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The Sky Isn’t Falling: In Defence of Constitutional Reform Part I

October 11, 2016


Who remembers the story of Henny-Penny and Turkey-Lurkey? The popular children’s story goes – Henny Penny was walking down the road when an acorn falls on his head. He concludes that the sky is falling and frantically starts spreading the news, creating panic and attracting an ever-growing string of animals in his chorus – Turkey-Lurkey being one of them. In the end, they all get eaten by a fox, who lures them away into a den under the promise of safety.

They say life imitates art. This is true; at least in the context of constitutional reform in Grenada and some of the stories that are being spun. Devon Rachae (I don’t know what hit him on his head) jumped up proclaiming skyfall. The Bill of Rights he says on Facebook, is a “sinister plan” to introduce gay marriage through a “loophole” – which he does not specify. He says that the full-gospel churches have unanimously agreed to vote no on the Rights and Freedoms Bill and that “we can’t all be wrong on this”. YES YOU CAN. Religious leaders are not immune to fallacy, neither does consensus make them right. “We can’t all be wrong” is known in philosophy as the ‘argumentum ad populum’ (argument from popularity), a fallacious argument that concludes that something is true because many or most people believe it. “We can’t all be wrong about the earth being at the center of the universe” (said religious leaders in the 17th century). So sure were they in their consensus, that Galileo Galilei, the father of modern physics who argued that it was the sun and not the earth at the center of the universe, was imprisoned for life. Today we accept Galileo’s proposition as absolute truth.

Like Turkey-Lurkey, Kem Jones, an NDC activist, hears the commotion and joins the chorus, even adding his 2 cents, pointing menacingly at the gender equality provisions, saying on his Facebook page that they “promote homosexuality” – he too doesn’t specify.

I suspect that Jones, an aspiring political commentator for the opposition, wishes to frustrate the reform process so that the NNP can’t claim it as part of their political legacy. I suspect that Rachae, an aspiring pastor-man, wishes to build pastor-man legitimacy; to whip up fervour in the same way DJ’s do at parties when the vibes is dry. The tactic is the same – condemn homosexuals; appeal to an ever receding pocket of ignorance about sexual minorities. It’s a self-serving and dangerous exercise of power.

The Big Bad Bill of Rights

So what exactly is the ‘Bill of Rights’ and what is being proposed ? The Bill of Rights is that part of the constitution which expressly sets out the rights we have, as well as the mechanisms for getting justice when those rights are violated. The proposed reforms seek to strengthen the human rights protections which people currently enjoy. Namely, they:-

  1. Include ‘disability’, ‘religion’, ‘gender’, ‘ethnicity’ and ‘social class’ into the prohibited categories of discrimination. As the amendment bill makes clear, the changes will bring our constitution in line with the CARICOM Charter of Social Rights, which Grenada, along with every other CARICOM country has already committed to.
  2. Expressly guarantee freedom of the press as part of the wider right to freedom of expression.
  3. Make limitations on human rights subject to due process of the law. I.e they say that people’s rights can only be interfered with in the public interest where that interference is non-arbitrary in substance and fair in process.
  4. Expressly protect people’s rights to their intellectual property – songs, drawings, rolly-polly dance,… I dunno, etc
  5. Expressly guarantee the right of a person who is arrested or detained to communicate with their lawyer
  6. Expressly guarantee equality before the law and equal protection of the law for all people
  7. Introduce a right to be treated ‘humanely’ as well as ‘equally’ by all government institutions
  8. Expressly guarantee the equality of all children, including those born out of wedlock
  9. Expressly guarantee special entitlements to disabled children
  10. Expressly guarantee a right of all children to a publicly funded education

Rachae, Jones and others promoting a No Vote would rather see ALL of these benefits down the gutter; would rather see disabled people, children, women, ethnic minorities, artistes, poor people and religious people, stay without the benefit of these protections, than in their view, admit any possibility that homosexuals could get rights. A friend in a facebook post calls this “the most unchristian thing [she has] ever seen”.

Big Bad Gender Equality

The proposed amendments (Chapter 1B), introduce measures to recognize and protect the equality of women with men. The first thing to note is that the amendment is careful to define the key terms in ways which prevent the provisions from being used to extend rights to homosexuals. ‘Gender’ is defined as “the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, male and female” and ‘gender equality’ “reflects the view that men and women should receive equal treatment and should not be discriminated against based on gender”. In other words Gender does not refer to gender identity or sexual orientation and gender equality does not mean anything other than equality between men and women. The drafters of the bill were keen to ensure that the sections can’t be used to win rights for LGBT people. Perhaps they anticipated and tried to preempt the kind of self-righteous panic that still came, despite their efforts.

Definitions aside, let’s look at what the gender equality proposals actually say. They guarantee, as between men and women:-

  1. Equal rights and status in all aspects of life, but especially in economic, educational, political, civic and social activities
  2. Equal access to academic, vocational and professional training; and equal opportunities in employment and promotion
  3. Equal pay
  4. Equal access to justice
  5. Equal opportunities to be elected or appointed to public office and to be eligible for appointment to positions of decision-making bodies at all levels of the society
  6. Equal legal protection; including just and effective remedies, against domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual harassment.
    They Also:-
  7. Protect women from being discriminated against by reason of pregnancy or marital status
  8. Encourage the state to domesticate treaties promoting gender equality
  9. Encourage parliament to pass laws to correct inequalities between men and women
  10. Encourage political parties to promote gender equality; including by appointing more women to key positions like the House of Representatives, Senate, etc.

Maybe the importance of constitutional gender equality provisions isn’t obvious. A 2015 Global Study by the World Economic Forum places the Caribbean behind most other regions in gender equality. We only surpass 2 regions – Asia and the Pacific and the Middle East and North Africa – nothing to boast about. Grenada does not feature individually in this study. Grenada does however feature individually in another study conducted by the Royal Commonwealth Society in 2011. Here, Grenada ranks 23rd (in the Commonwealth – not the world). Compared to other CARICOM countries, we fall behind Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, St. Lucia, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, The Bahamas, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Belize (in order of ranking). In other words, for gender equality,  Grenada is one of the worst performing CARICOM countries and the 2nd to last worst performing OECS country. Given this reality, one would think that people would jump, clap and catch the spirit for the gender equality proposals; instead of encouraging people to reject them, but alas.

Let Henny-Penny and Turkey-Lurkey beat their bells and bawl. Please, PLEASE, don’t join their bacchanal. Don’t be lured into the den of foolishness, under the promise of safety. The sky isn’t falling.

Get the information for yourself at Vote yes on Referendum Day 27th October 2016 and strengthen human rights protections in Grenada. Vote yes and affirm the equal rights of women.

Richie Maitland – Human Rights Lawyer & Grenadian


Read Next: No-Vote as Protest: In Defence of Constitutional Reform Part II

cropped-cropped-cropped-realgroundationlogo1.jpgGroundation Grenada is a social action collective which focuses on the use of creative media to assess the needs of our communities, raise consciousness and act to create positive radical growth. Our mission is to provide active safe spaces to incubate new modes of resistance, building from the local to affect regional and international solidarity and change. We pursue our mission online, through our website and social media, and also through live events and special projects in collaboration with local, regional and international artists, activists and institutions. Groundation Grenada’s website supports both local and diasporic voices, acting as an interface to connect people who are hungry for innovative change.

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