Bahamas Reports ‘Steady Progress’ in Improving Situation of Women in Appearance before Anti-Discrimination Committee

20 July 2012
WOM/1920

Bahamas Reports ‘Steady Progress’ in Improving Situation of Women in Appearance before Anti-Discrimination Committee

20 July 2012
General Assembly
WOM/1920
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

1057th & 1058th Meetings (AM & PM)

Bahamas Reports ‘Steady Progress’ in Improving Situation of Women

in Appearance before Anti-Discrimination Committee

 

Expert Members Express Concern about Absence of Special Temporary Measures

Despite high unemployment, rising crime and socio-economic woes arising from the global financial crisis and natural disasters, the Bahamas had steadily improved the lot of its women through a range of legal reforms, awareness-raising campaigns and action plans, members of the country’s delegation told the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today.

“We have surpassed the goal in terms of universal primary education, and have made considerable progress in the area of gender equality,” said Melanie Griffin, Minister for Social Services, who led the 11-member delegation, as she presented her country’s combined first through fourth and fifth periodic reports to the Committee, which monitors the compliance of States parties with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

She said several laws had taken effect since 2007, providing better legal recourse to victims of domestic violence, sexual and child abuse, and trafficking, as well as stiffer penalties for offenders.  The Government had partnered with United Nations and civil society actors to raise awareness about a range of women’s concerns, from the social security benefits available for single mothers, to the achievements of the women’s suffrage movement, to antiretroviral treatment for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

An action plan to stamp out domestic violence was being drafted and a national gender policy would be presented to the Cabinet in three months, she continued.  In 2011, the Bahamas had withdrawn its reservation to article 16 (1) (h) of the Convention, on marriage and family law, which called for equal property rights for both spouses.  It planned soon to elevate the Bureau of Women’s Affairs to a Department, and to expand its budget and staff, measures that would bolster the reach of the national machinery for implementing the Convention.  Ms. Griffin also pointed to initiatives to erase gender stereotypes from grade school curricula, to increase the number of women entering engineering and technology careers, and to add weight to gender concerns in Parliament.

While acknowledging those gains, the Committee’s 23 experts expressed concern over discriminatory measures that still existed in the Constitution, the shelving of a marital rape bill and inconsistencies in the country report regarding the role of women as breadwinners, as well as shortcomings in data on education and abortion, among other things.  They voiced particular concern over the absence of temporary special measures, dismissing as unrealistic the delegation’s assertion that such measures were not needed because there were “no real barriers to what women can do”.

In response, the delegates stressed that the Constitution could not be changed without a referendum, and that the Constitutional Review Commission established in 2006 was expected soon to be able to canvass the population about eliminating discriminatory measures from the Constitution.  While the marital rape bill had been withdrawn due to its unpopularity among the general populace, the Government was aware of the need to revisit that issue.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 27 July, to conclude its fifty-second session and adopt its report.

Background

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to take up the combined initial to fourth periodic reports and the fifth periodic report of the Bahamas (documents CEDAW/C/BHS/4 and CEDAW/C/BHS/5).

Led by Melanie Griffin, Minister for Social Services, the Bahamas delegation also included Paulette Bethel, Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Barbara Burrows, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Services; Allison P. Booker, Counsellor, Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Sasha Dixon, Foreign Service Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Christine Campbell, First Assistant Secretary and Officer-in-Charge, Bureau of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Social Services; and Jewel Major, Chief Counsel, Office of the Attorney General.  Other members of the delegation were Sharmaine Sinclair, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Ministry of Education; Patricia Francis, First Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Health; Gwen Knowles, Chairperson, Bahamas National Women’s Advisory Council; and Ian Bethel-Bennett, Associate Professor, College of the Bahamas.

Introduction of Reports

Ms. GRIFFIN, introducing her country’s reports, said the Bahamas Government’s commitment to the Convention had been reaffirmed in February 2011, when the Bahamas had withdrawn its reservation to article 16 (1) (h).  Despite many socio-economic challenges due to the global financial crisis and the natural disasters, the Bahamas was on target to meet many of the Millennium Development Goals.  “We have surpassed the goal in terms of universal primary education and have made considerable progress in the area of gender equality”, she said, adding that, “notwithstanding pressing concerns such as high unemployment and an increasing crime rate, my Government is committed to maintaining the momentum required for the achievement of gender equality”.

