Minnis: FNM will back referendum on women’s rights
By Taneka Thompson
Guardian Senior Reporter
Nassau, The Bahamas
Opposition Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis yesterday accused the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) of using the defeated 2002 referendum as a “political tool”, and assured that the Free National Movement will support the referendum to end gender discrimination that has been promised by the government.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell announced the planned referendum in the House of Assembly on Wednesday. He said it will take place by the end of this term.
In February 2002, the Ingraham administration sought to eliminate discrimination against women from the constitution through a referendum.
One of the six questions on that ballot asked voters if they agreed that all forms of discrimination against women, their children and their spouses should be removed from the constitution, and that no person should be discriminated against on the grounds of gender.
Under the constitution, Bahamian women married to foreign men cannot automatically pass their citizenship to their children; however Bahamian men married to foreign women can.
At the time the PLP, then in opposition, campaigned against the constitutional changes.
“They used it as a political tool at that particular time,” Minnis said.
“They felt that they would have gained mileage in whatever they did to become government.
“I don’t think it was right to walk on the backs of women just to achieve your own goal. A woman deserves better than that. I think they deserve the complete respect in our society for what they have done and what they do today.”
The failed referendum was seen by many political observers as a referendum on the former Ingraham administration and in May 2002 the PLP won the general election.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said yesterday the PLP opposed the referendum because there was not enough public consultation on the issue.
Minnis said he did not believe the explanation.
“I don’t buy that,” he said. “He doesn’t believe that himself. I can’t buy that.”
Minnis also suggested that former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham’s recent comments on discrimination in the constitution may have spurred the government to make the announcement.
At a press conference at the House of Assembly last week, Ingraham said there were more issues that should be put to a referendum, such as eliminating gender discrimination.
“I don’t know why it should be assumed that we should spend all this money on a referendum to deal with the question of gambling when there are some issues — like for instance, I want you as a female in this country to have the same rights I have under the constitution,” Ingraham said.
Minnis said, “They didn’t say anything about it before, so obviously that would have had some impact on them and I’m happy that we are doing it.
“I’m happy that they now see that that’s a very important issue that should have been resolved some time ago.
“I’m a strong proponent of equality for women. After all, women are the backbone of our society. They are the foundation of our society and I think equality is definitely an issue.
“It’s unfortunate that they took so long to bring it forth and they opposed it 10 years ago when we tried to bring it forth.
“I would hope that they don’t try to tie it in with the referendum for gambling. At least allow people to deal with issues independently because you cannot use the female population [as] any form of political tool.
“I would encourage all Bahamians to vote for equality for women.”
He added: “I can assure you that the FNM will not oppose equality of women at all.”
July 27, 2012