Violence against women and girls is one of the most pervasive issues of our time; it depends on the silence and resignation of onlookers and the shame and degradation of victims. Misogynistic laws, embedded within a constitution that promotes disadvantage, have sown the seeds of inequality for young women in The Bahamas. Women are not able to confer the rights of citizenship as men are. While a Bahamian man who marries a non-Bahamian woman can confer citizenship to the children of that union, a Bahamian woman does not have the constitutional right to do the same. Similarly, the spouses of Bahamian men are permitted to apply for citizenship while the spouses of Bahamian women are not afforded this right. This constitutional legacy of discrimination against women condones and enables other forms of disadvantage and oppression.
According to Bahamian law, it is not illegal for a husband to rape his wife. In 2002, there was a referendum which presented several constitutional amendments to the people, all of which were voted against. One of them was the issue of marital rape. Religious leaders campaigned in earnest against this bill while Members of Parliament shamelessly influenced the electorate to vote against every proposed amendment without prejudice. The law remains in place which, in essence, treats married women as the property of their spouses, having no autonomy over their own bodies.
In recent months, we've seen an increase in acts of online sexual violence. What hasn't been talked about are the very real social consequences for women and girls as a result of this harassment. Photos and videos have been circulated online without consent, some depicting underage children. They have been thoughtlessly shared and re-shared hundreds of times, sometimes without people realizing that their participation makes them perpetrators of this violence. In addition, there have been high levels of victim blaming and calls for them [victims] to be punished, as it is deemed to be indecent. Women and girls, after experiencing the shame and humiliation of this violence, are sometimes fired from their jobs or subjected to corporal punishment. Thus far, local authorities and members of government have failed to adequately ensure the provision of justice for women and girls resulting in them becoming more susceptible to recurring acts of sexual and gender based violence.
I currently serve at the Director of Hollaback! Bahamas. We are a part of a global movement to end street harassment in 84 cities around the world. Over the past nine months, our work has been concentrated on engaging with young people at The College of The Bahamas and providing resources and materials for activism to the Union of Students. We believe that when people are comfortable with sexually harassing others in public, there are no limits to what they will do in private. As incidences of sexual violence increase at home and online, we must respond in proportion to the magnitude of victims' suffering.
As the Youth Ambassador for the Bahamas on Sexual Violence in Conflict, I am committed to working with members government, civil society, and young people to address these issues of international concern. I will continue to respond to the injustices flaunted by those in positions of power, demand accountability and decisive action from key actors, and engage young people in conversations about the causes and consequences of conflict-related sexual violence. I hope to bring my experiences as an activist in The Bahamas to a vibrant community of youth-led coalitions and organizations, where I can share my expertise with young people around the world, and advocate on behalf of the youth in my country. Though the youth of The Bahamas have a voice, they are searching for amplifiers. I promise to take their ideas and share it with the rest of the world.