January 19, 1959 — House of Assembly, Nassau, The Bahamas
Mr. Speaker and members of the Honourable House of Assembly, today, invincible womanhood, mother of men and ruler of the world, raises her noble head and approaches the courts of justice with the clarion call for equal rights for all Bahamian Women.
This mobilization of our energies was called forth by the challenging statement issued by the Right Honourable Secretary of State, Mr. Lennox Boyd on 17 April, 1958 that there was not sufficient interest on the part of Bahamian Women for him to recommend the enfranchisement of women at that time.
This statement by the secretary was issued despite the fact that a petition signed by more than 3,000 women had been presented to Mr. Lennox Boyd by a delegation of women from the Suffrage Movement.
To add insult to injury, Mr. Boyd at the same time recommended the extension of the franchise to all males who have reached the age of 21. May we remind you that there has never been any demand from our husbands and sons to secure their rights, but these are freely recommended. The Woman Suffrage Movement wishes to go on record as wholeheartedly supporting Universal Franchise for men and women alike, and the Secretary of State must be sternly remind by the Women of the Bahamas that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, set forth in the Charter of the U.N. guarantees to all men and women regardless of race, color, or sex the fundamental right to vote.
We women of the Bahamas have lined up on the side of the United Nations and justice and democracy, and do thereby reaffirm our faith in the equal rights of men and women and are prepared to perpetuate these ideals to our children. In the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it reads “whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women, the General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We quote Articles 1 and 2 of the Declaration:
Article 1 — All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Article 2 — Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom set forth in This Declaration without distinction of any kind such as race, colour or sex.
Mr. Speaker and members of the Honourable House of Assembly, the Women’s Suffrage Movement speaks today on behalf of 54,000 women; more than one-half of the total adult population of our islands. The women of the Bahamas have been awakened to their responsibilities and duties as citizens for many generations, and in the last thirty or thirty-five years women have vigorously carried out their duties and responsibilities in a manner comparable to those performed by the women of any highly civilized country. True, we have not been violent agitators because we have accepted the traditional theory that civic and political responsibilities were ably carried out by our men.
Today women have, by force of circumstances, taken on increasing responsibilities to ensure the proper development and growth of our homes, our children and our social institutions. Bahamian women have risen to give outstanding leadership services in business activities, welfare work, home and school organizations, as well as the extension of brotherly love in one hundred fraternal and friendly societies throughout the Islands.
In nearly all these organizations women have already learnt how to use democratic techniques of government and the principles of choosing their representatives. We nominate and elect officers, and keenly watch their services to the group, returning them again to leadership when they have served us well. We know of the many selfish intrigues which sometimes motivate men and women to seek re-election to offices and are aware of our responsibilities to rid the group of corrupt and improper leadership when once the welfare of the group is threatened. We have therefore learnt to choose our leaders well and wisely. The same principles will guide us now as we seek to assume our duties and responsibilities in guiding the destiny of our beloved Islands.
An earlier petition for Women’s Suffrage was presented in 1952 by the Great Improved, Benevolent, Protective Order of Elks of the World, an organization with membership of over ten thousand and with six temples in the Out Islands.
We regret that the petition submitted to the House on the 1st December, 1958, was grossly misrepresented as coming from thirteen petitioners and five hundred and twenty-nine others. The forty-five page petition, of which Photostat copies have been preserved, was signed by two thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine persons living in such widely scattered islands as Exuma, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Long Island, Eleuthera, Andros and New Providence.
We wish to go on record in protesting to the House that a great injustice has been done to the people’s cause and that this rash, irresponsible deed can only be vindicated by a noble act on the part of the Assembly. To be deceived is regarded by women as one of the greatest crimes against their faithful trust, since faithfulness is the basic principle upon which we build our homes, rear our children and build our nation.
We women have accepted and paid all the taxes which are imposed upon us by a Government in which we now have no representation. Since we are powerless to limit these taxes, we are forced to bring charges of tyranny and despotism against this, our Government, if it further denies us our rights to choose those who must rule over us and share in the making of our laws.
