This week, I am participating in the strike for Palestine, and I invite you to join for the remainder of the week if you are not already participating. This global strike week is about disrupting business as usual. Those who are able are withdrawing their labour from formal markets through January 28. Many have committed to not spending money this week, and in some cases this is with the exception of purchasing e-SIMs for people in Palestine to enable internet connectivity.

This week is a time, for those new to it, to build the habit of boycotting so that it becomes a lifestyle rather than a one-time event. On social media, most participants are only sharing content related to Palestine and the call for a ceasefire. The global strike week is also a time for educating ourselves and one another, mobilising, protesting, and donating to pro-Palestine causes.

Since October 7, 2023, more than 24,000 people have been killed in Gaza.

While Israel’s aggression against Palestine has been referred to as “war”, it is genocide.

This month, South Africa took Israel to the International Court of Justice and, in its application, noted “the acts and omissions by Israel[…] are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group, that being the part of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip”.

I have followed dozens of Palestinian reporters, activists, academics, authors, and educators on social media, viewing their posts, captions, and the comments. Like many others, when I realise more than the usual amount of time between posts has elapsed, I try not to think the worst, knowing that it is completely possible, in this reality that should be impossible.

Palestinian people struggle to find internet to share the ongoing reality on the ground. They show us how they are grinding animal fodder to make food for themselves and their families. They tell us about their daily routines. They show us the mixing of soil into a muddy paste, mixing It with hay, and layering it to build an oven. They show us the shaking bodies of children who have seen and lived through what no human being should experience. They show us people digging in the rubble, searching for the bodies of their loved ones. They show us the darkness they sit in as they hear the sounds of airstrikes throughout the night. They show us lighter moments of song and dance, reminding us that even the smallest feelings and acts of joy can be resistance.

One of the people I follow is Bisan Owda, a Palestinian journalist and filmmaker. In a recent post, she said: “I am not scared of death, but of being displaced, scared of losing my family or friends, scared of being wounded and can’t have my treatment because the health system is collapsed in Gaza, and to die in pain! I am not scared of the destruction… I lost my work place… my home and my family work place and source of income, I am terrified of being killed by an occupier, and to be forgotten, one oppressed Bisan of a whole occupied people.”

Bisan has called for a global strike and a call for ceasefire. “Strike, protest, stop the economic movements and make pressure on your countries to stand against this and stop it[…]”

In the midst of this, there are protests against crimes against humanity in Sudan. People are calling attention to human rights violations and exploitation in Democratic Republic of the Congo. All of these crises are taking place now, having escalated in recent months, and started long before they got our attention in this way. These crises are all deeply rooted in colonialism. The devastation of communities, killing of people, and degradation of environments are all connected to the extraction of resources and the exploitation and dehumanisation of people. These are struggles that are not unknown to us, except for the ways that they are manifesting themselves and, perhaps, their timelines. We, too, have been and continue to be impacted by colonization. Look at our laws and judicial system, look at taxation and spending on public goods and services, look at the most common religious, look at the uniforms and all that is considered professional, and investigate their origins. It does not take long to trace it all back to colonisation, and it certainly should not take very long to see how these do not serve as as they should.

It is easy to ignore what is taking place in other parts of world. It is easy to think of ourselves and our geographic locations as separate. We are not, however, immune to the effects of global events. Our rights, our economics, our social attitudes and behaviors are all connected in both simple and complicated ways. Our actions impact more than the people directly receiving them and the places they occur. The unnecessarily frequent replacement of smartphones, for example, drive demand up and contributes to the continued exploitation of children made to work in mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with devastating consequences for their lives and the environment.

Many may think these are not our issues to consider, much less act on. Many are afraid of feeling powerless, so refuse to activate the power they do have for whatever small affect it may have, ignoring that all of our efforts, however small, add up, especially when we take action together.

The Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement calls on us to end international support for the genocide of Palestinian people by pressuring Israel to comply with international law. Inspired by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, it is a form of non-violent pressure organised by 170 Palestinian organisations and members of civil society in 2005. The BDS website,, details which organizations we are called on to boycott, divest from, or sanction and why these actions are important and impactful. Some of the companies on the boycott list do have products available in The Bahamas and alternative options are available.

Participating in the global strike week is easy. We do not have to do everything. It is important that we do something. It is critical that we are consistent, that we talk to others about the genocides taking place, and that we pressure people in positions of power to take action and to support those, like South Africa, who are leading.

“It is easy to feel discouraged and simply let go… On the other hand, if we take a step back, reflecting on what is happening all over the world and the history of struggle, the history of solidarity movements, it becomes clear, sometimes even obvious, that seemingly indestructible forced can be, thanks to people’s willpower, sacrifices, and actions, easily broken.”

– Angela Davis

To learn more about what is happening in Palestine, visit

Published in The Tribune on January 24, 2024.

SUNDAY, December 10, was Human Rights Day, with the theme of Freedom, Equality, and Justice for All (with italics indicating the emphasis on “all”). It marked 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The most translated text in the world, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights consists of 30 articles and serves as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society[…] shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance[…]”

It is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states that we are all born free and equal in dignity in rights, that everyone, without distinction, is entitled to all of the human rights and freedoms outlined, that we all have the right to life, liberty, and security of person, and that no one is to be held in slavery or servitude among many other rights.

The Human Rights 75 Initiative was launched to bring attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a High-Level event was organised to promote universality and indivisibility, look to the next 25 years, and bolster the human rights ecosystem. At the event, the Attorney General delivered pledges on behalf of The Bahamas at the High-Level event to commemorate the 75th anniversary by contributing to “change and concrete progress on the ground on the promise of freedom, equality and justice and accountability[…]” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website describes the pledges made as:

(1) Strengthening and development of national human rights mechanisms and institutions in alignment with international standards, including the establishment of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, the Office of the Ombudsman and strengthening the National Reporting Cooperation Mechanism;

(2) Strengthening cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as host country for the proposed regional office of OHCHR for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM);

(3) Ensuring equality in nationality rights and

(4) Taking concrete measures to address the existential threat of climate change and its adverse effect on human rights.

These pledges are without much meaning when we consider the complete and decided inaction of the Government of The Bahamas to protect, promote, uphold, and guarantee access to human rights. In April 2023, mere weeks before the appearing before the Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review, the government passed a resolution in the House of Assembly to form a “Human Rights Committee.”

At the Universal Periodic Review, 17 Member States recommended that the Government of The Bahamas establish a national human rights institution (NHRI), many of them specifying that it be in line with the Paris Principles which outline specific responsibilities and modes of operation and gives a specific composition to guarantee independence.

A national human rights institution is not a committee, and it is certainly not a parliamentary committee. It is to have pluralist representation to include civil society and universities and qualified experts. It is to have funding and its own staff to support its independence from the government. It is expected to have a broad mandate including the promotion of the harmonization of legislation with international human rights instruments, encourage ratification and implementation of human rights instruments, contribute to reports to human rights mechanisms including treaty bodies, and to publicly advocate for and increase public education on human rights.

The Government of The Bahamas has not acted in alignment with its purported commitment to human rights. It readily participates in talk shops and makes statements and pledges in international spaces, but fails to follow through on commitments or even acknowledge that commitments have been made at the national level. It is inconsistent even in its international acknowledgement of commitments.

