Known for its sun, sea, and sand, The Bahamas has a dirty little secret. Sexism lives and thrives in this chain of islands, supported by the constitution and laws of the land.
In the last quarter of 2013, I decided to start a local branch of Hollaback! – a global movement and non-profit organization based in New York City (and operating in over 90 cities) to end street harassment. I have been experiencing sexual harassment in public spaces in varying forms and degrees since the age of eight. The first time it happened, I was with my mother, and the offender was at least 40 years old. I was embarrassed, frightened, and shocked. That’s the day I consciously started acting to avoid gender-based violence.
Just before the official launch of Hollaback! Bahamas, a Member of Parliament made a non-joke in the House of Assembly about a former partner he physically abused. Not only were his remarks infuriating, but the reception he got was beyond disappointing. His colleagues, other Members of Parliament and the Speaker of the House remained silent, laughed, or dismissed his remarks as a joke. I could not imagine being his victim, twice; physical violated, then laughed at by dozens of people elected to represent the people of this country. Something had to be done.
The first action by Hollaback! Bahamas was a letter to the editors of local newspapers in response to the MP’s comments. We joined with four other organizations to form Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination. We submitted a reasonable proposal to the Government of The Bahamas requesting meetings with law enforcement, updates to the Family Life curriculum in schools, and support for Violence is Not Funny campaign. Our proposal, sent directly to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Social Services, was ignored. We then started an online petition, organized a peaceful protest, and held a public forum on gender-based violence. We faced great resistance in our efforts, but did not back down.
My current work is youth-focused, centered around the development of sustainable summer and after school programming. The objectives of the programs I develop are education, engagement and empowerment of our youth. Part of the curriculum is zeroing in on issues of gender with a particular focus on the gender equality referendum, which is about to be postponed for the fifth time in two years. Equality Bahamas has been working, over the past ten months, to educate the general public on issues of gender and, specifically, the four proposed constitutional amendment bills which address issues of conferring citizenship and discrimination on the basis of sex.
Issues of gender in The Bahamas are deeply rooted, and it will likely take an entire generation to make the cultural shift necessary for gender equality and the eradication of gender-based violence. As a young feminist, activist, writer, and public educator, my work continues, regardless of the whims of political actors or the social temperature. While change is inevitable, commitment and access to and use of resources determine timing. May our efforts combine, crossing socioeconomic, geographic, and generational boundaries, to end gender-based violence.
*Alicia Wallace is a women’s rights activist, public educator, and freelance writer living and working in Nassau, Bahamas. She is the Director of Hollaback! Bahamas and Co-founder of Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination. She is passionate about youth education, community engagement, and the empowerment of women and girls. Alicia writes Genderational, a column for The Bahamas Weekly, commenting on social and political issues in The Bahamas. She is currently working on the development of an after-school program for at-risk girls, teaching life skills and providing mentorship. She is slightly addicted to Twitter, tweeting as @_AliciaAudrey.