She said she planned to elevate the Bureau of Women’s Affairs to a Department, headed by a Director and with significantly greater human and budgetary resources.  That would have a significant impact on the scope and reach of the national machinery for implementing the Convention.  Thanks to assistance from the regional office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other stakeholders, the Government was poised to submit its draft national gender policy to the Cabinet in two to three months.  In March 2006, the Constitutional Commission had presented a preliminary report and provisional recommendations to bring national policies into line with the Convention, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and other global instruments, she recalled, noting that the matter would be revisited during the current Administration’s term.

The 2007 Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act, which came into force in 2008, gave victims of domestic violence recourse to safety and protective measures, she said.  Comparative statistics on protection orders should be available by 2013.  Under the 2008 Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, which substantially increased punitive measures for such offences, rape was punishable by life imprisonment and voyeurism, sexual harassment and pornography were criminalized.  The 2009 Child Protection Act provided for the care and protection of the rights of children, as well as facilities, housing and all legal proceedings involving children.

To combat trafficking, she said, the Government continued to apply the 2008 Trafficking in Persons (Prevention and Suppression) Act, while developing a national action plan and protocol to help officials identify and manage cases.  People with disabilities had equal access to health, educational and basic social services, and draft legislation to improve their lives further would be submitted to the Cabinet in the next six months.  The Government was preparing for its accession to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Bahamas was committed to ending gender-based violence by educating young women and girls through a multi-pronged approach that would ensure that no form of violence was acceptable, she said, adding that a five-year national strategic plan on domestic violence was being drafted.  In 2011, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs had partnered with the local chapter of the Caribbean Male Action Network to host a two-day workshop aimed at creating a network of male advocates to help prevent violence against women in their local communities.  Last month, the Government had agreed to participate in a one-year UN-Women project on “ Strengthening State accountability and community action for ending gender-based violence in the Caribbean”.

She said the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and other Government actors were conducting a wide array of campaigns to enhance education and awareness about gender issues.  The Bureau was capitalizing on the symbolic importance of this year’s fiftieth anniversary of the enfranchisement of women in the Bahamas by highlighting the achievements of the women’s suffrage movement and the progress made in gender equality since then.  In April, the Government, in conjunction with UN-Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), had held an HIV workshop which had helped inform a new course on the Domestic Violence Act for newly promoted sergeants in the national police force.  The National Insurance Board had launched public service campaigns to educate vulnerable groups, particularly single mothers, about their social benefits.

To address gender stereotypes in education, the relevant Ministry had updated its health and family life education curriculum in primary schools and was doing the same for the secondary school curriculum, she said.  There was also an increased focus on encouraging women to pursue educational opportunities and careers in science and technology.  In an attempt to combat occupational segregation, the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute had significantly increased its outreach programmes, which had resulted in more women entering careers in agriculture, construction engineering, electronics, and automotive and electrical engineering and technology.

The Ministry of Health, through the National AIDS Programme, had implemented a series of aggressive public-awareness campaigns to educate people about HIV and prevent its spread, she said.  In 2010, the Ministry of Health had implemented, through a cooperative agreement with the United States, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which bolstered national programmes to address the epidemic and improve the national health system’s capacity to provide quality health services.  Thanks to better access to antiretroviral treatment for pregnant HIV-infected women, mother-to-child transmission had declined dramatically, she noted.  No child had been born with the AIDS-causing virus since 2010, making the Bahamas a “best practice” model in the region, she said, adding that several programmes to promote healthy lifestyles had been implemented to combat the “feminization of diabetes”.

Women had represented 16.5 per cent of all candidates in the 2012 general elections, while 118,574 more women than men had registered to vote, she said.  The Bahamas had achieved modest progress in respect of women’s participation in decision-making, although it had yet to reach the target of 30 per cent set out in the Beijing Platform for Action.  Women had been elected to five seats in the House of Assembly and five in the Senate, in addition to four appointed to the Cabinet.  Last month, the Bahamas Crisis Centre had held a closed meeting with female parliamentarians to discuss experiences and exchange views on concerns relating to women’s advancement, she recalled.  While women represented almost 70 per cent of all permanent secretaries and heads of ministries, as well as 45 per cent of High Court justices, there still remained a notable gap in their representation in the private sector, particularly in international finance and off-shore banking.