For example, The Bahamas noted (meaning rejected) the recommendation to “ensure the full applicability of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,” but supported (meaning accepted) the recommendation to “continue its efforts to harmonise its national legislation to match its international human rights obligations and commitments.” The 1993 ratification of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is, in fact, a human rights commitment. It does not make sense for The Bahamas to accept a recommendation to harmonise legislation with international human rights commitments while refusing to fully comply with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Several member states recommended that the government of The Bahamas take measures to ensure the equal participation of women in political and public life. The government of The Bahamas noted, rather than supported, all of the recommendations in this area that obligates it to take specific action. Its nonsensical and false responses were, “There are a very high percentage of women having leadership in public and political life,” and “Women in The Bahamas are already participating equally in public life with their male counterparts.” It is important to note that the second response conveniently excludes political life. The first response is especially concerning as it is absurd to suggest that less than 20 percent is high representation when women are more than 50 percent of the population.

The Government of The Bahamas is not only content with its own mediocrity, but is consistent in its attempts to mislead multilateral organisations and the general public with regard to its position on issues and progress (or stagnation). It continues to reference the human rights committee as though it meets international standards. It does not. It is not in line with the Paris Principles. It is not a national human rights institution. No amount of pomp and pageantry around it will make it any more substantial or bring it any closer to the international standard. That the same government would suggest that 18 percent of parliamentarians being women is a high percentage is cause for great concern. Either the people submitting responses to the recommendations received in the Universal Periodic Review do not have a basic understanding of mathematics and, in particular, proportions, fractions, and percentages, or they have no commitment to gender equality or women’s equal participation and have set a devastatingly low bar that it does not intend to raise.

It remains to be seen whether or not the government will follow through on its commitment to address the issue of gender inequality in nationality law. When asked about the persisting inequality which prevent women from conferring Bahamian citizenship to their children and spouses, the government said it would take action upon the decision from the Privy Council. That decision was delivered in May 2023, more than seven months ago. Just days ago, the pledge was made to ensure equality in nationality rights. The pledges made by The Bahamas are not concrete and have no timeline, making them difficult to measure which was likely the point. The Government of The Bahamas participates in international events and processes in this marginal way, and perhaps its peers fail to call it out. We need not fail it and ourselves in the same way.

Published in The Tribune on December 13, 2023.

THERE is always a crisis somewhere, and when there is a crisis anywhere, there is a crisis everywhere. This is the nature of the world, given the way that the global economy, geopolitic, and interpersonal relationships work on their own and are connected with each other. Crises, however discreet they may appear to be, are also interconnected. Discussed as though they are about one issue or another, armed conflicts are usually started to gain control of resources, destabilise economies, and/or oppress and subjugate people. The latter two are usually connected to the desire to steal, control, and profit from resources.

Some crises make it to the news while others are ignored, deemed less important, impactful, or relevant. Sometimes it is about the direct effect of crisis in one or two countries on the rest of the world and how much we depend on them for necessities. Sometimes it is about the people involved and how human the rest of the world considers them to be.

Everyone knows that there is a conflict in Ukraine, though everyone who is aware of it may not understand and discuss it as a war being waged by Russia.

We have seen footage of the violence against people and destruction of property. We have heard from the people who fled of the absence of choice and the will to survive which led to the separation of families. Ukrainian people have been forced to go to other countries that, thankfully, rightfully, accept them as refugees. They, in many ways, have to learn new ways of life, and they face the difficulty of deciding in which ways they should assimilate and in which ways they can and should maintain their culture. They balance the maintenance of their collective identity with living as comfortably in community with a receiving country. Language and food, of course, are integral to cultural identity, and are both the easiest and most difficult aspects to maintain when a minority in another country. Many have pointed to the targeted destruction of museums, galleries, and other cultural sites — clear attempts to wipe out every trace of Ukrainian cultural. This — all of it— is genocide. This is a war on people, on their culture, and on their history.

Everyone knows that there is conflict in Palestine, and particularly in Gaza, and there are different narratives about it, so not everyone acknowledges that it is genocide.

Some understand that Israel has inflicted violence upon the Palestinian people for decades, displacing them, trapping them in open-air prisons, and killing them. Some are unaware, and maybe uninterested, in the history of this crisis and the human rights violations by Israel against Palestine.

The same must be said here:

We have seen footage of the violence against people and destruction of property. We have heard from the people who fled of the absence of choice and the will to survive which led to the separation of families. Palestinian people have been forced to go to other countries that, thankfully, rightfully, accept them as refugees. They, in many ways, have to learn new ways of life, and they face the difficulty of deciding in which ways they should assimilate and in which ways they can and should maintain their culture. They balance the maintenance of their collective identity with living as comfortably in community with a receiving country. Language and food, of course, are integral to cultural identity and are both the easiest and most difficult aspects to maintain when a minority in another country. Many have pointed to the targeted destruction of museums, galleries, and other cultural sites — clear attempts to wipe out every trace of Palestinian culture. This — all of it — is genocide. This is a war on people, on their culture, and on their history.

What does the repeated use of these tactics tell us about these wars and the people waging them? What do they say about the intent of the people behind them? What about the common suggestion that it is “just about land”?

It is easy to throw our hands up. We can come up with countless excuses that amount to:

  • We are too far away.

  • We do not understand.

  • We are suffering too.

Whatever the excuses we can find to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for each other, within and across borders, global solidarity is critical. This has been rather difficult to build, but it is happening. One of the main gaps is the low capacity to care.

It is not always that people do not care. Sometimes people do not want to care, so they choose to ignore. Sometimes people do not know why they should care, and they actively work against the human instinct to be interested in the welfare of others. So many of us are tired, struggling, and tired of struggling. Moving from one day to the next can sometimes feel as though we ourselves are turning the massive, heavy hands of time, and that our running feet are what make this planet spin. The burden heavy, the pressure tall, we press on in our daily lives, concerning ourselves with what is immediately in front of us. Sometimes, being asked to care is taken as an affront. It is not that we should be blamed for these circumstances, considering that we are operating within a system that has been designed and maintained for this purpose — self-destructive individualism, hyper-focus on survival, perpetual exhaustion, and a seemingly necessary disinterest in what takes place outside of our own bubbles.

Our pushback against this system, while we are in it, has to be intentional, collective, and unrelenting. We have to choose to be attentive —watching, reading, and listening to the news. This on its own, of course, is not enough. We have to be media literate, assessing the credibility of our sources of information and being critical of the way the information is a delivered. Does the source have a clear position on this issue? What does the source want us to believe? Who has been quoted, and what other sources have been mentioned? What do the people behind this piece want us to do, and why?

One source is not enough for us to be able to make a decision on an issue. It is important to go to multiple sources, draw comparisons, note the contrasts, and verify the information. Are the stories firsthand, coming directly from people who have directly experienced the event? Is it a retelling of someone else’s story? Is there evidence to support the secondary data? What do the photos, video, and audio indicate? Could they have been manipulated in any way? Separate the facts from the opinions and apply the evidence.

After accessing and assessing the information for credibility, it can be helpful to discuss it with others. What do other people think about the news? Have others found other sources of information or completed assessments that we have not yet done? Do people tend to take one side over another? Why?

There is often one side that gets more support, and this does not necessarily mean that it is the right side. In many cases, the conservative viewpoints get more attention, both from media and from the people around us, because their talking points are generally the same and their positions are often so divisive that the media wants to run multiple stories over a long period of time, if only for the shock value that leads to more purchases and clicks. The people who call for human rights, dignity, peace, and equality are often left to play catch-up, responding to the hateful rhetoric and misinformation spread by other people. It is important to pay attention to what is being said on all sides and to identify the intent behind all of the messages. It is not sufficient to know the opinions people hold. Find out why they think, say, and do whatever it is they do. Assume less. Ask questions, challenge positions, and determine why you stand where you do.

