UN bodies: thumbs up to Bahamas’ gender equality referendum

Several United Nations (UN) agencies are giving thumbs up to tomorrow’s controversial referendum on gender equality in the Bahamas.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNICEF, UN Women, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a joint statement in which they commended the government for the steps it is taking to allow the Bahamian people to vote on four amendments to the Constitution that promote gender equality in citizenship matters.

The first would allow children born abroad to obtain Bahamian citizenship from either their Bahamian father or mother, in circumstances where the other parent is not Bahamian. Amendment two would enable a Bahamian woman who marries a non-Bahamian man to secure for him the same ability to apply for Bahamian citizenship currently afforded to a Bahamian man married to a non-Bahamian woman.

The change outlined in amendment three would mean that an unmarried Bahamian man could pass on his Bahamian citizenship to a child fathered with a non- Bahamian woman, if he is able to provide DNA evidence that he is the father; while the fourth amendment would update Article 26 of the Constitution, so that it would become unconstitutional for Parliament to pass any laws that discriminate based on sex.

The UN bodies said that, if passed, the amendments will ensure that Bahamian mothers and fathers have equal rights to transmit nationality to their children, and that Bahamian women are able to confer their nationality to their non-Bahamian spouses on the same basis as Bahamian men. The changes would also enshrine the principle of equal rights among women and men in the Constitution.

“The proposed amendments to the Constitution are also welcomed in light of human rights standards set out in international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man,” the joint statement said.

“Furthermore, the amendments would enable the Bahamas to meet its commitments in relation to citizenship matters under the Brazil Declaration and Plan of Action for Refugees, Displaced and Stateless Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean, adopted in 2014. By voting for the four bills, the Bahamas will serve as a positive example to the international community, and its actions will help to encourage reform in countries worldwide which have yet to afford their citizens equal nationality rights.”

Bermudans will be asked, in the referendum: “Are you in favour of same-sex marriage in Bermuda?” and “Are you in favour of same-sex civil unions in Bermuda?”

The referendum has sparked controversy in the Bahamas, with some religious groups expressing concern that it will open to door to same-sex unions, and the Centre for Justice saying the questions proposed by the Government will breach a variety of fundamental rights related to due process – including equality of treatment, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, and freedom of association guaranteed by the Bermuda Constitution – and will also give rise to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and family status prohibited by the Human Rights Act 1981 and the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

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