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Women and the Constitution


Women and the Constitution

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I knew I wouldn’t have had to wait too long for some of our legal voluptuaries to put a case explaining away the awkwardness of the language in our Constitution and other statutes.

What they ignore is that at its drafting our Constitution fell victim to a glaring flaw in the English language in the verb “to be”.

The first person singular “I” and the second person singular “you” and indeed, the plurals of those pronouns and the third person plural “they”, all refer to both sexes, male and female.

Not the third person singular. The language has not so far come up with a pronoun to cover “he”, “she” or indeed, “it”.

So the writers of the Constitution made the pronoun “he” refer to “she” as well.

That was acceptable – even among women themselves – when women down through the ages had little or no say in matters beyond raising the children and keeping house, therefore the language reflected that reality. Not anymore.

In Barbados, since the Constitution was laid in Parliament on November 22, 1966, we’ve seen the welcome arrival of women in many top offices of Government: Governor General, the High Court, the Central Bank, the Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the Senate and most recently the House of Assembly, to name a few.

I quote Thomas Jefferson again: “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant – too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. Can one generation bind another and all others in succession forever? I think not.”

Notice how even as he railed against such continuity, he too, referred to “the men of the preceding age”.

Women had no input in the language of the American constitution. Or the Barbadian version.

We’re living in the 21st century. The earth belongs to the living.