Where are people being valued, championed, and protected? Where are systems and institutions being held up as more important than human life? Who is expressing concern and demonstrating care for the people most vulnerable to violence, destruction, oppression, and murder? Who is dehumanising people, using gender, race, socio-economic status, age, and other identity markers to “excuse” what is happening to them?

With information, opinions, and the intent behind them, we are better equipped to find our own positions on issues. Once we do, in order for it to mean anything, we have to take action. This does not mean we need to enter conflict zones or become participants in wars. Being relatively safe, we are able to speak up. We can talk to family members and friends about what is happening elsewhere and help them to understand who the victims are and how we can support them. We can make donations to organisations that are activated, especially on the ground and in receiving countries, to meet immediate needs, including food, water, and medical care. We can engage political leaders and other people of influence, sharing our positions and our expectations of them as they participate in conversations and decision-making processes with regard to the crisis. We can use our platforms, including social media, to share information and encourage others to act. Small acts matter. What is most important is that we take action based on our own capacity, and that we seek to increase that capacity by challenging ourselves and the systems that limit our ability and willingness to participate.

Interested in learning more about Palestine? Check out the list of 40 books at 

Published in The Tribune on November 15, 2023

FRIDAY, October 6, marked the 30th anniversary of The Bahamas ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It was marked by a proclamation, printed in both national newspapers, of October 6, 2023, as Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Day. The Prime Minister called on organisations, businesses, and families to recognise the importance of women’s rights and the elimination of discrimination against women with relevant activities and programmes.

Follow three decades of work by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), CEDAW was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. It came into force in 1981. Some may be familiar with CSW as it is a large annual event held at the United Nations in New York City, drawing not only Ministers with responsibility for gender and women’s affairs, but non-governmental organizations that advocate for the rights of women for two weeks of meetings.

In its official programming, CSW results in an outcome document that lays out the commitments made by member states. Side and parallel events give non-governmental organisations and individual advocates opportunities to share knowledge, network, and build solidarity across countries and regions, and they also present opportunities to meet with state representatives and international organisations. It was the cumulative outcome of many years of CSW meetings that made the case for the drafting of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, recognising discrimination against women as a specific issue that needed to be addressed.

Since April 2022, Equality Bahamas has been hosting the CEDAW (Convention) Speaker Series, inviting experts — mostly from the CEDAW Committee — to lead discussions on the Convention, one Article at a time. The series started with Swiss human rights lawyer and former CEDAW Committee member Patricia Schulz leading the discussion on Articles 1 and 2. Article 1 focuses on the definition of discrimination against women and Article 2 focuses on the policy measures that must be taken in order to come into compliance with CEDAW, so those two Articles are discussed together just as they are dealt with together in the constructive dialogue in Geneva. Article 3 on basic human rights and fundamental freedoms was presented by CEDAW Committee member Esther Eghobamien-Mshelia, and it was followed by Article 4 on special measures which was led by Bahamian human rights experts Gaynel Curry. The series continued this way, with one expert discussing one Article (or two when they are handled together by the Committee) each month, presenting the text of the Convention, the relevance of the Article to the rest of the Convention, and the application of the Article to the Bahamian context.

I facilitated the CEDAW Speaker Series sessions, and each one deepened my understanding of the individual Articles and the Convention. Each speaker took time to give context for the Article of discussion, grounding it in the purpose and overall content of the Convention. They also made clear connections to other Articles. We tend to understand almost all of the Articles of the Convention as specific to a thematic area, but the overlaps and the interdependent nature of the Articles became with each session, especially as we considered them within the context of the work we are doing at the national level. For example, Equality Bahamas is currently conducting research on parental leave, and while we considered Articles 11 on employment and 12 on health, we realised that we also need to integrate Article 16 on marriage and family life. Article 14 on rural women is particularly relevant and will feature prominently when, in our report, we delve into the specific experiences of women on the Family Islands and how their maternity leave is impacted by the requirement that they leave their home islands to give birth in a hospital.

I was on a radio talk show yesterday to talk about the 30th anniversary of the ratification of CEDAW by The Bahamas and a caller expressed his concern that women in Centreville and in Bain and Grants Towns do not know about CEDAW because they have a lot of children and would not understand what I was saying. My instinct was to respond to a number of implicit biases and incorrect assumptions. One is that women in townships or inner-city communities are all the same — more than the average number of children and less than the average education among other assumptions. This is, of course, not the case.

He also assumed that I am a “sophisticated” woman, whatever that means, who does not engage at the community level. Instead of responding to these assumptions, I listened to the rest of what he said. The point that he really seemed to want to make was that the people who are supposed to benefit from the international human rights mechanisms that the governments sign do not even know they exist, much less how to use them to their benefit. I can easily agree with that point, while making it clear that it is the responsibility of the government to educate the people, promote human rights, and meaningfully engage people on human rights, domestic law, and international law and obligations.

We have become accustomed to the government, with any administration at the helm, shirking its responsibility to the people. It has normalised and continued its withdrawal from social protection, refusing and/or failing to ensure that people’s basic needs are met. We continue to suffer the effects of structural adjustment programmes, even in the face of multiple crises in recent years.

Despite being urged to do so by advocates and the CEDAW Committee, the government has refused and/or failed to educate the public on human rights, the obligations of the government to promote and guarantee access to them, and the international mechanisms that monitor and hold the government accountable in addition to make clear recommendations that must be implemented. In its Concluding Observations following the sixth periodic review of The Bahamas, held in Geneva in 2018, the CEDAW Committee said it was “concerned that women in the State party, in particular those belonging to disadvantaged groups, are unaware of their rights under the Convention and thus lack the information necessary to claim them”. It called on the Government of The Bahamas to “enhance awareness among women and girls of their rights and the remedies available to them under the Convention, including through awareness – raising campaigns, in cooperation with civil society organisations and community-based women’s associations”.

That the general public, and that women and girls themselves, are not aware of and do not understand CEDAW and its implications for all of our lives is not a failure of the public, women and girls, non-governmental organizations, or advocates. It is not due to an inability to gain new knowledge or to understand the content and application of the Convention. It has been thirty years since The Bahamas ratified CEDAW. The government is well aware of what CEDAW is and what it means for women and girls in The Bahamas. It voluntarily ratified it and it has presented its reports to the CEDAW Committee, the most recent being in 2018 and one in progress now. It has decided that women and girls knowing their rights is either unimportant or disadvantageous to the government and the institutions and people who benefit from the oppression, marginalisation, discrimination, and violence against women and girls. Thirty years is far too long for any excuse to hold.

Equality Bahamas has, with limited resources, run a speaker series in the lead-up to the thirties anniversary of the ratification of CEDAW. The recordings of past sessions are available on its Youtube channel and can be accessed at The series will continue during the Global 16 Days Campaign which runs from November 25 to December 10. In those sessions, experts will lead discussion on General Recommendations which elaborate on the Convention and address issues that are not articulated in it.

If you are interested in learning more about CEDAW or you would like to organise a session for a group, contact the Equality Bahamas team at If you would like to see the government step up to the plate and do the promotion and education part of its job as it pertains to human rights, say so. Contact the Department of Gender and Family Affairs to find out what it is doing, and contact the Office of the Prime Minister to urge the Prime Minister to properly resource the Department and transition it to the Ministry so that it can function as a national gender machinery and to build a national human rights institute which would monitor human rights, receive complaints, make recommendations, and provide education on human rights to the public. These have already been recommended by the CEDAW Committee and by member states through the Universal Periodic Review, so it will not be news to them. What would be news, however, is that members of the public are paying attention and have the demand, if not the expectation, that human rights be fulfilled.

