gotta put my foot somewhere.”

At the press conference, Osaka said: “I can only play one point at a time and I’m gonna try my best to play every point as well as I can.” She has also spoken about this being her overall approach, not having a goal number of grand slams, but doing her best and taking them as they come.

Osaka and Williams are two very different players. They are both incredibly strong, skilled players with large fan bases. With a 16 year age difference, they bring excitement to the court as well as questions about the longevity of their careers. As is often the case with women in any field, there are constant attempts to pit them against each other.

Last week, when Osaka was asked if she thought Serena Williams was losing her place as the face of tennis, her answer was short. “No. Not at all.”

Room for two

These two players have respect for the sport and for each other. Osaka has said, many times, that she has always been a big fan of Serena and feels fortunate to be able to play her. Williams has been supportive of Osaka as a young player and knows she will continue to rise.

Williams’ position in the sport is cemented. Hers is a legacy that cannot be hidden or denied. With reverence for Williams and hope for Osaka, the semi-final was an exciting event to watch. I text messaged my father throughout, about faults, points, wanting them both to win and wanting Williams to get her 24th grand slam title.

It was a great win for Osaka and a tough loss for Williams. Before going to the locker room, Williams took in the glory of a standing ovation, waved to the crowd and put a hand over her chest. I read it as her enjoying that moment, where the crowd recognised her for what she continues to be — the G.O.A.T. Others, of course, had different ideas.

In the press conference that followed, Williams was obviously upset about the outcome. This is not about Osaka’s win, but specifically related to her own bid for the title that would give her that 24 grand slam. In the interview, she acknowledged she made a lot of errors and was obviously disappointed by that.

One of the questions basically asked if her last moments on the court, taking in the ovation, were a farewell. It was a jarring question and Williams said if she were to give a farewell, she would not tell anyone. Moments after answering, she fought back tears. To the next question, her answer was “I don’t know,” and she said she was done with the press conference. It was hard to watch and easy to imagine the way she felt. She is not ready to leave the sport and she wants 24.

Naomi Osaka has been named “Baby G.O.A.T.” It is recognition of her excellence, but not an unseating of Serena Williams. She will remain an aspirational figure for years to come.

Osaka noted that the Williams sisters inspired her when she was younger, and she wants to be able to so the same for younger generations. Naomi is charting her own path, playing tennis her way and taking it bit by bit. She may play Williams again, but the two are not competing for a single legacy. As Osaka said, tennis is a game. There will be many wins and losses on the court and it is possible to have mutual respect and leave very different marks on the world.

Published in my weekly column in The Tribune on February 24, 2021.