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PM Christie Speaks to Regional Parliamentary Gender Equality, Modernization

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Rt. Hon. Perry Christie said the issue of gender equality in the halls of parliament is “rightly accorded prominence” in the discussions about deepening democracy, at the 41st Regional Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), The Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic Region.”While meetings of this kind are reminders of how far women have come in securing membership in legislative assemblies around the world, they are also reminders of how much ground still remains to be covered in securing gender equality,” Prime Minister Christie told attendees at the conference’s Opening Ceremony, at the Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island.


Also present were several Cabinet Ministers, senior Government officials and other pertinent stakeholders.

“There is no mistaking the reality in this regard: the math tells the story,” Prime Minister Christie said. “Women continue to lag significantly behind their male counterparts in numerical representation in the halls of parliament, particularly in our elective assemblies.”

He said that he hastened to add, however, that that imbalance is not entirely the result of “misogynistic prejudices and male-supremacist traditions.”

“On the contrary, there is a powerful case to be made, especially here in The Bahamas and elsewhere in the region, that many women who are otherwise ideal candidates for elective office simply decide to stay out of the political arena because they are too repelled by the nastiness that has come to characterize so much of political life nowadays,” Prime Minister Christie noted.

A successful woman who has already achieved a place of honour in her country, whether in the practice of her profession or in business or in the public sector, and who has a husband and children, and who has a reputation to protect, really has to think long and hard about putting all that at risk in order to stand for elective office, he pointed out.

“And let’s not beat around the bush here: women, in small traditional societies of the kind that are so prevalent in our region, are especially vulnerable to character-assassination once they step into the political arena,” he warned. “It affects all of us, of course, but the toll it takes on women tends to be more injurious and hurtful in its effects.”

“That is something that we need to be ever conscious of as we continue our common quest in our respective jurisdictions for the increased participation of women in our parliaments.”

Prime Minister Christie said that he would be remiss if he were not to touch briefly on the question of modernization in relation to the Independence of Parliament and Deepening of Democracy.

He pointed that many of the countries represented at the conference have had a form of parliamentary democracy going back to the 18th century, even if it was circumscribed by British colonial practices of the day, and some inherent electoral discriminatory practices based not only on race but on property qualifications as well.

“The Bahamas, for example, has had a Parliament since the early 18th century,” Prime Minister Christie said. “Indeed a prototype for a legislative system in The Bahamas can be traced back to 1648 with the arrival of the Eleutheran Adventurers whose Articles called for a 100-man elected Senate.

“1729, however, is generally accepted as the date when the present parliament was formally established. It has operated continuously ever since except for brief dissolutions preparatory to the holding of General Elections for a new Assembly. And so, this year, 2016, we are actually celebrating 287 years of continuous parliamentary democracy in our country. I believe that only Barbados and Bermuda can boast of having a parliament of greater antiquity in this region.”

Prime Minister Christie noted that there has, of course, been some modernization of our ancient parliament; but it has been slow and, in any event, insufficient to meet the rapid changes in the way governments work and the need for greater systematic accountability to the electorate.

“While there are many instructive examples to guide us from within the Commonwealth in our individual and collective quest for modernization, we should not confine our attention to the Commonwealth alone,” he said. “We must look at other parliaments and law making institutions across the spectrum of democratic institutions around the world, so that we can develop a composite model that can be adapted to our own circumstances, having regard to our indigenous customs and conventions, cultural peculiarities and unique historical experiences.”

Modernization, he pointed out, must also include, of course, attention to physical infrastructure. For The Bahamas – and this might not hold true for those from other jurisdictions — one of the critical requirements in this regard is the need for a new parliamentary complex to house the two legislative branches, the Senate and House of Assembly, he added.

“The existing building housing the House of Assembly was built in 1806,” Prime Minister Christie said. “However impressive a relic of Loyalist architecture it may be, it simply does not meet modern-day requirements such as a large enough chamber and offices for members and staff. There is a particular need for more committee rooms and, of course, a much needed parliamentary library. The basic amenities, moreover, are woefully insufficient.”

“This is something which the Government of the Bahamas must address in a thoughtful and practical way having regard, however, to shifting budgetary priorities,” Prime Minister Christie said.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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