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Bermuda joins fight for women’s rights

Bermuda has asked to be part of an international agreement fighting discrimination against women — but has kept the door open for exemptions on women priests and female conscription.

The Bermuda Government has signed up to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women in Bermuda, social development minister Sylvan Richards told the House of Assembly on Friday.

But he said it would only do so with reservations, adding: “The first reservation will preserve the position whereby Bermuda can continue to conscript only male recruits to the Royal Bermuda Regiment and that religious organisations would not be compelled to have women priests.”

The second reservation, he said, pertained to an acknowledged inequality in immigration regulations — although Mr Richards said that Government does want to address that issue “in due course”.

He explained: “The second reservation will preserve the right of existing constitutional and immigration provisions which have the affect of discriminating against a Bermudian woman married to a non-Bermudian husband, due to the lesser rights granted to a non-Bermudian man compared to a non-Bermudian woman married to a Bermudian man,” he said.

Mr Richards said that Michael Dunkley, the Premier, presented a letter of request to have CEDAW extended to Right Honourable Baroness Anelay, the UK Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories.

“CEDAW is the landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world and is often referred to as the ‘women's Bill of rights',” the minister said.

“It is one of the core international human rights treaties of the United Nations treaty system, which requires member states to undertake legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.

“As CEDAW is an aspirational treaty, Bermuda must and will focus on improving gender equality to ensure that women and girls enjoy the same access to opportunities and benefits in every aspect of life.”

He said CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, coming into force as a treaty in 1981.

It has been ratified or acceded to by 189 countries to date, including Britain, which signed the treaty in 1981 and ratified CEDAW in 1986.

The British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Falkland Islands had the Convention extended in 1986. Anguilla and Cayman Islands did likewise last March.

Asked if the Government would introduce pay equality legislation, Mr Richards said that they would wait until an already established Parliamentary Committee examining the issue can make recommendations.

And challenged about if conscription will continue, Mr Richards said that the matter was not in his ministerial remit.

“Right now, it's well known the Regiment is made up 100 per cent of volunteers and it will continue that way as long as we have people willing to volunteer and serve in the Bermuda Regiment,” he said.

UPDATE: this story was amended to clarify that women will not be conscripted to the Royal Bermuda Regiment. Because of an editing error, it initially incorrectly stated that women would not serve in the Regiment. We apologise for the mistake.

For Sylvan Richards's statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”

Social development minister Sylvan Richards (File photograph)

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Published February 10, 2017 at 12:10 pm (Updated February 13, 2017 at 10:56 am)

Bermuda joins fight for women’s rights

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