Turning to rural women’s access to health care, she said there were approximately 43 health centres and clinics and 35 satellite clinics on the remote “family islands” dotting the Bahamas archipelago.  The Government was exploring the use of information and communications technology to facilitate improved access to medical, educational and vocational services on those islands.  The Bureau of Women’s Affairs had received invaluable inputs from rural women for the draft national gender policy.  Concerning migrant women, she said all people residing in the country had free access to health care, as well as primary and secondary education, and they all enjoyed religious freedom, regardless of their nationality or immigration status.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, Committee Rapporteur and expert from Kenya, kicked off the questions by asking about the Bahamas’ reservations to some of the Convention’s articles that lay at its core.  The Committee had called upon States parties to withdraw their reservations, she noted.  Furthermore, the Bahamas had acknowledged that its Constitution’s definition of discrimination omitted the word “sex”.  It was unsatisfactory that the Bahamas was not considering “an explicit definition and prohibition of both direct and indirect discrimination against women in relevant legislation”, she stressed, asking what steps were envisaged to bring the definition of discrimination into line with the Convention.

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, noting that the reports were long overdue, said the Committee wished to understand the obstacles to the withdrawal of reservations to Article 2(a), which was central to the Convention’s object and purpose.

Delegation’s Response

Emphasizing that the Constitution could not be changed without a referendum, the head of the delegation said that, after the failure of such a referendum in 2002, the Government had put a constitutional review commission in place that same week.  It expected to be able soon to canvass the people about eliminating the discriminatory measures from the Constitution and subsequently to withdraw the reservations.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. AWORI, Rapporteur and expert from Kenya, sought information about the proposed amendment to the Sexual Offences Act that would criminalize marital rape, and asked when it would become law.

PATRICIA SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked whether the planned referendum revised or extended the definition of groups to be protected against discrimination.

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act had been widened, expanding the definition of abuse to include categories such as sexual and financial abuse, and to cover areas such as stalking.  A marital rape bill had been tabled but later withdrawn because the general populace was not prepared to accept it, she said, adding that the Government was keenly aware of the need to revisit that dialogue.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, noted that the Bureau of Women’s Affairs had only a limited staff of four and limited resources, and asked about plans and timelines for upgrading it to a Department.

Delegation’s Response

Another member of the delegation noted that the Women’s Bureau had started out as a desk many years ago and was now evolving into a Department.  Its budget had increased over the years and the proposed new Department was expected to have a director and additional staff.  The Bureau was a “perfect fit” under the Ministry of Social Services, which had an office on all the family islands, enabling the Bureau to work in those areas, which were rural in nature.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ZOU, expert from China asked whether the definition of discrimination against women, including both direct and indirect discrimination, was incorporated in Bahamas’ gender policy.

BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, asked about the relationships between the National Women’s Advisory Council, the Ministry and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, saying that raised questions about the decision-making powers of the Bureau’s staff.  “Where does the real decision-making reside?” she asked.

Delegation’s Response

A delegation member said that once the Bureau was upgraded, it would have more staff, “as many as it takes to get the job done”.  It would have “a longer arm” by taking advantage of the reach of the Ministry of Social Services.

Another member of the delegation said the definition of discrimination against women, including direct and indirect discrimination, was covered in the gender policy.

Regarding the Women’s Bureau, another delegation member said it interacted with all women’s organizations, while the Women’s Advisory Council made recommendations to the Minister.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, acknowledged the special steps outlined in the country report, but said they applied only to general policies and did not fit the definition of temporary special measures.  Had the Bureau of Women’s Affairs carried out awareness-raising activities, training and discussions with relevant actors to increase understanding of the measures? she asked.  Was there any legal basis for applying them, including in the draft national gender policy?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GRIFFIN said there had been no barrier to women’s advancement in the Bahamas, and as such, there had been no real need to implement any extensive special measures, outside those pertaining to maternal health-care issues.

Another delegation member said public meetings had been held to generate awareness of the Convention.  Women truly felt they could do whatever they wanted, having seen some of their number excel and rise to Deputy Prime Minister, head of the Court of Legal Appeal and other senior positions.  Those wishing to run for political office were free to do so, she said, adding that a policy framework to be presented in the next six to eight weeks would include details on how to promote and advance women.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, disputed the delegation’s claim that there were no barriers to women’s advancement, citing statements to that effect from the country report and insisting that temporary special measures were needed to combat persisting barriers, particularly considering the slow pace of women’s advancement.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GRIFFIN reiterated:  “There is no barrier to what women can do because certainly there has been no obstacle.”  However, she pledged to review the measures and see how they could be used.

