Dear Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall,
In response to reports that Bahamian women were being turned away from voter registration stations, Hollaback! Bahamas co-organized a #TooSexyToVote action, bringing women together to register to vote in the clothing of their choice at the Parliamentary Registration Department on Farrington Road on January 4, 2017. All participants — whether wearing a crochet top, crop top, or three-piece suit — were able to complete the process. On the same day, however, we received reports of Bahamian women being turned away, specifically from the Cable Beach Post Office. Days later, reports of Bahamian women being turned away for reason of dress continue to pour in through traditional media, social media, and informal networks.
As a feminist organization focused on the rights and protection of women and girls, it is our duty to respond to the ludicrous, unacceptable, unlawful behavior of Parliamentary Registration Department staff, and the ridiculous assertion — in defense of staff — that women are expected to hide shoulders, breasts, and cleavage as though they are shameful rather than parts of their anatomy. Supporting arbitrary discrimination against women is a devastating use of power, particularly regarding attire in a country where over 12% of the population lives below the poverty line and incidences of rape per capita are almost nine times the world average. Economic inequality must be a consideration, and social ills cannot be divorced from existing legislation, government agency behavior, or declaration — in word or deed — by leaders and people of influence. Men must exercise their power with greater responsibility, recognizing the far-reaching effects of their decisions, declarations, and devolution to potentially reckless individuals who can negatively impact marginalized communities.
Women with “half their breasts out and cleavage showing” are no less entitled to register to vote than anyone else. As stated by Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage, “No hindrance should be put in the way of people registering to vet by the parliamentary registrar or anyone else.”
It is not the job of the Parliamentary Registration Department to make judgment on citizens’ morality, decency, or any other subjective, immeasurable characteristic. In fact, given the time it takes to register one person, it would serve the Parliamentary Registration Department and the Bahamian people well to reduce the number of things the staff must focus on. While wardrobe choices of Bahamian women are not relevant to their job functions, staff attention is needed on the cardstock voter’s cards they handwrite, and the printed maps used to determine voter constituencies as boundaries continue to move, courtesy of gerrymandering.
Hollaback! Bahamas expects the Parliamentary Registration Department to ensure that those presenting themselves to register to vote are, indeed, citizens of The Bahamas by scrutinizing their documents. We expect for people presenting required documents to be properly processed, regardless of dress.
The Parliamentary Elections Act states in Article 8:
A person shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for a constituency if, and shall not be so entitled unless, on the day on which he applied for registration-
he is a citizen of The Bahamas of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity; and
he is, and has been during the whole of the period of three months immediately preceding that day, ordinarily resident in premises in that constituency.
Article 12, subsection 5 states:
It shall be the duty of the Parliamentary Commissioner to keep the register and to carry out the requirements of this Act regarding the registration of voters and the holding of elections.
It is outrageous that Parliamentary Registration Department staff have hoisted themselves above the law and denied Bahamian women the right to vote. There is no law requiring women to wear any particular article of clothing, or cover any part of their bodies to access and exercise the right to vote as secured by Dr. Doris Johnson, Mary Ingraham, Georgiana Symonette, Eugenia Lockhart, and many other champions of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in The Bahamas between 1948 and 1962. It is an affront to Bahamian suffragettes and all Bahamian women that in 2017 — the year we will celebrate 55 years since the first time Bahamian women voted — eligible voters are being turned away because of personal opinions. Hollaback! Bahamas denounces the refusal to view Bahamian women as full citizens, the policing of women’s bodies, and the subsequent perpetuation of violence against women.
On behalf of the Bahamian people, and in absence of directives from relevant authorities who, perhaps, prefer grandstanding on social media and speaking around you, Hollaback! Bahamas publicly demands the registration of all Bahamian women presenting themselves with the required documents. Further, following reports of early closures and shutdowns for lunch breaks, we call upon the Parliamentary Registration Department to publish its locations, days, and hours of operation in all national daily newspapers and its social media page(s), announce them on all radio stations, and take necessary action to ensure that they are kept. Hollaback! Bahamas is prepared to promote the locations, days, and hours on its social media pages until the register is closed.
It is our view that a Parliamentary Commissioner unwilling to comply with the law governing voter registration and elections, or more concerned with fashion than the terribly low voter registration total or deficiencies of staff, is not fit for the job. Given this, Hollaback! Bahamas would fully support the resignation of such a Parliamentary Commissioner, and would encourage the recruitment of a person who fully understands the Parliamentary Elections Act and the implicit requirement to respect and protect the rights of all Bahamian citizens, regardless of personal opinion. We remain hopeful that issues within the Parliamentary Registration Department will be addressed with urgency, complete with communication on action taken to the public through the media.