Bahamas Women’s Watch responds to Richard Lightbourn
Nassau, Bahamas – (Press Statement) Bahamas Women’s Watch strongly condemns the statement by Member of Parliament Richard Lightbourn who suggested a policy of state enforced sterilization as a means of controlling the fertility of unwed Bahamian women with two or more children. Lightbourn’s proposed policy highlights an absolute disrespect and contempt for women’s rights, which are human rights and agency, and serves to explain the lack of advancement on core women’s empowerment issues, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in The Bahamas.
Mr Lightbourn first and foremost needs a lesson on fundamental human rights, womem” rights of bodily integrity and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is a United Nations instrument ratified by the Government of the Bahamas and 189 countries around the world to empower women and ensure equal opportunities and outcomes. A primary role the Government must play on behalf of its citizens is to ensure the overall well being of women and girls. It is unfortunate that as a political leader, he is ignorant of this fact, particularly given the critical need for the State to play a significant role in public education and socialization around issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Instead of scapegoating poor women as the reason for the social ills in the Bahamas, he should consider the unequal power relations and the exploitation of women in the inner city and the fact that many women are left to raise children and care for children on their own. It suggests that he absolves men of any burden in this and it is obscene to blame the most vulnerable of our society for its problems.
Bahamas Women’s Watch has taken on the important responsibility of education around CEDAW precisely to combat this very type of ignorance, and to hold our leaders accountable to their obligations. It is incumbent upon us to be vigilant of policy makers, because their words and actions have a profound impact on the rights of women and the lives of citizens.
This archaic, barbaric and dangerous proposal must be strongly condemned and outrightly rejected by everyone. Instead, to address issues of sexual health and reproductive rights in our community, the Government needs to adopt an evidence based approach that embeds human rights, for example, a comprehensive age-appropriate sex education programme from primary to tertiary level education. There are many established frameworks, including the IntegratedStrategicFrameworkfor the Reduction ofAdolescent Pregnancy developed by CARICOM, which is in alignment with CEDAW.
Right here in this community there exists the Bahamas Sexual Health and Reproductive Association (BaSHRA), which is an institution that is chronically under resourced even as it advocates for the implementation of the CARICOM framework in The Bahamas. If Mr Lightbourn were so passionate about this issue, we expect that he would have known what is going on in the community and offer creative support to the institutions actively working to uphold and promote the rights of women and girls in regard to our sexual and reproductive health.
During the last reporting session, the CEDAW Committee spoke specifically to this matter in its Concluding Observations, echoing the contributions made by civil society to the Committee. These recommendations reminded the Government of its obligation to widely provide education on sexual and reproductive health and rights to Bahamians; to provide free and adequate access to contraception and sexual and reproductive health services, and to broaden the conditions under which abortions can be legally available, including in incidences of rape and incest.
Mr Lightbourn’s comments underscore the inadequacy of the Government in meeting its obligations. Bahamas Women’s Watch calls for Mr Lightbourn’s proposal to be outright rejected, and also calls on the Government to prioritize these issues in the national development agenda. Everyone who seeks to lead this country has a responsibility to be thoroughly informed on these socio economic issues and to advance policies, legislation and solutions that support our human rights and contribute to sustainable developmental goals.
We need for all political parties to have a more progressive agenda on women’s rights, dignity and autonomy and we call on those who wish to be leaders in the movement, particularly female members of Parliament, to be committed and effective public advocates for shaping the policy agenda of their political parties and implementing programmes that mainstream gender equality, women’s empowerment, agency, voice and participation in public and private life.
Bahamas Women’s Watch (BWW) is a non –profit organization promoting women’s rights using the Convention of The Elimination of All forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) as its platform. BWW intends to broaden the understanding of local and global women’s issues and endeavors’ to enlighten and empower our communities in the Bahamas in order to strengthen the rights of women and to protect the interests and concerns of women and their families to achieve their highest living potential.