Another member of the delegation said the Government had difficulty in understanding such measures because laws and regulations were in place to remedy gender imbalance.

Experts Questions and Comments

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said measures other than quotas could be used, reminding the delegation that, as a State party to the Convention, it was required to adopt such measures.

OLINDA BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, concurred, saying that economic and political measures could and should be taken when goodwill was not enough.  She called for a dialogue with the Bahamas every four years on that issue.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GRIFFIN said the principle of equal pay for equal work was incorporated into domestic legislation.  She also welcomed the suggestion of a dialogue with the Committee on special temporary measures.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert from Turkey, asked about the consistent references in the reports to the role of men as breadwinners and that of women as caretakers.  Noting that 38 per cent of Bahamian households were female-headed, she said stereotypical roles were assumed as a given despite evidence to the contrary.  “In global experience, there is a direct, causal relationship between cultural stereotypes and violence against women”, she stated, pointing out that women politicians had not supported the marital rape bill.  What specific measures were being taken to challenge stereotypes?  She also requested more information on the role of churches and religious groups, as well as on their counselling and family-life programmes.

NICOLE AMELINE, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, said there was a “worsening, or at least stagnation” in the security of Bahamian women.  Stressing the importance of coordinating State services on the ground, she said policemen, justice officials and civil servants must work together to combat urgent situations.  What was the effect of domestic violence on children? She asked.  Were police trained to enable women to trust them?

Delegation’s Response

A delegation member said that a large number of the female population were not just caregivers, but also breadwinners and often sole breadwinners, acknowledging that inconsistency in the report.  The marital rape bill had never been discussed in Parliament, and female parliamentarians had, therefore, not had a chance to support it, she said, adding that it was the general populace that had protested against the bill.

Another member of the delegation said marriage and family life was very valuable, and when people started talking about the marital rape bill, they objected to the idea of rape in marriage.  But if a husband sexually abused his wife, she could apply for a domestic violence protection order and a judge could grant her protection within 24 hours.  The order could also be applied if a child was abused in the home, and there were homes in which such children could be placed.

Yet another delegation member said the school curriculum included programmes dealing with family life and health education.  A non-governmental organization visited schools to talk about peaceful coexistence with students, and faith-based entities were also involved in programmes to combat negative stereotyping.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. AMELINE, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, requested more information about the precarious status of Haitian women in the Bahamas.

Ms. ACAR, expert from Turkey, sought to know what happened if a woman withdrew a complaint under pressure or because of general cultural expectations.  That was a critical issue in many countries with a strong cultural emphasis on the family at the expense of the individual, she noted, asking whether there would still be an ex officio prosecution in such a case.

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said the Government provided training to police and other law-enforcement officials, adding that she had been delighted at a recent community meeting to hear a police officer indicate his new understanding of the law.  Very often after an arrest was made, the woman withdrew her complaint, which was frustrating for the police.  Under the new law, the case became a case of the Commissioner of Police, and if the victim wished to withdraw it, she had to explain why in court.

Another delegation member added that the Department of Social Services attended such court hearings and could also make a representation to the magistrate before the complaint could be withdrawn.

On the subject of Haitian women, another member of the delegation said the migrant population had access to health care, education and basic social services.  However, the situation of undocumented migrants was very precarious, especially if there was a domestic violence issue.  But if an undocumented woman went to hospital as a result of domestic violence, the crime would be reported.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert from Egypt, asked how the Government would coordinate the work of the ministerial committee and the task force to combat trafficking.  What was the time frame for implementing the national action plan?  She also asked what steps were under way to protect Haitian and other women from trafficking, and how prosecutors addressed that.  Were there special shelters for trafficking victims?  What was the root cause behind the sexual exploitation of children?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GRIFFIN said the Government had taken a proactive approach to trafficking.  While it had not prosecuted any cases, it viewed the offence with great concern and had implemented measures to combat it.  However, the definition of trafficking presented by the international community did not include things foreseen in the Bahamas, she added.

