Equality Bahamas focused heavily on the 2016 gender equality referendum which aimed to amend four articles of the constitution, addressing gender inequality in the conferral of citizenship and, importantly, adding “sex” to the prohibited grounds of discrimination.
For various reasons, including the conflation of sex and gender, deeply rooted hostility against LGBTQI+ people, and religious fundamentalism, there was widespread disapproval of the fourth bill on non-discrimination, spurring rejection of all four bills. Opposition to the bills was driven, almost entirely, by the fear that non-discrimination on the basis of sex would lead to same-sex marriage. Many were satisfied to sacrifice women’s rights in order to limit the rights of LGBTQI+ people.
This experience demonstrated the inextricable link between women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights. Resistance to them is gender-based, and structural violence against one affects the rights and safety of the other. The approach, then, to ending gender-based violence has to acknowledge this relationship. It depends on human rights literacy and, more specifically, international mechanisms and how States engage with them. It also requires direct connections between theories, international mechanisms, and people’s lives.
In its Concluding Observations, the CEDAW Committee recommended that the State adopt an action plan to implement laws to eliminate discrimination against women, and it specifically named lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women and intersex people. It also called for comprehensive measures to eliminate violence against these groups, including the adoption of the draft gender-based violence bill. These, in addition to the recommendation for the government to develop a plan for constitutional reform, have become central to organizing by Equality Bahamas. It now points to the Committee’s call for LGBTQI+ people to be protected, and advocates for explicit inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the draft gender-based violence bill.
Nongovernmental organizations must continue their advocacy beyond CEDAW review sessions. The Concluding Observations are not the finish line. They provide an agenda for the State, and nongovernmental organizations must promote that agenda, hold the government accountable and both educate and mobilize the public. There is power in international mechanisms and their recommendations, but it is dormant until and unless people transform it into sustained action.
During the Global 16 Days campaign, Equality Bahamas held a series of events including CEDAW: A Tool for Ending Gender-based Violence with attorney and CEDAW Committee member Marion Bethel and Fostering a Culture of Human Rights with human rights expert Gaynel Curry. It is critical to demystify international mechanisms, broaden the base of supporters, and quell concerns about sovereignty.
Equality Bahamas highlighted 16 of the recommendations from the Concluding Observations. It used graphics to simplify recommendations, the obligations of the State to the people, and the relevance of the Convention to its work to end gender-based violence. By referencing specific Articles and recommendations in its advocacy, Equality Bahamas ensures that its calls for action are understood as reasonable, necessary, and certain to be raised at the next review session which is always a motivator.
CEDAW remains a part of the advocacy toolkit in the periods between review sessions, and it is up to nongovernmental organizations to use it effectively. As it moves forward, Equality Bahamas will continue its work on CEDAW in three areas—public education, government accountability, and highlighting connections between women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights in order to advance their human rights.
Alicia Wallace is a Gender Expert, Research Consultant and Director of Equality Bahamas.