I'm in Cat Island.The place I'm staying is a small beach resort, friendly, home-like, rustic, on Fernandez Bay. For those who know Fernandez Bay you know what that means. Glorious beach. Beautiful nature. You know.Or, if you're Bahamian, perhaps you don't.Here's what I mean. I went for a walk this morning along the crescent-moon white-sand beach. The sun was coming up, just peeking above the horizon (which is on the other side of the island anyway). I started at our resort, the Island Hopp Inn, which is almost at the end of the bay. I walked towards the Fernandez Bay resort. On the way I passed small houses on the beach. They didn't look like locals' homes; they looked like holiday homes. And as I passed Fernandez Bay I met a dog who was walking the beach with his owner, an American who, yes, has a holiday home on this bay. We walked the rest of the beach together. She and I talked. She was a university professor like me who has retired early enough to enjoy her retirement and who is able, somehow, to be able with her husband to afford a holiday home in Cat Island (where she has been coming for years) as well as a permanent home in the US. Together we also passed several other people who were walking the beach as well. None of them was Bahamian. I did pass some Bahamians: four people who work at the resort. They were not walking the beach. They were working.My next observation is a commonplace one. What I observed on Fernandez Bay is the way our country is. Foreigners relax in our country; Bahamians work. But that's not entirely true. The owners of the resorts on this bay are not Bahamian, but they work. The difference is that they are owners of their businesses. They employ Bahamians to work in their businesses. So here, on the beach in my own land, I was the only Bahamian walking the beach (I was working too, mind you). The people who owned the land adjacent to the beach were not Bahamians. The non-Bahamians on this bay form a perimeter of foreign-owned properties which consume the beauty and the peace and quiet. Bahamians do not.There was a story in the New York Times, I was told (by my research partner), which said that Cat Island is one of the 10 best places in the world to live. Part of me agrees, strongly. Part of me would want to say that the Bahamas as a whole qualifies as one of the 10 best places to live, but as a Bahamian who lives in Nassau I can't say that and be honest about it. As a Bahamian who lives in Nassau and has travelled throughout many of our islands I can't say it either; because in too many of those islands it's not Bahamians who get to live in the best places on those islands at all. (I've since looked for the article and I can't find it—perhaps it's apocryphal.)But one has to wonder. If Cat Island is really one of the best places to live, why does it have such a small population? Why do young Cat Islanders leave the island and don't come back? What is it that makes the island good for non-Bahamians and not so good for Bahamians?I know many Cat Islanders in Nassau who say that if they could, they would go home. Why, though, is there an "if" involved? What's missing? What would they need to make them return home? These questions are at the heart of my part of this project. For me, the critical question is what is it that makes Bahamians leave the islands and settlements of their birth and move to Nassau.The answer—and many of you reading probably think the question is wholly elementary—lies in the availability of economic opportunity in home communities. The ability to make a living in one's community, preferably doing what you would wish to do, what you have trained to do, is at the crux of the matter. For some, too, it is the ability to get an education—the ability to finish high school or college in one's home community; for others, it is the absence of professions and careers that allow them to live outside Nassau (or even in Nassau or The Bahamas as a whole, but that's a different question). What is it that makes it possible, desirable, even, for North Americans, Europeans and Britons to own second or third homes in places like Cat Island, but that prohibits Bahamians from doing the self-same thing?
[embed]https://www.youtube.com/embed/HgDTvj3W87M[/embed]Nuff said.Let THIS inspire you, Bahamas.