Published in The Tribune on October 11, 2023

Year after year, the rainy seasons meets us unprepared. There are inches of rain, roads flood, cars damaged and some people have difficulty leaving their homes. School drop-offs and the drive to work take much longer as traffic seems to crawl. Drivers move slowly through the water and try to control for the inevitable drops into holes that are only getting wider, deeper and more treacherous. People frantically switch from one radio station to another, listening for school closure notices and refresh emails hoping for notification that their places of work are closed or, at the very least, opening later in the day.

It is like a new experience every time. Somehow, though, we are supposed to be preparing — or already prepared — for hurricane season.

In studies and discussion on climate change, there is significant focus on two key strategies — mitigation and adaptation. Climate change mitigation refers to efforts that reduce or prevent the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). These may include adoption of renewable energy such as solar and hydro, using more sustainable transportation methods such as robust and affordable public transportation services and electric vehicles, and better use of land. We can think of mitigation as risk reduction.

Adaptation refers to efforts, both reactive and anticipatory, to reduce the negative impact of climate change. It is preparation and adjustment, recognizing that, even with our interventions, there are effects of climate changes that require a response. Mitigation and adaptation strategies are complementary and require legislation, policies, programmes and services to implement, encourage, enforce and put them into practice.

In recent weeks, there have been several new stories focused on environmental degradation and, more specifically, the destruction of ecosystem-based adaptation, including mangroves and pine forests. This has had a negative effect, increasing flooding in many areas. We are not imagining the increase in flooding, or the increase in damage caused by rainfall. It is happening before our eyes, and our response needs to at least be commensurate with the impact.

Small island developing states (SIDS) are disproportionately impacted by climate change. We get the brunt of it through climate events such as hurricanes, and we are seeing now that our vulnerability is not even limited to hurricanes. While Ministers and advocates travel to large conferences to call for climate reparations, development assistance, commitments to lower emissions (and follow-through), there is work to be done at home.

We have to protect the environment that helps to protect us. We have to secure and insure our homes, make repairs, monitor changes in structures and infrastructure around us, and think about job security, food security and evacuation plans.

There is always talk about climate resilience. The Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions, successor to the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change says: “Climate resilience is often associated with acute events — like heat waves, heavy downpours, hurricanes, or wildfires — that will become more frequent or intense as the climate changes. However, good resilience planning also accounts for chronic events, like rising sea levels, worsening air quality, and population migration.”

Climate resilience requires mitigation and adaptation measures, and the most impacted sectors, including agriculture, and people, including women, people in rural areas, and people with disabilities, to be centred and engaged.

It often seems that we, as individuals, are expected to take responsibility for our own resilience. We have to mitigate and adapt for ourselves and our households. If we have to get to work, sunshine, rain, or severe flooding, public transportation and low-cost vehicles are less of an option. We all need a “high off the ground” vehicle which, in many cases, have larger tanks, requiring more gas. This personal decision comes at a financial and environmental cost. If homeowners want to protect their houses, they need to get insurance, and they had better read all of the fine print and figure out what they need to add to the basic plan to ensure they are covered should there be damage by hurricane or flood. They have to be able to afford insurance and keep up with the payments to have this protection. Again, we are responsible for our own resilience – and resilience costs money.

Who can afford climate resilience? Picture that person. What is their salary? What is the difference between that salary and the salary of a person being paid minimum wage? How is the minimum wage worker going to build (buy) resilience? The rising cost of living, minimum wage, and lack of government and institutional support, from legislation and policy to programmes and services, do not add up to climate resilience. The living wage needs to be implemented immediately. Community-level climate resilience initiatives and national mechanisms — to support people who do not receive enough money to pay for any level of personal climate resilience — are needed now.

We do not have to wait for a hurricane to see how many people are barely getting by. We do not need to be in the midst of disaster to understand the importance of mitigation and adaptation. We do not need to see long lines of people at distribution sites to know most of the people in The Bahamas cannot prepare, nor can they recover. We do not need an academic study to prove there are some groups of people who have less, so they need more support.

The current administration increased its travel budget by $4.1m. The Prime Minister said the government does not know what travel will come up this year. He noted it is a budgeted amount that may not be used. We do know that climate change is here. We know there will be more hurricanes, there will be more devastation and there will be more cries for help.

We know that everyone will not be able to prepare in the same way for their health and wellbeing. If Ministers are travelling to talk about issues of national concern, at least the same amount of money should be spent addressing those issues here in The Bahamas, providing resources to researchers, experts and community organizations in addition to funding government initiatives that meet the needs of the people.

Climate change is not an individual problem and we will not be able to address it with neoliberal approaches. Climate events are happening at various levels, and we cannot afford to simply hope everyone has the money they need to survive, and then recover. We need better, more responsive budgets, stronger systems, and people-centred approaches in climate action.

Published in The Tribune on June 8, 2023

Human rights are being discussed with more frequency in The Bahamas in recent years, due in no small part to the human rights violations taking place and the responses of non-governmental organisations and the general public. From reports of sexual violence and children becoming victims of gun violence to “police-involved incidents” and the destabilising effects of crisis after crisis, connections are being made between the atrocities we experience and the right to freedom and dignity without distinction on the basis of identity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was published in 1948, has been translated into over 500 languages, and is the foundation of dozens of human rights treaties. In Article 2, it is clearly stated that everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms set out in the Declaration. These include life, liberty, and security of person, recognition as a person before the law, equal protection of the law, freedom of movement, nationality, to work, and to education.

Human rights treaties build and expand on the human rights articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making them specific to particular groups of people who are frequently excluded and/or marginalised and who have/had experiences that make their ability access to human rights more difficult. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) — perhaps the most widely referenced human rights treaty referenced in The Bahamas — is an example of this as it built and continues to build on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to specifically articulate the rights of women and the obligation of States to promote, uphold, and expand them.

Take, for example, Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is on marriage. It has three parts. The first part says, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” The second part says it is only entered into with full consent of both parties. The third part says “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society[…]” Article 16 of CEDAW is on marriage, and it has two parts with the first part having eight subsections. The Article focuses on eliminating discrimination against women in marriage and family relations. As such, one of the subsections affirms that women and men have “the same rights and responsibilities as parents[…]. Another states that women and men have “the same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation”. While these rights could be assumed upon reading and understanding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the human rights treaty specific to (eliminating discrimination against) women states them clearly. Other human rights treaties serve a similar function, putting human rights into the context of particular people and situations.

The Bahamas has ratified nine United Nations human rights treaties. These include the Convention of the Rights of the Child, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The most recent is the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, ratified in May 2018, closely following the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review during which several UN member states — including Italy, France, Sierra Leone, and Indonesia —recommended The Bahamas ratify it.

Ratification of human rights treaties is agreement with the content, acknowledgement of the State obligation to take specific actions to promote, protect, and provide access to human rights, and a commitment to take those actions. This is not limited to United Nations mechanisms, but includes regional agreements and those by other multilateral organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO). For example, The Bahamas ratified Convention 190 (C190) on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work on November 25, 2022, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women — the first day of the Global 16 Days Campaign, also known as 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

Many human rights treaties have committees of independent experts which are responsible for reviewing State reports and submissions from other stakeholders, posing questions, and facilitating constructive dialogues with States about their progress toward full compliance with the related treaties. One process that works differently is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). It does not have a committee of experts. Instead, it is a peer review in which United Nations Member States review one another. Another unique element is that the UPR is attentive to other human rights treaties and State ratification of and compliance with them.