Another delegation member said all members of the ministerial committee and the task force were trained to uphold the same standards and comply with the same regulations.  Having ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in 2008, the Bahamas’ national legislation for suppressing trafficking was very broad and provided comprehensive protection for child victims.  Public awareness campaigns had been undertaken to educate victims about their rights, she said, adding that, with support from the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, the Bahamas had participated in raising public awareness about trafficking in persons.

Yet another member of the delegation said that under the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Act, national security forces were required to place victims in the protection programme, exonerate them from charges of prostitution and provide compensation for their suffering.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

ISMAT JAHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked about plans for more comprehensive legislation to address prostitution resulting from the trafficking of persons over the age of 18.  Was the legal sanction for raping a prostitute different from that for raping someone who was not?

SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, asked about steps to combat sex tourism and educate people about it.

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GRIFFIN said the penalty for all cases of rape, which was governed by the Sexual Offences Act, was seven years to life in prison.

Another delegation member described training exercises and workshops to combat trafficking, recalling that 15 such seminars had been held across the region in 2004.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, asked whether the current administration would consider launching awareness campaigns to promote women’s participation in political office.  Would it set up groups within Parliament and work with non-governmental organizations, the media and academics to that end?

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation, responding to earlier questions, said that women’s branches of political parties actively sought to encourage female participation in politics, noting that the Government had collaborated with non-governmental organizations such as the Crisis Centre in organizing a meeting with female election candidates.

She recalled that a September 2011 special issue of Newsweek magazine had ranked the Bahamas 39 out of the 165 best countries in which to be a woman.  On the subject of round-table discussions and awareness-raising, she said a well-known daily had published a special section on women’s issues last Tuesday.  A new radio programme also focused on women’s issues, and the Bureau of Women’s Affairs was a collaborator in a video documentary on the women’s suffrage movement.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, requested additional details on the action plan to combat trafficking in women.

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said the Bureau of Women’s Affairs partnered with the Caribbean Male Action Network, whose main objective was to work with women’s organizations to generate greater awareness of violence against women.  Of the 24 family island administrators, eight were women working to end such violence.

Another delegation member said the draft plan of action on the Palermo Protocol was in its infancy.  Regarding the 2008 Trafficking in Persons (Prevention and Suppression) Law, she said the task force working for its implementation comprised a cross-section of Government.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked the delegation to elaborate on the work of the Constitutional Commission and preparing public opinion for the new referendum on whether to remove discriminatory provisions against women from the Constitution.  Did the Government plan to submit the issue of creating complete equality between the sexes and the problem relating to article 26, or would it also include other issues presented in the Constitutional Commission’s 2006 report?  Could citizens vote to pass one part of the referendum and not others?

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said the new Government had reappointed the Constitutional Review Commission to move forward quickly with the new referendum, but she could not determine whether the Government would go with all the Committee’s recommendations or just specific issues.

Experts Questions and Comments

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked the Government to allow women to transfer their nationality to their foreign spouses in the same way as Bahamian men.  What changes had been made to the Constitution to permit that?

Delegation’s Response

A delegation member said there was no mitigating domestic legislation that would allow a Bahamian woman to pass her nationality to a foreign spouse.

Experts Questions and Comments

Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, asked the delegation to elaborate on the cultural barriers affecting women’s advancement in education.  Why was girls’ school attendance so low and their dropout rate so high?  Why were most teachers and decision-makers men?

Delegation’s Response

Ms. GRIFFIN pointed out that most teachers and 72 per cent of school administrators were in fact women.  There were no barriers to women studying and education opportunities were made available to all.  The national dropout rate was not high, she said, adding that attendance officers were stationed in schools and at the Ministry of Education headquarters to see why students were not attending classes.  Every major island had a school for migrant students, she said.

Another delegation member also said that most teachers in the Bahamas were female, noting that incentives were in fact offered to attract men to the teaching profession.

Experts Questions and Comments

Ms. BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, said the charts in the country report only provided figures on female educators and not their male counterparts, making a comparison difficult.

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation noted the inconsistencies in the report and stressed the need to present fuller data in future.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, asked about measures to address occupational segregation and the wage gap between men and women.  She also sought to know about specialized mechanisms and bodies dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace.  Further, she asked about limitations on maternity leave, such as the condition that an employee must have been working for one year before becoming eligible.