There's a new page on this blog, for those of you who didn't notice.It's a page that links to another page that shares podcasts from a new-ish venture of the School of Social Sciences of the College of The Bahamas.Diners' Debates is a monthly series of lectures, held by courtesy of the owners at MOJO's restaurant, West Bay Street, Nassau, every third Thursday of the month. We discuss current affairs and issues that concern the general public, but we try to do so with more than simply opinion at our disposal. We try to offer up philosophy and fact to provide context and spark discussion, inspire critical thinking and mining for solutions.The thing that keeps democracies honest and keeps them healthy (ours currently is neither, I'm afraid) is a strong, active civil society. But civil society cannot work for change if it is uninformed. Diners' Debates seeks to inspire conversations that build democracy.Nuff said. If you've been missing the debates till now, you can listen to them -- we live broadcast them and then archive the broadcasts as podcasts you can listen to at your leisure. No promises about the quality of the recordings, though -- it's a bustling locale and sometimes the discussion is lively (by which I mean incoherent).Check them out, here.
First published on Global Voices' The Bridge 10 October 2014The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is amending its 41-year-old constitution. I’m using the present continuous tense, because the amendment is a process, one that began some twelve years ago in 2002. Back then, a constitutional referendum was held and failed—the proposed amendments to the Constitution were rejected by the general public. But the need for amendment has persisted, and ever since 2012 a constitutional referendum has been imminent.The main issue at hand is the question of equality between the sexes under the constitution. The most striking instance of inequality in our constitution is that between men and women in relation to their ability to pass on Bahamian citizenship, but, as the most recent Constitutional Commission has noted, the inequalities in the current constitution are manifold. This Commission has narrowed them down to the following categories: inequality between men and women, between children and between married and single people. To this we can add inequality based on place of birth.The last item on that list notwithstanding, the Constitutional Commission has drafted four bills which, if passed by the two Houses of Parliament and agreed to by the general public, will make Bahamian citizens more equal than non-Bahamians by seeking to address the first three inequalities.Put simply, the main inequalities are as follows:
- Married Bahamian men and unmarried Bahamian women automatically pass their citizenship on to their children at birth.
- Bahamian women cannot pass their citizenship on to their overseas-born children at birth, if they are married to a non-Bahamian.
- Single fathers may not pass their citizenship on to their children, as the constitution defines children born out of wedlock as not having a father.
- The non-Bahamian wives of Bahamian men are afforded the right to be granted citizenship upon application.
- The non-Bahamian husbands of Bahamian women are afforded no such right.
The issue, however, is complicated by several other requirements that make the passing on of citizenship from parent to child less straightforward. Primary among these is a clause which addresses the institution of marriage. Under this clause, unmarried Bahamian mothers are defined as “fathers” for the purpose of passing on their national status to their babies. This particular clause also nullifies single Bahamian fathers’ ability to pass on their citizenship.The four bills* drafted to amend the constitution seek to rectify the situation. They are designed to promote equality for children, among men and women, and to enshrine the principle of equality throughout the constitution. The first of these seeks to award the children of both Bahamian men and women citizenship at birth. The second entitles all non-Bahamian spouses of Bahamian citizens to Bahamian citizenship. The third allows single Bahamian fathers to pass their citizenship on to their offspring. And the fourth bill seeks to enshrine the principle of equality between the sexes in the constitution by adding the word “sex” to the list of categories under which discrimination is prohibited.On the surface, this seems a simple enough task. It is complicated, however, by a public discussion which has focused mainly on the fourth amendment—the one which is, in its own way, the simplest of the proposed changes: the adding of “sex” to the categories prohibiting discrimination.The current categories include race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, and creed, but currently exclude sex. The opponents of this amendment have construed the word “sex” as relating to sexual orientation, and have gained much traction in the eyes of the public by claiming the constitutional amendments are designed to permit same-sex marriage. If this Article is amended, their story goes, Bahamians will be giving the government permission to allow same-sex marriages to take place. These arguments obscure the principle of equality between the sexes and make this clause appear the most controversial—which also makes it the most threatened as the time for the referendum draws near.And there are other questions of inequality that have not been addressed. Most notable among them is the question of birthplace and its effect on the awarding of citizenship