Bahamian attorney, human and gender rights activist, filmmaker and acclaimed writer/poet, Marion Bethel, has been awarded the prestigious 11th CARICOM Tri-annual Award for women.
The award, which was introduced in 1983 and first presented in 1984, is issued every three years to honor a Caribbean woman whose work has made a significant contribution in the arena of women’s development and the socioeconomic development of the Caribbean. Bethel is the first Bahamian and just the eleventh recipient of the award since it was first presented in 1984. She will be presented with her award on July 1 during the opening ceremony of the 36th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government (CARICOM) scheduled for Antigua and Barbuda.
Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin said Bethel’s efforts as a strong advocate for gender equality and human rights was “without a doubt” a significant contributing factor to her selection, as was her production of the documentary “Womanish Ways: Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy – the Women’s Suffrage Movement in The Bahamas, 1948-1962”.
Griffin’s comments came during a special recognition session of the House of Assembly on Thursday, June 12. Bethel was accompanied to Parliament by family members and friends including her husband, former parliamentarian and Cabinet Minister Alfred Sears; Justice (Ret.) Rubie Nottage, and officials of the Women’s Bureau of the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development.
Bethel was recommended to Cabinet for consideration for the award by officials of the Ministry of Social Services and Community Development. Approval was given and her name was advanced to CARICOM for their consideration.
“We are delighted that Marion was selected for this distinguished regional award in the field of gender and development and becomes the first Bahamian to be so honored,” Griffin said. “In the words of the late Dr. Doris L. Johnson on behalf of the women’s suffrage movement on January 19, 1959, ‘Today, invincible womanhood, mother of men and ruler of the world raises her noble head’.
“Marion, today the women who you loved and admired, the women whose hidden story you revealed again to this country and carried to the world, salute you for these wonderful achievements.”
Interventions on behalf of Bethel were heard from female members of Parliament Hope Strachan, Glenys Hanna-Martin and Loretta Butler-Turner.
Strachan, the representative for Seabreeze, said Bethel’s documentary has touched all of those who have viewed it in a very real way.
“It is, I think, an opportune time for me to be living in this time when Mrs. Bethel’s work has come to the forefront. It is a sign of the culmination of the struggle of the women of the suffrage movement of whom my grandmother was a part. The documentary brought to light, in a very, very significant way the experience of the struggle they had to go through in order for all of us to be here today. It has touched all of us in a real way and I am very, very proud of her accomplishment.”
Hanna-Martin, the representative for Englerston, said the documentary was a “very beautiful, powerful piece of work that she has done”.
“The documentary’s perspective was that you were not just talking about a suffrage movement vote for women, but was of a struggle that was more fundamental, more deep and I think she brought the insight into how important it was to continue that effort to equal the ground for women,” Hanna-Martin said. “I think Marion, and you would see it from her writings and adaptations, that she sees the obligation continuing even today because there are residual cultural issues that persist and prevail in our society that we must move beyond and she continues to advocate for that continuing journey. The suffrage movement was the beginning of that journey,” Hanna-Martin added.
Butler-Turner, the representative for Long Island, said Bethel “comes from a long heritage of women and men who believe in the rights of Bahamians”. “Her grandmother, the late Mother Francis Butler, is indeed my great grandmother, the mother of one of the leading persons in our society many years ago, Sir Milo Butler, who would be Marion’s uncle. And so to say that this journey, this achievement, is something that is novel, I must say that it has been ingrained and instilled in her from before her own birth and so it is a pleasure to see the culmination of the work she has done,” Butler-Turner added.
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