On Wednesday, May 3, The Bahamas was under review at the 43rd Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations in Geneva. This was part of the fourth cycle of reviews. The Bahamas submitted a written report and the Attorney General made a statement before the United Nations Member States. This was followed by 90-second contributions by Member States which includes commendations on the progress made up to that point and recommendations for The Bahamas to act on before its review in the fifth cycle, approximately five years later.

The Bahamas failed to take action on most of the recommendations made at its third cycle review. The Bahamas has not ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all migrant workers and members of their families. The Bahamas has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the same Convention. It has failed to establish the Office of the Ombudsman in accordance with the Paris Principles, and it has failed to establish a national human rights institution (NHRI) in accordance with the Paris Principles. Several Member States called for the criminalisation of marital rape, implementation of the Strategic Plan to Address Gender-Based Violence, comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation to protect the human rights of all, including LGBTQI+ people, amendments to the Bahamas Nationality Act for gender-equal nationality rights, and abolition of the death penalty.

Several countries expressed concern regarding human trafficking and recommended that The Bahamas provide training to law enforcement and judges to improve identification of trafficking victims, provide support to trafficking victims, provide financing for prevention of trafficking, and improve its coordination with non-governmental organisations and government departments to prevent trafficking. Recommendations related to trafficking were repeated in the fourth cycle review.

The Bahamas did, as previously mentioned, act on the recommendation to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), a recommendation repeated from the second cycle review.

In his address, the Attorney General, of course, highlighted even the smallest steps taken toward recommendations. He noted that the death penalty had not been carried out for many years and that there is no plan for a formal moratorium on the death penalty. He claimed there is a systemic approach to protecting the rights of children, that corporal punishment is not recommended in schools and that the last school administrators who used it was put on administrative leave, and that the Department of Social Services has a parent training program that includes information on different forms of discipline. Rather than admitting that The Bahamas has failed to establish a National Human Rights Institution, he talked about the Ombudsman Bill—tabled one week before the review, obviously for this purpose—and the laughable Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, also introduced the week before, which is far from a National Human Rights Institution and does not come close to meeting the Paris Principles.

At the 43rd Session of the Universal Periodic Review last week, United Nations Member States repeated many of the same recommendations from 2018. There were also new recommendations, and recommendations that were repeated with more specificity. The recommendations included amendments to nationality law for women to pass on citizenship to their children and spouses, implementation of the Strategic Plan to Address Gender-Based Violence, criminalisation of marital rape, amendment of the definition of “discrimination” in Article 16 of the constitution, establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, ratification of various human rights treaties including the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, discriminatory law review and reform with support from UN Women (which is in progress and we await the final report from UN Women Caribbean Multi-Country Office which is significantly delayed), improvement of prison and detention center conditions, inclusion of climate justice in civics curriculum, and elimination of discriminatory stereotypes against women and girls.

The report on the Universal Periodic Review of The Bahamas in the fourth cycle will be made available on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights website this month. It will not only have the recommendations made to The Bahamas, organized by thematic area, but will have the response of the government. States can support (interpreted as accept) or note (interpreted as reject) recommendations. It is important to know the international human rights standards, how The Bahamas does or does not meet them, and how the government responds to the recommendations aimed at compliance with the international mechanisms with which it has chosen to participate. Recent news stories on the UPR process have chosen specific points to highlight for various reasons, obviously linked to the market for news, so it is especially important for those with interest in human rights to seek out, read, understand, and share complete information. Knowing our rights is critical, as is knowing the government’s perception of and response to its obligations. With this information, we are better equipped to make our demands and realise all of our human rights.

Published in The Tribune on May 10, 2023

It is nowhere near surprising to read news stories about increased reports of sexual violence. It has become a near-daily challenge to get through articles about court cases involving men who have raped or otherwise sexually assaulted children where their crimes are referred to as sex or, in some other way, named as though they are not criminal, abuses of power, and void of consent.

The language used by police and courts is used in newspapers, all but erasing the word “rape” from public conversation. This is, in part, how we have come to talk about children as though they are adults, and survivors as though they are perpetrators. This is rape culture. This is adultification of children (and black girls in particular), the hatred of women, the refusal to acknowledge human rights, and the determination of far too many people to ignore the crisis that is gender-based violence.

Violence of many kind has been normalised in The Bahamas. It has been a part of our everyday vernacular for a long time with words like “hit” being used to describe various acts that are not necessarily violent, and threats of violence are made loosely, in jest, and without reproach.

“Rape” is used to describe various activities that people consider unfair, but which, otherwise, do not compare to the vile, criminal act of sexual violence. Somehow, though, when it comes to rape, the language changes. There is less willingness to use the appropriate word — rape. Instead, terms like “unlawful sex” are used to refer to the criminal act of a man raping a child. There is no excuse for this. Police reports do it, then the news media does it. The courts do it, then the news media does it again. One says they are using the language of the other, for consistency, yet the law says that the offence is rape.

Rape is caused by rapists. Rape culture makes it easy for rapists to rape people. Rapists seek to dominate, so people in situations of vulnerability, largely due to their identities, are often targeted. These include women, children, and people with disabilities. Rape, as we have seen in the reported cases over the past few weeks, does not need many conditions in order to occur. Rape happens during the day, and it happens at night. It is perpetrated by rapists indoors and outdoors. Rape is perpetrated against strangers, family members, friends of family members, friends, co-workers, people under the care of the rapist, and people with many other relationships to the rapist. There is no single act or set of actions that anyone can take to prevent themselves from becoming the target of a rapist. Rapists rape.

It is not that nothing can be done to prevent rape, but that preventative action is not for potential targets to undertake. It is not up to individuals to protect themselves from rapists. It is for governments to enact and enforce laws, make clear the obligations of institutions, including schools and workplaces, connect institutions and stakeholders and facilitate ongoing communication and implementation of action plans, develop appropriate, effective interventions, provide support services for survivors, centre survivors and their healing in justice systems and practices, and provide programmes for perpetrators that rehabilitate and prevent recidivism.

Asked about the increase in reports of sexual violence, the police press liaison officer said there are “crimes of opportunity because we are not taking the time out to put necessary precautions in place”. Let us assume, for the purpose of usefulness and productivity, that the officer was referring to prevention that must be led by public institutions. What precautionary systems and measures should be in place?

Let’s start with the root of this issue. There is a dangerous gender ideology that stems from slavery, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy that has convinced people that women are subhuman, are to be dominated by men, and are objects. It has also convinced people that men are to perform masculinity in the most toxic ways which include violence, hostility, a very limited range of emotions, and both the willingness and ability to dominate anyone who is not a man performing in the same way, especially women and men who are not (perceived to be heterosexual.

The vast majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by men. This is not disconnected from toxic masculinity or the constraints of the gender ideology that put women and men in boxes while marginalizing all other people. One of the ways that some men seek to assert their masculinity — and distance from femininity which has been so devalued by heteronormative gender ideology that it is regarded as perverse — is perpetrating violence. When manhood is questioned, when masculinity is undermined, when authority is not theirs alone, see how many men thump their chests and proclaim, “I’s man!”

Listen to the threats they spew. Watch the way they engage women as opposed to men. Listen to the way women talk about their experiences with them. Differentiate between the platonic love and respect they have for each other and the vitriol and disdain they have for women they may even claim to love.

Where a relationship exists, perpetrators of violence convince themselves that it is ownership. Where a relationship does not exist, and a perpetrator wants there to be a relationship, he decides to punish. Where a relationship does not exist and the perpetrator has no interest, and ownership — by another man — is not established or immediately evident, the perpetrator assumes control.