to Bahamian children. There are two elements at work here. The first is the fact that birth on Bahamian territory is no avenue to citizenship if neither of one’s parents is Bahamian. The most that a person born in the Bahamas is entitled to is the right to be registered as a citizen upon making application at the age of 18.The second, more difficult challenge, is the kind of citizenship one is granted if one is born abroad to Bahamian parents. One peculiarity of the current constitution which has not been put forward for amendment, is that children born to Bahamians abroad, even if they are classified as citizens, have no automatic right to pass their citizenship on to their own offspring. In other words, children born to Bahamians studying or working abroad, or giving birth in another country for reasons of health, may be classified as Bahamian citizens. However, if they themselves have children outside of The Bahamas, those children are not Bahamians at birth, and have no right to claim Bahamian citizenship whatsoever.The issue is complicated, and most Bahamians are not aware of this stipulation. Most of the discussion relating to citizenship and our constitution has focused on the next generation—on our children. We have not yet thought about our grandchildren. What the current situation does ensure, though, is that not one of us, whatever the outcome of the referendum and whatever amendments are made to the constitution, can be confident that our grandchildren will be Bahamians at birth.Let me bring this home. In my family, I have cousins who were born abroad because their Bahamian father was studying in the UK at the time of their birth. They are Bahamian. Their children, though, unless they are born in The Bahamas, are not.Similarly, I have a nephew who, once again, was born in Canada when his Bahamian father was studying. He is a Bahamian, but his children, unless they are born in The Bahamas, will not be.Finally, I have another young cousin who was born in Miami while his parents were there getting medical treatment for their older son. That cousin, even though both his parents are citizens, will not be able to pass on his citizenship unless his children are born in The Bahamas.And none of these issues even begins to address the question of statehood for the many children of undocumented immigrants (most of them of Haitian origin) in The Bahamas. Most of those children currently have no national status at all. It is a situation which must be addressed, but which has not been touched upon in the present referendum.So critical is this question of citizenship that a 2013 Report on the constitution recommended appointing a second commission altogether to focus exclusively on the issue of statelessness in The Bahamas, as the commissioners did not feel they could give it the necessary attention. No such move has yet been made.The constitutional amendments are long overdue. They will go some way to equalizing the granting of Bahamian citizenship to children, and to even out the distinction between male and female, married and unmarried, that currently exists. But they are only a beginning. Serious issues of inequality remain, and the climate in which the discussions regarding the referendum is taking place has grown fraught with misdirection. The popular interpretation that the addition of “sex” to the categories where discrimination is prohibited is an endorsement of same-sex marriage plays into a deep-seated homophobia in Bahamian society. But it’s also worrying for another reason: it is entirely possible that this relates to homophobia only tangentially, and is in fact a strategic move to campaign for constitutionally-sanctioned misogyny without openly admitting that fact.---*At the time this article was written (last week), the four constitutional bills were readily available online. However, a search of the Bahamas Government Draft Laws Online website indicates that this is the case no longer. The links remain, but they lead nowhere. I trust that this will soon be rectified. [Back]
My first guest piece on Global Voices' blog, The Bridge. I'll reprint the whole thing here after the weekend. But for now check it out in situ:
The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is amending its 41-year-old constitution. I’m using the present continuous tense, because the amendment is a process, one that began some twelve years ago in 2002. Back then, a constitutional referendum was held and failed—the proposed amendments to the Constitution were rejected by the general public. But the need for amendment has persisted, and ever since 2012 a constitutional referendum has been imminent.The main issue at hand is the question of equality between the sexes under the constitution. The most striking instance of inequality in our constitution is that between men and women in relation to their ability to pass on Bahamian citizenship, but, as the most recent Constitutional Commission has noted, the inequalities in the current constitution are manifold. This Commission has narrowed them down to the following categories: inequality between men and women, between children and between married and single people. To this we can add inequality based on place of birth.The last item on that list notwithstanding, the Constitutional Commission has drafted four bills which, if passed by the two Houses of Parliament and agreed to by the general public, will make Bahamian citizens more equal than non-Bahamians by seeking to address the first three inequalities.via Bahamas Constitutional Reform To Address Citizenship, Gender Equality · Global Voices.