Former Progressive Liberal Party Senator, Cheryl Bazard cautioned The Bahamas against falling into the temptation of “equating the economic advancement of some, as the economic empowerment of all.”
Her remarks came during the Ministry of Social Services and Department of Gender and Family Affairs, Woman in Parliament event held in the House of Assembly today (Friday, December 11) to coincide with the 58th anniversary of Bahamian women’s right to vote.
The gathering met under the theme, “Accelerating the Empowerment and Advancement of Women in Parliamentary Representation, Economic Development and Protection Against Gender Based Violence.
The three-hour session was broadcasted live on Cable Bahamas’ Parliamentary Channel, 420 and live streamed on Facebook by the Caribbean Women in Leadership (CIWIL) Bahamas National Chapter and the Zonta Club of New Providence.
According to Mrs Bazard, there remains a high degree of “vulnerability and variability” in the majority of Bahamian women’s access to economic empowerment – the accumulation of assets and the ability to influence institutions and public policies aimed at determining growth and development.
“The national average income figure of $37,716, New Providence average of $40,090 and Grand Bahama average of $38,108 misrepresent the lived reality of the majority of Bahamians especially women, many of whom earn income amounts just above minimum wage or are unemployed or whose income fluctuate with the tourism season.”
Mrs Bazard borrowed figures from a Beijing+25 report produced 2019. In it, The Bahamas assessed itself on the progress made towards empowering women and girls in line with a global agenda adopted by 189 countries in 1995.
“The annual average income calculation includes attractive salaries made by a small percentage of real estate agents, hotel managers, private executives, government officials, offshore banking and financial institutions executives within The Bahamas. As their income is added into the national totals the average income figures become grossly skewed,” said Mrs Bazard, the principal of the law firm Bazard & Co., which specializes in corporate and compliance law and litigation.
“This information is critical,” she said. “The retardation of the advancement of equality for women and girls in The Bahamas is being crippled by international institutions who have used the national average income to render The Bahamas ‘rich’.”
In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action, developed at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, set out how to remove the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life.
“By virtue of the Beijing Platform for Action, women the world over are aiming for higher incomes, better access to and control over resources, and greater security. These are all wrapped up in economic empowerment,” said Mrs Bazard.
She noted the impacts of crises are never gender neutral. COVID-19 was no exception.
“While everyone is facing unprecedented challenges, women are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19,” said the attorney.
The solutions for the advancement, empowerment and protection of women in the economic arena could perhaps be found in five steps laid out by the United Nations, she asserted.
Although these steps were designed to mitigate the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 on women, she wholeheartedly endorsed them for a longer-term approach.
They include direct income support which would include giving cash, or some digital version of it, directly to women who are poor or lack income. Such was the case in the RISE (Renewing, Inspiring, Sustaining, Empowering), which allowed clients of the Department of Social Services to use pre-paid cards not only at approved food stores but also pharmacies, clothing and shoe stores, bookstores and LP gas vendors.
Mrs Bazard also advocated for support for women-owned and women-led businesses, allowing them to receive specific grants and stimulus funding, as well as subsidized and state-backed loans.
Generally speaking, Mrs Bazard said government should provide greater support for women workers. For instance, expanded access to affordable and quality childcare services would enable more women to be in the labour force, she said.
“Bridging the gender pay gap is urgent, and it begins by enacting laws and policies that guarantee equal pay for work of equal value and stop undervaluing the work done by women.”
Other measures she backed included support for informal workers left unemployed and providing essential workers with childcare services.
According to Mrs Bazard, enacting these policies will not only empower women, but will also benefit their families and communities.
“Today we have come as one, from diverse backgrounds to strengthen our visibility to raise a collective voice to ensure collective representation,” she said. “We have come to secure the keys as we are fully cognizant and aware that big doors can be opened by little keys.”