Remarks on the Right Hon. Dame Janet G. Bostwick’s 40th Election Anniversary

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Dame Janet Bostwick

The Right Hon. Dame Janet Gwennett Bostwick DBE is a legend. Her’s is a career filled with significant firsts, and her footsteps have paved a radiant road for other Bahamians, both men and women. Dame Janet is the consummate politician, and her accomplishments in the field have inspired a nation. We are delighted to join the Bahamas branch of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians in celebrating the 40th anniversary of Dame Janet’s election to Parliament on June 10.

The Caribbean Community has recognized Dame Janet as a model politician and pioneer among women in the region. She is admired and respected as a champion for the empowerment of women, not only here at home, but also in the region and beyond.

The United States has also recognized Dame Janet, calling her a “matriarch of women’s rights”. It is with great joy and pride that we in the Free National Movement once again raise our voices to celebrate this bulwark of our party, this lioness of liberty and equality, this warrior for women who has given so much to our country and our party Janet Gwennett Musgrove was born in Nassau to Nick and Lois Musgrove. In 1957, she began working as a stenographer in the Legal 2 Department of the Bahamas and by 1960 had become the private secretary of the Attorney General.

Between 1966 and 1971, she served as Administrative Officer of the Legal Department and was articled to the Solicitor General later Attorney General, and was made a counsel and attorney and admitted to the Bahamas Bar in 1971. Through 1974, she served as
Crown Counsel simultaneously serving as Crown Prosecutor, leaving the government service in 1975 for private law practice. Between 1980 and 1981, she became the first woman to serve as president of the Bar Association. During her presidency she led in the adoption and promulgation of The Bahamas Bar Act.

Throughout her employment in the Public Service, Bostwick was an active member of the Public Service Union, serving as Shop Steward for the Legal Department, on the Executive and as Secretary General from 1967 to 1971. mIn 1977, Dame Bostwick ran in the Pinedale constituency, where she was unsuccessful in her bid. She was then appointed as a Senator in 1977 and in 1982, she ran as a candidate of the Free National Movement (FNM) winning her race and becoming the first woman to serve in the House of Assembly. For the next twenty years, she served as MP for the Yamacraw Constituency. She championed family law, women’s and children’s rights and played a pivotal role in bringing about significant changes to the 3 Matrimonial Causes Act (1978); the Affiliation Proceedings Act (1981); and sponsoring the Female Employees (Grant of Maternity Leave) Act (1988); and the Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act (1991) The Inheritance Act and The Status of Children Act She was appointed Minister of National Insurance Housing and Social Service from 1992 to 1994 and served from 1994 to 1995 as Minister of Justice and Immigration. Between 1994 and 2002 she served for two periods as Attorney General and simultaneously served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1994) and Minister with responsibility and for Women’s Affairs (1992-2002)

Her appointment as Attorney General marked the first time a woman had served in that capacity in The Bahamas and in the region. In 1998, when the Prime Minister and his deputy were both absent from the country, Bostwick became the first woman to act as Prime Minister. In 2002, Bostwick lost her re-election bid to Melanie Griffin. In 2011, Bostwick became the Deputy to the Governor General. Bostwick served as president of the Free National Movement Women’s Association, president of the International Caribbean Women for Democracy and on the Executive Committee of the Girl Guides and Girl’s Brigade. She presently serves as Patron of the Girls Brigade.

In 2012, she was honored as Nassau’s nominee of the International Woman of Courage Award. In October 2018 she was made Companion of the Order of The Bahamas and in December 2018 she was made Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire She is a recipient of The Rotary Paul Harris Award and in July 2020 was granted the Caricom Triennial Woman’s Award.

The Janet Bostwick Medal for Women in the Foreign Service is named after her. Dame Janet’s extraordinary career does not only include firsts in politics: she also served as the first woman Secretary General of the Bahamas Public Service Union. In fact, throughout her tenure as both trade unionist and politician, she campaigned to improve the status of women, advocating for issues including the pay gap with men, nonexistent maternity benefits, job insecurity, more participation of men in the rearing of children, increased maintenance and for a resolution of issues associated with children born out of wedlock, including improved custody and the administration of justice for children and young persons, and for changes in legislation around sexual offences, domestic violence and matrimonial matters.

One can see the synergy between the issues for which she advocated as a trade unionist and the legislation she sponsored as a cabinet minister. That is putting your money where your mouth is She received her appointment as Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2019, at an investiture at Buckingham 5 Palace. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, officiated at the ceremony.

As noted, Dame Janet is married to former Parliamentarian, Senate President and Leader of the Opposition John Henry Bostwick, and the couple has four children Margo, Kelley, Lisa and John II. She also has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren Of note, she was also head girl of THE Government High School Dame Janet was born into a strong and very smart family that are fiercely loyal to each other. These attributes are clearly seen in her immediate family who she loves dearly. This nationalist and human rights exemplar has at critical times in my and my family’s life provided crucial advice, guidance and practical help for which we are eternally grateful. We love and appreciate this God-fearing Giant who continues to serve with excellence, distinction and humility.

The Free National Movement is stronger for the contribution of Dame Janet Bostwick. We have leaned on her wisdom, strength and political acumen for four decades, and she has never let us down. We celebrate her unstintingly, and we hold her up as an example to us all.

Dame Janet has shown us what it means to fight for what you believe, and that once you are in a position of power or influence, you have a duty to match your actions with your rhetoric.

She has shown us that it is possible to be a person of utmost conviction, and live up to those convictions even in the midst of political upheaval. They say politics is a dirty game. Well, Dame Janet has shown us that it need not be, and that it is possible to be an extremely effective politician while at the same time maintaining one’s dignity, integrity and honour.

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of her election to this Honorable place, it is our prayer that each of us who are blessed to be here take heed of her example, and that we elevate our minds and actions to give the best service we can to the people we serve. Just like Dame Janet. This is certainly our commitment in the Free National Movement.