Belizean women face a litany of problems on a daily basis as a result of gender discrimination, a situation the National Women’s Commission seeks to address with its Revised Gender Policy 2013, which it launched at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel on Thursday, May 16.
The new Policy especially targets husbands who batter their wives, stepfathers and other men who sexually abuse their under-age stepdaughters, employers and other men who sexually harass women in the workplace, HIV-positive men who knowingly infect their wives and girlfriends, corrupt or callous police officers who brutalize and exploit female victims, and all perpetrators of abuse and discrimination against women.
The Policy recommends solutions to the disparities between women and men in Belize through equal access to education, employment, health services, sports activities and other social services.
The Policy also seeks to assist women who are simultaneously victims of gender-based abuse, violence and discrimination and victims of the law.
Changes in the law are also slow to come when there is only one woman among 31 elected members of the House of Representatives.
The new Policy also seeks to remedy this, advocating for greater female representation in the House.
Equal opportunity to employment is another way forward to break the cycle of abuse, because pregnant sexual abuse victims become mothers who then have to raise their children without the emotional and more importantly, the economic support of a spouse.
Belizean women presently face 50 percent unemployment, much higher than the national average of about 22 percent.
The government is already coming to grips with human trafficking, its victims are often simply repatriated back home.
The new Policy recommends training women and men to give them the necessary skills so they can earn a living without falling victim to prostitution.
Education may be the solution, by breaking the cycle of poverty which may be the root cause, or exacerbating the many abuses women and girls suffer.
Improved health services is also an important part of the solution, and in this regard the policy also speaks of “men who have sex with men”, as diseases do not discriminate by sex or gender.
HIV/AIDS does not discriminate either. There a disproportionate number of young women among the new cases of HIV-positive.
Factor in alcohol and drug abuse, and improved health services are desperately needed.
Granted that the many abuses against Belizean women are happening against a backdrop of 135 murders per year, with many of the murders involving young men, even adolescents, killing other young or adolescent men.
Perpetrators and victims are often both poor and uneducated.
Hispanics and Mestizos may have a majority in the Belizean population, but at Hattieville Central prison, the majority of the inmates are of Afro-Belizean descent, with many coming from the poorer southside neighbourhoods of Belize City.
Page 7 of the Policy contains the preamble which in turn begins by “Recalling the Preamble of the Constitution of Belize (1981) guarantees gender equality for all its citizens and provides them protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, place of origin, political opinions, color, creed or sex.”
Many of the reforms recommended by the new policy are part of international agreements which Belize has already signed and ratified.
Many are cited in the policy’s preamble: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948, the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979); the Inter American convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Belem Do Para, 1994); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989); the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2001); and various conventions of the International Labour Organization guaranteeing women and men their right to dignified employment and non-discrimination.