From women’s suffrage efforts claiming the right to vote in 1961 to gaining independence in 1973, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas has a rich history of fighting for equality. However, despite the current progress, there are persistent political and legal barriers that currently threaten women’s rights in the Bahamas.
Disjoint in the Legal Framework Surrounding Sexual Offences
Sexual violence is endemic within the nation and necessitates legal redress. According to the Royal Bahamas Police, reporting of sexual offenses rose by 14% in 2022 with 204 cases. According to the report, 39% of the victims knew the perpetrator and all the suspects were men. With the understanding that there is a trend of gross underreporting when it comes to sexual offenses, this number could be much higher.
Sexual harassment laws pertain only to the workplace, with the language “solicits sexual favors” employed to encapsulate the meaning of sexual harassment. This means that inappropriate behavior such as sexually charged and/or obscene comments, continuous staring and unwanted physical contact in both the workplace and public spaces are not legally recognized explicitly as sexual harassment.
Additionally, although the intent of criminalizing sexual harassment in the workplace is to deter potential perpetrators, U.N. Women recommends making it a matter of civil law. The reasoning for this recommendation is that the victim has more say in the direction of the case for a civil claim.
For instance, a claimant does not have to provide a “clear and convincing burden of proof” like in a criminal court and instead only has to prove a preponderance of the evidence. The claimant does not have to be subjected to an evaluation of their sexual history (aside from the accused) like in a criminal trial. Such conditions would hopefully encourage more women to come forward and stand up to the violations of their rights.
The law fails to recognize marital rape as a criminal offense unless the couple is in the process of separation/divorce. Most recently in 2022, there was an initiative to remove the phrase “who is not his spouse” from the definition of rape. However, there was constant pushback from opposing politicians and the powerful influence of the Christian Council.
Unfortunately, so long as this phrase remains in legislation, there could be thousands of Bahamian women who do not have the law protection if their husband rapes them and the damaging rhetoric that consent does not matter throughout marriage could endure.
Lack of Political Representation
A significant step toward advancing women’s rights in the Bahamas is addressing the lack of women in politics and highlighting the need for gender-sensitive policymaking. Whilst the country made history in 2021 with the election of seven women in the Progressive Liberal Party, accounting for 17% of seats in parliament, it is yet to meet the U.N.’s minimum standard of 30%.
One solution that Allicia Rolle, a gender specialist in the Department of Gender and Family Affairs proposed is the implementation of quotas as a temporary measure to promote gender mainstreaming in politics. This is to ensure that there are as many women as men in positions of power.
A Commitment to Action
In February 2022, Prime Minister Davis publicly acknowledged that the country needs to bring many of the domestic laws regarding gender equality “up to date” and that the Attorney General would be looking into “domestic legislation” to meet the need to address the prevalence of gender-based violence in the country. Additionally, the government’s effort involved considering long-term strategies including promoting civic engagement and education surrounding the topic. And while there has not been any concrete update on the implementation of such legislation or programs, this acknowledgment of responsibility toward promoting the advancement of women’s rights in the Bahamas offers signs of hope for change in the future.
– Lucy Gebbie