Rape is about power and control. Relationships only determine how a perpetrator violates a person, unless he respects a man who has already claimed ownership. All of this is misogynistic. All of it is dehumanising. It is all linked to the idea that women are subhuman and subject to the whims of men. This dangerous idea is perpetuated in explicit and implicit ways, from fathers giving their daughters away at weddings to the normalization of sexual harassment in public spaces. None of this has anything to do with what women do or do not do, or efforts made or not made to protect ourselves from rapists. It is directly related to societal ideas and behaviours related that subjugate, devalue, and dehumanize women and girls.

The press liaison officer, unfortunately, went on to do what we have come to expect from the police. Victim blaming. “Females need to make sure that they are upfront and they are honest with their family members in letting them know where they are going, who they are going with, and not saying you going one place and you end up another and something goes wrong.”

While we may agree, in theory, that it can be helpful for us to let people know our plans, we need to be realistic about the benefits of the practice. If something goes wrong and people know where we are, then what? Something has already gone wrong. Sure, we may be found and receive assistance sooner, but the violation has already occurred. No sharing of plans would prevent a rapist from raping in a location that we disclose. The problem is the rapist. We can, of course, delve into the reasons people lie and withhold information, especially when there are differences in values and fear of judgment. For now, we need to be realistic about where prevention takes place.

Prevention is in schools. It is in the way we teach children about their bodies, about consent, and about paying attention to and responding to their instincts. It is in comprehensive sexuality education, and discussions on healthy relationships, warning signs of abuse and abusive partners, sex positivity, and bodily autonomy. It is in households. It is in the way we tell people to moderate their behaviour, the respect we show and demand be shown to our children, the communication channels and practices, and the modeling of safe, healthy relationships of various kinds.

Prevention is in street lighting. It is in safe, reliable, accessible public transportation, and having it as an option at night. It is in the clearing of bushes, pedestrian crossings and enforcement of traffic laws. It is in legal reform to criminalise rape, contributing to the widespread understanding that rape is rape, no relationship is a defence for rape, and women are human beings with human rights regardless of marital status. It is in legal systems and practices, from bail to assessing the actual effects of a sexual offenders registry to reporting mechanisms.

Prevention is in the way government officials regard women and girls, and the urgency with which they respond to issues, especially gender-based violence, that directly affect us and often lead to femicide.

The Minister of Social Services said: “The rush of the past in dealing with sensitive issues have failed and caused Bahamians to be sceptical and cynical about what they perceive is haste without complete dialogue with the people.”

This is a matter of urgency. Years and years of back and forth on a bill, turning it into a senseless debate when it is an issue of human rights, is not rushing. This issue is not sensitive to anyone but the people experiencing violence every day, and having little or no recourse. It is not sensitive to government actors, content to let bills like the marital rape bill and the gender-based violence bill languish, and who allow extended discourse about whether or not it matters that a woman is raped if the rapist is her husband. There is no sensitivity there, and there is certainly no sense.

The minister also said: “The position of the Church is fundamental and has been in each step taken in the growth and development of our country.”

The Church is fundamentalist. The religious leaders who are talking about this issue, delaying the bill with their misogynistic, violent nonsense are fundamentalist. They fundamentally believe that women are less than men. That women do not deserve rights. That men should get away with rape if they are married to the victim or survivor. That their god is pleased with violence. That their opinions are more important than the fact that rape is violence, women have human rights, and that those rights include freedom from violence.

This is what is delaying the passing of the marital rape bill. This is what is delaying the gender-based violence bill (rather than the significant work that needs to be done to make it useful, including actual engagement with human rights experts and NGOs with proven technical expertise on women’s human rights rather than the government’s — or the Attorney General’s Office’s — selection of yes-organisations).

“We have made progress, and we will soon complete our due diligence,” the Minister of Social Services said.

What progress? What due diligence? What is the meaning of “soon”?

It is interesting to see the specific ways that government institutions suggest we, women and girls, protect ourselves, juxtaposed with the vague, unsubstantiated nonsense they offer when pressed to do more than perpetuate rape culture by blaming us for the violence we experience.

If the government did its job, we would be able to go to ours without being raped on the way, or on the way back, or while there, or during a call to tell someone where we’re going, or when catching a ride, or or or or or.

At some point, the government, especially legislators and law enforcement, must accept that the blame is on rapists, and that they facilitate rapists far better than they protect us, the women and girls who live with the perpetual fear of rape, and/or the memory of it.

Published in The Tribune on April 5, 2023

Monday was Commonwealth Day, observed by countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Americas, the Pacific, and Europe, and it was the start of a week-long schedule of events. The theme for Commonwealth Day 2023 was “Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future”.

This year, it marked the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Commonwealth Charter. The Commonwealth Charter is meant to be a document that unites Member States through a set of shared values. It “expresses the commitment of member states to the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity to improve the lives of all the people of the Commonwealth” and “acknowledges the role of civil society in supporting the goals and values of the Commonwealth”.

The sixteen values and principles of the Charter are democracy, human rights, international peace and security, tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression, separation of powers, rule of law, good governance, sustainable development, protecting the environment, access to health, education, food and shelter, gender equality, importance of young people in the Commonwealth, recognition of the needs of small States, recognition of the needs of vulnerable states, and the role of civil society.

The Commonwealth Charter does not address the history of the Commonwealth or what most of the Member States actually have in common and made them a part of this group. It does not address slavery and colonisation, nor does it acknowledge the continued impact of both slavery and colonization on Member States and, more specifically, the people in situations of vulnerability within those Member States. This cannot be separated from the stated values.


We can take rule of law as an example. The Charter says: “We believe in the rule of law as an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth and as an assurance of limited and accountable government. In particular we support an independent, impartial, honest and competent judiciary and recognise that an independent, effective and competent legal system is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice.”

Member States that were colonised by the British were left with laws that discriminate against women, girls, and LGBTQI+ people.

Even with independence, the laws remained the same, and many Member States have the same, or strikingly similar, constitutions. Since colonization, Britain has amended many of its laws toward equality and non-discrimination in various areas, including gender.

Meanwhile, Member States like The Bahamas are still stuck with discriminatory laws. This impacts gender equality which is another value in the Commonwealth Charter.

It is easy to say that Member States should accept responsibility for their state of affairs and amend their laws. It is not, however, realistic. It must be acknowledged that discriminatory laws were imposed by colonising countries.

They are responsible for the harm caused and the violence that continues to be inflicted upon the people living in Member States, namely women, girls, LGBTQI+ people, black people, indigenous people, and people with disabilities.

Constitutional reform, as we have seen through our own experience since 2002, is not as simple a process as it ought to be because it is not a matter of drafting and passing a bill, or even getting the public to vote in it. It requires education that includes unlearning.

Older generations grew up with a set of ideologies that many of us have learned are untrue, unfair, unjust, and unacceptable. They are convinced that there is no way for the world, or for this country, to be without distinctions that rank us and set some of us up to be considered and treated as subhuman.

Undoing the violence and subjugation that led to the firm belief in discriminatory laws and practices is not possible, but reparatory justice is possible.

The process of unlearning is not easy, it is not short-term work, and it is not receiving the investment that is required. There is, first of all, no political will, and that is partly because of the religion that was forced upon our countries through slavery and colonization, becoming the dominant religion with ease.

People now believe they have a moral authority to discriminate and be violent toward certain groups of people because of the fundamentalist teaching of religious leaders who do not hide that they pull the string of Members of Parliament and political parties that are obviously more committed to the longevity of their political careers than they are to sustainability, peace, or the equality and wellbeing of people — the same people they depend on to vote for them every ten years (since we know our dissatisfaction leads us to change parties every five years).

