•Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hubert Ingraham is a firebrand, similar to other political figures, including a famous eight, who left a once forward-thinking turned inward-looking party to pursue progressive dreams and liberal ideals he and similar dissidents concluded they could no longer advance through the Progressive Liberal Party.
Never limited to the struggle for racial equality, the broader struggle for social justice is a movement which has stirred the passions of generations of Bahamians, often taking root in but transcending partisan political affiliations.
This movement is not the property of a single political party or select individuals no matter one’s storied past: Both the PLP and the FNM were seeded by progressives committed to equality.
Following a 1970 split among political leaders in that movement, the FNM emerged, becoming the new home to some of the leading progressives who helped to usher in majority rule and pave the road to independence. Progressive departures continued through the succeeding decades with a young Hubert Ingraham joining the FNM in 1990.
Like most leaders, Mr. Ingraham is a man of complexity and apparent contradictions. But in his pursuit of a progressive social agenda he has been consistent and dogged, guided by clear principles and a Bahamian dream exemplified by his own rise from economic disadvantage to the heights of political power.
Like our other post-independence Prime Ministers, Mr. Ingraham attended Government High School. Unlike them, he attended its night institute, earned his law degree locally, and did not share their middle class advantages.
Perhaps it is that background and the opportunities The Bahamas afforded him that helped to make Hubert Ingraham, in significant ways, more progressive and liberal than Sir Lynden, his mentor, and Mr. Christie, his onetime law and political partner.
Though these men share a variety of progressive instincts, Mr. Ingraham’s former cabinet colleagues were more conservative and risk-averse on some defining social issues. Moreover, though often content to offer progressive rhetoric, Messrs. Pindling and Christie failed to enact legislation that should have been a natural outgrowth of the PLP’s founding mission.
During their time in office, Mr. Ingraham and his party have produced landmark social policies on issues ranging from social welfare to the protection of those vulnerable and marginalized because of the denial of basic rights and the absence of protection by the state of these rights.
That social policy agenda has been broad, resonating in areas of social development ranging from greater equality for women, an expanded social security network, fairer inheritance laws, progressive changes in various labour laws and the establishment of novel social development initiatives such as the national retraining programme.
One of the more controversial parts of the Prime Minister’s social agenda has been his efforts to expand and protect women’s rights, a social justice issue to which The New York Times dedicated an entire issue of its magazine this past Sunday, under the title: Why Women’s Rights Are the Cause of Our Time.
Over the course of three terms Mr. Ingraham and his party have done for women’s rights what the early PLP did for racial equality. The FNM’s commitment to gender equality was foreshadowed in its running a female candidate in a seat to which she stood a good chance of winning, culminating in the election of Janet Bostwick as the first female member of the House of Assembly in 1987.
Once in government, the FNM’s commitment to gender equality has not been without political costs, running into the headwinds of fundamentalism, political opportunism and other currents resisting greater equality for women, including on the current question of marital rape.
While many debate the consultation process preceding the 2002 constitutional referendum, there should have been little debate on the merits of the provision giving the foreign-born husbands and children of Bahamian women the same entitlement to citizenship that the foreign-born husbands and children of Bahamian men enjoyed.
Incidentally, at the Independence Constitutional Conference two decades earlier the FNM fought for such a provision, but was defeated on this matter by the Pindling Administration.
Through appointments, legislation and adherence to international standards, the FNM and Mr. Ingraham have reconfigured the landscape of equality and opportunity for generations of girls maturing into womanhood
Those global standards include the 1993 ratification of the UN Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and in 2000 the UN Convention related to the trafficking in persons, which dealt significantly with women forced into the sex trade.
At home, Mr. Ingraham brought women into the cabinet with responsibility for significant portfolios, including those of Attorney General, foreign affairs, health, education, public service, immigration and social services. He also caused to be appointed the first female Speaker of the House, the first female Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal and the first female Governor General.
While these appointments were significant, it was legislation affecting every Bahamian woman that has marked Mr. Ingraham’s progressive social agenda, including the introduction of free pre- and post-natal care to all pregnant women, and the introduction of free access to special anti-viral cocktail of drugs to HIV positive pregnant women, dramatically reducing the incidence of transmission of the disease to their foetuses.
In addition to many other progressive features, landmark labour legislation early in the decade, including the Employment Act of 2001, the Minimum Wage Act of 2002 and the Health and Safety at Work Act of 2002, promoted greater gender equality in the workplace and increased maternity leave to 12 weeks, in addition to any general vacation leave entitlement, while protecting the job and the seniority of women on maternity leave.
The Inheritance Act, which came into force in February 2002, abolished primogeniture and the dower making women equal to men in the right to inherit from parents and siblings. It also entitled a surviving spouse to inherit a matrimonial home, not as a dower interest as was previously the case for women, and to share remaining assets with surviving children.
The proposed amendment to the Sexual Offences Act outlawing marital rape should be seen as a part of a broader struggle for equality and respect for basic human rights. It is a struggle that has been joined by PLPs and FNMs -- not the sole preserve of any party.
Still, it is one to which the FNM during its years in office has demonstrated a fierce commitment despite the social conservativism and fear that continues to stymie social progress around the world.
And, while the progressives in the FNM and elsewhere should be savvy as to how they “bend the arc of history”, bend it they must, remaining steadfast and confident that they are bending it in the right direction.