Equality Bahamas: In Response to Richard Lightbourn’s Forced Sterilization Plan

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Dr. Jean Patterson has not commented on Richard Lightbourn comments against women.
Dr. Jean Patterson has not commented on Richard Lightbourn comments against women.

By Alicia Wallace, Equality Bahamas

Nassau Bahamas – On Thursday, July 27, MP for Montague Richard Lightbourn proposed the legislation of violence against women, suggesting that an “unwed mother having her tubes tied” would reduce government spending on education and lower the unemployment rate. He lamented the “burden of paying for the upbringing of children” and suggested The Bahamas has an overpopulation issue. Equality Bahamas condemns both this irresponsible, erroneous statement and the misogynistic, racist, classist mindset behind it.

Forced sterilization is a violation of human rights, specifically “the right to be free from torture, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the right to life, liberty, and security of person; the right to equality; the right to nondiscrimination; the right to be free from arbitrary interference with one’s privacy and family; and the right to marry and to found a family”. This form of abuse disproportionately impacts women of marginalized communities including women of color and indigenous women, poor women, differently-abled women, and women living with HIV.

It is clear that Lightbourn, while he referred to “several countries in the world” — all unnamed — did not conduct research on the practice, intended and unintended outcomes, or international law. Countries practicing forced sterilization have been called upon to immediately address it and report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on measures implemented to bring it to an end. Further, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) — ratified by The Bahamas in 1993 — speaks to the rights of women in deciding on the the “number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights” and “the same rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of their marital status, in matters relating to their children” in Article 16. Additionally, forced sterilization is a violation of international medical ethics, and this is laid out in greater detail in the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics’ Guidelines on Female Contraceptive Sterilization.

Lightbourn’s apology, is not remedial, and should not end with swift correction and acceptance of rebuke. Focus must be put on the sentiment behind the statement, and addressing the underlying issues it exposes. As was the case when MP for Tall Pines Leslie Miller made a non-joke about domestic violence in March 2014, it is necessary to delve into the origin and meaning of the comment, in and out of its context and intended purpose.

In his apology, Lightbourn said, “It is a woman’s right to decide what to do with her body.” Unfortunately, he only learned this after a most unfortunate experience of his own making, and constituents cannot afford to continue teaching him in this way. Such reckless comments are detrimental to society, perpetuating dangerous ideas — whether intended or not — about human rights, women’s rights, legislation, and policy-making.

The onus is continually put on women to solve the problems of a country largely run by men. The suggestion that unmarried mothers raising children are the cause of social ills, failing to acknowledge the scourge of absent fathers and insufficient recourse in family law, is outrageous. Generalizations about familial support for children of unmarried mothers are irresponsible and unfounded. Lightbourn highlighted the distance between himself — and many others of comparable position and perspective — and the reality of the Bahamian family which has not been nuclear in structure for generations. The disconnect between the Bahamian people and elected representatives continues to result in mounting challenges in governance and policy-making, and is a threat to the rights and freedoms of individuals.

Equality Bahamas draws attention to the issues that were not addressed in Lightbourn’s apology which include the fallacy that The Bahamas is overpopulated. Centralization and urbanization are valid concerns as they contribute to the dense population of Nassau, but the number of residents in the country is not the problem. Women, whether married or unmarried, bearing children or not, are not the problem. Controlling population growth and/or the bodies of women is not the answer to issues in The Bahamas’ system of education, the rate of unemployment, or any existing social ill. If Lightbourn has genuine concern about family life and planning, Equality Bahamas strongly recommends conversation and partnership with Bahamas Sexual Health and Rights Association (BaSHRA) — an organization providing sexual education and health care services in The Bahamas through its clinic and outreach programs — which is capable of providing information, training, and vital services, and could benefit from financial and resource support to continue and expand its work.

Equality Bahamas calls upon Richard Lightbourn, the Free National Movement, and the Government of The Bahamas to participate in gender sensitivity training (as recommended in 2014 by the Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination), truly champion human rights and women’s rights, and facilitate public dialogues on issues of national concern. It is expected and demanded that the Government of The Bahamas and all of its members commit to inclusive and participatory governance, encouraging active citizenship, engaging with and utilizing the skills and expertise of its constituents and employers – the Bahamian people.

Equality Bahamas is an organization focused on the human rights of women in The Bahamas, and is committed to education, engagement, and empowerment of women as it works toward gender equality.
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