We have an ineffective system of governance. We have two almost indistinguishable political parties that takes turns being the majority in the House of Assembly. We have Members of Parliament who are expected to both make laws and attend to issues within their constituencies, so they are set up to fail, especially when combined with the expectation that they maintain party loyalty, regardless of what it means for the people they represent.

We have a largely disengaged electorate that is kept busy with multiple jobs, limited by non-living wages, and exhausted by the losses and demands -from hours of wasted time in traffic to unpaid and completely unsupported labour of caring for people with specific needs – that come with living and working in a place that is designed for the wealthy and the foreign to thrive at the expense of everyone else.

Rule of a law, as a value, cannot take us very far. The law is severely lacking in many areas. There is no protection from discrimination for women and girls. There is no protection from discrimination for LGBTQI+ people.

Women do not have the right to automatically pass on citizenship to their children, regardless of who they marry or where they give birth. Legal reform requires an engaged civil society and rights-minded lawmakers. We lack both.

The Commonwealth Charter, then, is missing one major component that could actually give it momentum and increase buy-in. That component is the acknowledgement of wrongdoing, specifically naming the violence against Member States, along with reparations.

CARICOM has developed a 10-point plan for reparatory justice that is a good place to start, and The Bahamas National Reparations Committee is prepared to lead the conversation in The Bahamas.

With 2023 being the Year of Youth, Commonwealth Foundation hosted “A Decade of the Commonwealth Charter: Young Leaders’ Dialogue” which was a virtual event live-streamed to Facebook. At the beginning of the event, Commonwealth Foundation posed questions to the audience. Where do we want the Commonwealth to be in ten years’ time? How can the Charter inform and help get us there? How do we promote greater awareness of the Commonwealth Charter amongst the people of the Commonwealth?

The young people speaking at the event including Larissa Crawford (she/ her) from Future Ancestors Services and based in Canada, Christine Samwaroo (she/her) from The Breadfruit Collective in Guyana, Riddhi Dastidar (they/them) based in Delhi, Deanna Lyncook from The History Hotline podcast, based in the UK.

The discussion was especially interesting because the participants were not there to be polite or deferential to anyone or any ideals. They pushed back against a number of ideas including that young people are responsible for fixing the problems they did not create, that the values in the Commonwealth Charter are inherently good or easily translated and applicable to every Member State, and that there is nothing to be done about the past.

They named communities that have been violated and that need to be specifically supported. They called for action to make use of their recommendations and those that have been shared in other spaces. It was clear that they did not want to be a part of a conversation that ended when the virtual meeting link expired, but one that contributed to better outcomes.

You can find the recording on the Commonwealth Foundation’s Facebook page, and connect with the speakers through the links provided in the comments.

These are all topics that ought to be at the front of our minds as we approach fiftieth anniversary of independence of The Bahamas.

We should be thinking about what was taken from this country, what is owed to it, and what we owe to ourselves. We should be seeking clarity on our values. We should be making assessments on how far — or not so far — we have come since 1973, and what needs to happen in the next five, 10, 25, and 50 years for the people in this country to thrive.

Fifty plus years of survival mode is not good enough. We need justice. We need peace. We need equality. We deserve to be on another level.

Published in The Tribune on March 15, 2023

International Women’s Day is two weeks away, and the celebration of The Bahamas’ 50th year of independence is 20 weeks away. Whenever there is talk about independence, I think about women’s rights.

I look for the progress that has been made and all that we still need to do, for the people of The Bahamas and, in particular, women.

It is sobering to think about the meaning of independence, the effects of colonisation, and the continued refusal to free ourselves of the discriminatory and violent laws – largely inflicted upon us by Britain – that continue to limit us in many ways.

Colonisation has long-lasting effects. In The Bahamas, we can see the influence it has had on every facet of life.

We drive on the left side of the road. Ideas about professional attire are inappropriate for our climate. There is still considerable distance between the government and the people, and little opportunity for people to actively engage in governance. Christianity is the dominant religion, whether or not the people who claim it actually practice it. The economy is prioritized over people. Racism and colorism are rampant, and people are still afraid to name them. Laws discriminate against women. Human rights are not valued. Positive changes, to increase access to human rights, are debated and few people are interested in, much less equipped to, advocate in the face of an opposition that has gained power through colonial means.

The criminalisation of marital rape has been discussed for years. In 2018, the then government drafted a bill to amend the Sexual Offences Act to criminalise marital rape without acknowledging it as rape. There were many unacceptable flaws in that bill, and it was rejected.

It was not until 2022 that we saw another amendment bill – the one that is currently being discussed to what seems to be no end. The government refuses to do what it knows must be done, pandering to the loud and wrong voices of church leaders who are, frankly, misogynists.

The church leaders who support the criminalisation of marital rape are not nearly as vocal or consistent as those who oppose the rights of women.

The Minister of Social Services and Urban Development, who has responsibility for the Department of Gender and Family Affairs, has said, without shame, that the government is waiting to hear for a meeting date from a particular church.

What? The bill is being held up because one church wants to have its say and has yet to even propose a meeting date? And this is after the government held a “symposium” that was specifically for church leaders?

Would the government wait to get a meeting date from a non-governmental organisation that promotes women’s rights? Would it stall on legislation regarding finance when the International Monetary Fund or Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development are making their demands? Who could delay its decision-making on such issues, and by calling for a meeting and offering no date?

The truth is that the position of the church should not matter when it comes to human rights and governance.

The church may be important to its members. It may be a useful network through which to reach people. It may be a guide for the people in it. It is not, however, the government and should not control the government. We, of course, know that the church wields its power regularly and is able to do this because political parties depend on them for votes. It is no secret that religious leaders use their pulpits politically, and in partisan ways.

This is the only reason the government panders to it while undervaluing and, in many cases, ignoring the positions of and evidence provided by people who represent – not control – people, especially those in situations of vulnerability.

The government has allowed the church to cement the narrative, easily disproven by reading the constitution, that The Bahamas is a “Christian nation”, that this was the intent of the framers of the constitution, and that this is the way it must be.

Among our tasks, 50 years into independence, is to gain a clear understanding of the constitution.

It has been, for far too long, a mysterious document whose actual contents are deemed irrelevant or unimportant. It has been treated as though it can only be read and understood by a particular class of people.

One of the only things most people ever hear about the constitution is a lie — that it states that The Bahamas is a “Christian nation”.

Let’s be clear. The Bahamas is not a Christian nation. Not constitutionally, and certainly not in practice. The violence and corruption that people actively participate in every day is evidence of that this is not a Christian nation, unless Christianity is violent and supports corruption.

First, we need to know that the part of the constitution that people reference when they declare that The Bahamas is a “Christian nation” is the preamble.

The prefix “pre” means before, or prior to. The root word “amble” means to walk at a slow pace. A preamble “walks before”. It leads to something else. It is an introductory statement that precedes, or comes before, a law. The preamble, then, is not the constitution.

The preamble, which is not an Article of the constitution, says, “founded on Spiritual Values”. It does not say “Christian nation.” It states “the preservation of [our] Freedom will be guaranteed by a national commitment to Self-discipline, Industry, Loyalty, Unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of Law.”

Interestingly, when the preamble is brought up, reference is not often made to the rule of law, despite its proximity to the misquoted term “Christian values.” The rule of law means that everyone is accountable under the law, that the law which ensures human rights, is applied evenly, that laws are adopted and administered in a fair process, and that adequate resources allow for timely access to justice.