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said the Ministry of Education was piloting a “career academy” dedicated solely to technical and vocational education.  There was no barrier to females entering the academy, and incentives such as scholarships were being provided to encourage women to step into non-traditional areas.

The wage gap was more of a problem in the private sector rather than the public sector, another delegation member said.  Equal pay for equal work was fully realized and the national airline had recently promoted three women pilots to captain.

On sexual harassment, a third delegation member said there had been a huge campaign to educate the public during discussion of the sexual offences bill.  The police force had a special unit to tackle sexual harassment, she said, adding that it was staffed by five women, one of whom was a psychologist, to investigate those offences.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, asked about the condition of domestic workers, and whether the Bahamas intended to ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention relating to domestic workers.

Ms. ZOU, expert from China, repeated her question about maternity leave.

Ms. BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, pointed out that ILO had been calling for an amendment to the equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation in the Bahamas.

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said a woman could take as many maternity leaves as she wished as long as they were unpaid.

Another delegation member said the Bahamas had a very progressive compendium of laws that offered the same protection to domestic workers as to all others.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked how the Bahamas would integrate climate change and disaster preparedness with a gender perspective.

ZOHRA RASEKH, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, requested information on why there were no laws guaranteeing equal access to health care.  Acknowledging that the Bahamas had had much success in reducing HIV/AIDS, she pointed out that there was a high rate of infection among women, and that was related to rape.  Did the Bahamas prosecute men who intentionally transmitted AIDS?

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said there was a national disaster plan for all the islands every year, which mobilized the social services offices, non-governmental organizations and churches.

Another delegation member said abortions were illegal, but a number of programmes had been established to reduce teenage pregnancies.  The self-development programme “Focus on Youth” provided life skills, as well as contraception advice, she added.

Yet another member of the delegation said the national AIDS programme held “testing parties”, as well as “Know your status” campaigns, that were well received.  The AIDS programme provided free medication, free testing and free counselling.  The “Focus on Youth” programme was an experiential programme that also focused on AIDS and pregnancies, she said, adding that there was no punishment for men who intentionally transmitted AIDS.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, asked how the social security scheme operated in the informal sector, and what social nets existed for elderly women who had never worked?

Delegation’s Response

A delegation member said most social security programmes were based on contributions, and there were a number of public education programmes to encourage self-employed persons to contribute to the national insurance programme.  The National Insurance Board provided a non-contributory pension, and the Government, through the Ministry of Social Services, had a range of programmes that helped those who had difficulty in meeting basic necessities, most of whom were women.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, asked how rural women participated in development, in what phases and on what issues.  Since there were no crisis centres in the rural areas, what was the first resort for women confronting violence in those areas?

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation replied that rural women and girls participated in development through elected local authorities, adding that industrial unions were also active.

Another delegation member added that all the islands had police stations and most of them had magistrate courts.  A circuit magistrate travelled to the smaller islands on a regular basis, she added.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. RASEKH, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Afghanistan, asked about a statement in the report about lack of access to health-care services on under-populated islands.  “Why is there no data on abortion?” she asked, emphasizing the crucial importance of data in combating maternal mortality.

Ms. AROCHA, expert from Cuba, said she was not convinced by the answer on the lack of abortion data.  Noting that many of today’s questions concerned inconsistencies in the report, she said that was something for the delegation to keep in mind when they returned to the Committee.

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation said there were 43 clinics throughout the family islands, and when there was a serious emergency, those affected were airlifted to hospital on the mainland.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. AWORI, Rapporteur and expert from Kenya, asked about the percentage of marriages that fell under the category of common-law unions.  What level of protection was offered to women in such marriages, particularly on the dissolution of such marriages?

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that, since jurisdiction was divided between the Supreme Court and local magistrates’ courts, there were problems and confusion, especially when it came to divorce disputes.  What was the legal situation with respect to the division of property at divorce?

Delegation’s Response

A member of the delegation pointed out that the Bahamas was a colonial nation, and many of its laws were being updated from the colonial days.  The new Government would be moving ahead with changes in short order, she assured the Committee, adding that a family court was on the agenda.

Another delegation member said the only time a common-law couple would appear in court would be if they had accumulated property and required help in dividing it.

In conclusion, the head of the delegation said the meeting with the Committee had been illuminating.  The lessons and best practices gleaned today would be applied in order to renew the Government’s commitment to the Convention.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.