Should the Government agree to abolishing all taxes of every kind including stamp duties, and custom duties on goods and properties owned by women, we would regard this as detrimental to the progress of our country, but mind you, we would be justified in refusing to pay your taxes, since we women are ineligible to vote.
We do not wish to be regarded as rebellious, but we would point out to you that to cling sullenly or timidly to ancient, outmoded ways of government is not in the best interest of our country.
We therefore earnestly desire that this regime go on record as an enlightened democratic body, by ordering the immediate enumeration and registration of all women twenty-one years and over so that they may carry out their duties as full citizens in the next by-election or general election.
WE WOMEN PRESS THIS DEMAND AND ASK SUCH ENACTMENT ON THE BASIS OF NOT WHO IS RIGHT, BUT WHAT IS RIGHT FOR OUR COUNTRY. WE JUDGE EXPEDIENCY ONLY ON THIS BASIS. WE SEEK NO COMPROMISE. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. WE ABHOR ANY DELAYING ACTION. WE WOMEN ASK ONLY THAT YOU GENTLEMEN MOVE NOW TO SECURE THE RIGHTS OF FIFTY-FOUR THOUSAND WOMEN, INCLUDING YOUR WIVES AND DAUGHTERS.
Approximately half of the female population are working women, many of whom are the entire support of their families. Many have built their own homes, have bank accounts, established themselves in business and pay government taxes. An earlier petition points out to the Honourable House that it is a violation of the principles of democracy to grind out taxes from people who are without the power to limit or extend such taxes. Taxation without representation as you will recall was the basic principle upon which the American Revolution was based, and which due to the short-sightedness of the British King George III and his Ministers lost for Britain our great and beneficient neighbor, The United States of America. It is this principle which still stirs a revolt in the hearts of Bahamian women and energizes us to make our plea before honourable men.
We women grieve and are deeply concerned when our sons and daughters, tried in the courts of law, find always that they are faced by a male group of jurors. We firmly believe that it is our democratic right that women should serve on these juries, but without the vote, the whole country is denied the benefit of full and impartial judgment
We women are extremely concerned that the plight of delinquent girls is taken so lightly by our Government. The hearts of mothers grieve at the revolting practice of sending poor girls eight, nine, ten and eleven years to live in jail with seasoned criminals. Active participation in government by Bahamian Women will see an end to such practices, and proper care and guidance will be given to those whose real crime is only poverty and insecurity.“There are other grievances which we women have. Local government in our islands is administered through boards and committees.
There are eleven boards consisting of 56 members. There are twenty-one committees assisted by advisory committees and on these there are seven women who are privileged to serve only in inferior capacities. There are two hundred Justices of the Peace from whose ranks women are totally excluded. There are Out Island Commissionerships in which no woman is invited to serve.
The Houghton Report on Education suggests to Government the advisability of including women on the proposed Advisory Committee to the Board of Education. While wholeheartedly endorsing this suggestion, we further wish to show the advisability of including women on the Board of Education and any other Board which deals with the welfare of our homes, schools and communities.
Gentlemen, hear me. It requires the insight and interests of women to investigate, report on and seek improvement for many projects that men are not naturally interested in an you would be free to turn your energies to more manly pursuits. We women wish to serve our country and assist your efforts in attending to such projects as housing schemes, slum clearance, establishment of libraries and local welfare services, supervision of food and drug supplies, and the establishment of reasonable and respectable lodgings for temporary visitors from our Out Islands
Mr. Speaker and members of the Assembly, putting aside our grievances, we women raise our hearts and heads to loftier things: our willingness and readiness to participate as full citizens in the affairs of our country. We women are ready, willing and able. YOU MUST NO LONGER DENY US OUR RIGHTS.
Your humble petitioner thanks God for this opportunity to speak to your hearts and consciences and prays that speedy action will be taken by you to bring about the enumeration and registration of all Bahamian women twenty-one years and over.
Source: The Faith that Moved the Mountain, by Randol Fawkes (Media Enterprises Ltd.) 1979.