This, obviously needs more attention. We know that the rule of law is severely lacking in The Bahamas. Say “human rights” and see what happens. Look at the way laws are written and who is protected by them. Pay attention to the ways laws are passed, and which laws are put to the public for “discussion” which may as well call what it really is – delay. Read and watch the news to find out how the court system (dys) functions.

The preamble states that the nation is “founded on Spiritual Values” and “spiritual” is not specific to any religion. The constitution itself, in fact, entitles every person to freedom of religion and to “propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” It even states no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance[…].” Why, then, would our laws be based upon any religion?

Individuals have freedom of religion in The Bahamas. Declaring it to be a Christian nation would be incongruent with that right, so this did not happen in the constitution. The Bahamas is not bound to any religious text or interpretations thereof. It is a secular nation.

Chapter three of the constitution is titled “Protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. Importantly, Article 15 entitles everyone, regardless of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed, or sex, to a set of freedoms including life, liberty, security of person, protection of the law, and freedom of expression.

How has the right to security of person been made accessible to women? How has the right to protection of the law been made accessible to women? In what ways have these rights been denied?

We can start, of course, with gender-based violence against women which includes marital rape. If the definition of rape in the Sexual Offences Act excludes spouses, what does that mean for women who are raped by their husbands? They are denied, by Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act, the right to security of person which includes the right to be free from all forms of violence.

They are also denied the right to protection of the law. The Sexual Offences Act does not protect married women from sexual violence inflicted by their spouses. It must be amended. Marital rape must be criminalised.

We need to understand our laws and how they impact people. We need to know what the constitution actually says, and not rely on what people say about the constitution. We need civic education, and not limited to school-age children.

Far too many of us left school with little or no knowledge about the role of the government, the constitution and legislation, and citizens of the country. A public civic education campaign is desperately needed in this country. Without it, independence means very little.

We can have a flag and other symbols, sing a national anthem, and put the faces of Bahamians on the national currency, but none of that makes us free. None of that secures our rights. None of that makes this country a better place.

Independence ought to be about the people – our rights and freedoms, our ability to set and progress toward national goals, and our realisation of this place as a home that we would and could actively choose for ourselves.

Independence has little meaning for most of us, not because we do not understand it, but because we do not feel it or access the freedom and pride it promises. We will not get there without gender equality.

Ending gender-based violence against women and girls must be a national priority, and one that is aggressively actioned, even in the face of opposition.

People and their human rights have to be more important than votes, concentrated power, and the lure of money from corruption and collusion.

The colonisers did not see it that way before 1973. Does the government of today?

Published in The Tribune on February 22, 2023

Over the past few days, in addition to the usual crime reports, there have been stories about the need to address what the prime minister called a “serious a chronic problem”.

Crime has plagued The Bahamas for a long time. Every government administration, upon arrival, blames it on the previous administration, and every Opposition blames the sitting administration for failing to find the solution.

While political parties blame each other to escape responsibility, members of the public convince themselves that the most violent crimes have nothing to do with them. It is often said that the criminals are killing each other, and some people go further to say this is a good thing. One of the reasons crime continues at high rates is that very few people and entities — including families, churches, and workplaces — are prepared to accept responsibility or take action to prevent it or intervene.


POLICE at the scene of one of last year’s shootings. Photo: Austin Fernander

Violence does not come from nowhere. It is a learned behaviour. We all understand the threats of physical pain and death as a motivator. They can get a person to take or refrain from taking a particular action. Physical pain and death are understood as punishment. If a person fails to take or refrain from taking a particular action, especially after being threatened, they may be physically harmed or killed. This can be useful for learning not to, for example, touch fire because the direct consequence is the pain of being burned. It is unhealthy when fear is weaponised against a person. A person brandishing a weapon and giving a directive does not necessarily have to verbalise a threat for another person to understand that they must do as they are told to avoid being physically harmed or killed.

Unfortunately, children are taught, by example, to use other people’s fears against them very early in life. Children are beaten for any number of actions and inactions, including accidents. Get a bad grade, get beaten. Don’t finish dinner, get beaten. Spill juice on the couch, get beaten. Say a bad word, get beaten. Knock over a glass, get beaten. Text a boy, get beaten. Cry, get beaten. They are not only experiencing violence as a response to certain behaviour, but living with the threat of violence and how it shapes their behaviour. This is uncomfortable and feels as unsafe as it is, and it is training for abusing other people with the same tactics. Children learn that threats are scary, they can be made with or without words, and they can drive action. By practising the use of threats with their peers, they learn that anyone can do it.

When the issue or corporal punishment is raised, many parents become upset. Corporal punishment is what they know. It is the way they were “corrected” and “raised” by their parents, and it is what they use to “correct” their own children and any other minors in their care. They find the suggestion that it is wrong to be inconvenient. They do not like when it is referred to as violence. They see it as “discipline”.

Violence is “behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something”. Corporal punishment, including the spanking, hitting, and pinching of children, is, indeed, violence. It hurts, and it can cause damage.

Discipline is “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.” Punishment is “the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offence”. Interestingly, discipline has two components — training to obey and punishment as a response to failure to obey — and punishment is a response to offence. The response does not have to be physical, yet for many Bahamians, corporal punishment is the only familiar punishment. Perhaps it is that way because it is easy. It does not require thought. It could be that it is a generational practice that too many people are not prepared to question, challenge, or change, even when we know its association with slavery. More thoughtful, effective discipline takes thought and time. It is not immediate, and may require a cooling off period, so adults do not have the physical satisfaction of not only punishing a child, but offloading all of their frustrations in their delivery of corporal punishment.

Even before punishment is doled out, parents get it wrong sometimes. Maybe the believe the favorite child, and that child knows they can blame everything on their siblings. Maybe what parents perceive to be an act of rudeness is an accident. Maybe poor performance is not a refusal to try, but an ill-suited learning environment or an undiagnosed learning difference. When children are wrongfully punished, resentment can build. We know that there are angry people among us, and we do not know why. Some of them are still angry about the ways they were treated as children. Some people have mental health challenges because of the violence they experienced as children. Some are in unhealthy and abusive relationships because they were told all their lives that violence is love.

The crime we see in The Bahamas is not all due to violence against children. It is also not completely separate from it. We learn violence before we can speak. Years ago, ZNS played a recording of a child reciting “Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte.

If a child lives with criticism, He learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility, He learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule, He learns to be shy.

If a child lives with shame, He learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance, He learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement, He learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise, He learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness, He learns justice.

If a child lives with security, He learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval, He learns to like himself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, He learns to find love in the world.

That recording was played so often that many of us memorised it without trying. There must have been a reason ZNS played it. I do not remember it being preceded or followed by a public service announcement about child abuse, parenting, or anything of the sort. It may have been expected that the message would be received through repetition, but here we are. Child abuse continues to be called discipline, and people who lived with hostility and ridicule enact violence against people known and unknown to them.

The family is the first institution we know. It is where we learn behaviors we take with us through all of our lives, and some of us work hard to unlearn along the way. It is the place we are most easily and deeply scarred. It could be the place we learn to love and be loved, to treat one another with respect, and to believe in and value justice.

Will the government take a stand against corporal punishment? Will elders admit that violence is not the way to raise or discipline children, and that is has harmful effects? Will churches guide members in understanding metaphors and other literary devices so that “spare the road, spoil the child” does not become a license from god to abuse children? Will workplaces and other organizations support parents who need help balancing the work and family responsibilities, and to learn healthy parenting practices? We need all hands on deck. Everyone needs to participate in developing good, active citizens.