AIDS,Women and Gay Movement-The intersection!

Posted 23rd February, 2012

I have to say, until Susan Wilkinson started pointed out the need to learnt historical lessons,it did not cross my mind. While not official, she has fallen into th role of  institutional memory documentor for the United Belize Advocacy Movement. What she has made me realized is that our presentwork has intersections. So what is the interection between Belize AIDS, Women's and Gay Movement? In simple terms it is a social justice frame work.

AIDS came to Belize in 1986, but during the early parts of the epidemic I was reminded by Joan Burke of BFLA that there were efforts to do prevention educations at homes. I was reminded that gay men helped to clean and fed their friends dying of AIDS in the early days. I was reminded as well that when Alliance Against AIDS started that it was the support of a woman who helped to facilitate its development from PAHO. I was also reminded that AAA originally had an all gay Board, but over time the composition of AAA Board changed when it invited persons unto its board none gay friendly directors which lead to a change in its focus.

Women in politics I have seen cooked for their area representatives, canvas houses, collecting name and addresses of persons in housholds, provided advice on the history of a household and strategic approaches for area representatives in particular constituiencies in Belize City. It might have been different in the rural areas, but this was the value of Women. I have seen them supporting their gay sons as they search for work, get educated or return to health as they try to adhere to ARV medication. However, being named to post as Speaker fo the house or as a Minister was rarely profiled with sufficient substance in the pass. This has changed with the naming of Lisel Allamilla as Minister of Forestry,Fisheries and Sustainable Development and Joy Grant as Minister of Energy,Science, Technology and Public Utilities, but before them there was Faith Babb, now Dolores Balderamos and in the pass  Gwendolyn Lizarraga among a few others. Here is a brief history of Gwebdolyn Lizarraga below:

A Brief History of the Founder: Madam Gwendolyn Margurite Lizarraga

The United Women’s Group (UWG) is the women’s arm of the People’s United Party (PUP). It was established in February 1959 by Gwendolyn Lizarraga (Madam Liz as she is popularly known); a woman that advocated for social justice and empowerment of women.

Gwen Lizarraga began recruiting women in Belize City at PUP divisional meetings and by the end of March 1959 had 900 members, which rose to fourteen hundred (1,400) by May. In April Lizarraga began recruiting in the districts, and branches were founded in Stann Creek and Cayo (both in San Ignacio and half dozen villages) where groups of PUP women had been mobilized since at least 1954. Soon after branches were formed in Maskall and Orange Walk, then in Sand Hill, Benque Viejo and Punta Gorda. By November 1959, membership had reached five thousand (thirty-five hundred outside of Belize City alone) and only Corozal had no members. It formed its branch in May 1960.

Gwendolyn Margurite Lizarraga was born in Maskall Village on 11th July, 1901 to parents Sidney Smith and Guadalupe Smith nee Baeza. She was educated at Mr. Datsun Primary School, St. Mary’s Primary School and later went on to St. Catherine’s Academy. She later married a police photographer Victor Manuel Lizarraga in 1926 and had five children. But, Gwen Lizarraga was not only a mother; she was also a businesswoman and a successful chicle and mahogany contractor in northern Belize.

Gwen Lizarraga was unlike other women of her time; she wore pants, carried a gun, smoked cigarettes and drove a land rover as she went about her business to the chicle and mahogany camps. She was known to be a very outspoken businesswoman and legislator and dealt with big companies like Wrigley’s, Castillo and Thurton. Before she got into politics she was very active in the social scene and that was when she formed the United Women’s Group. Wherever she went she tried to assist people around her, especially women in unfortunate conditions. She was once a probation officer in the Social Development Department where she organized women’s group and centers geared towards the advancement of women. Madam Liz as she was commonly known was the co-founder of United Women’s Credit Union, where they encouraged women to save even if they could only afford $0.25 per week.

During the 1950’s and before Universal Adult Suffrage only property owners were allowed to vote so Madam Liz assisted women in acquiring their own house and lot.
In 1961 Madam Liz decided to enter the political reigns and won in the Pickstock division for three terms. She was first elected in 1961 and became the Minister of Education, Housing and Social Services. There were five challengers in that division that year, but Lady Lizarraga garnered 69% of the votes. It was the first year that a woman even ran in the national elections in Belize.

She was then elected for a second term in 1965 and served again as the Minister of Education, Housing and Social Services. She firmly believed that everyone was entitled to a house and lot and assisted people in acquiring their housing lots. She’s remembered for assisting a woman in locating her lot covered by bushes and mud.

In 1969 she was elected for a third term and served once again as the Minister of Education and Housing. This is when she began the building of low cost homes in King’s Park, Lake Independence and Queen Square areas. She was very interested in improving the housing conditions and providing educational opportunities for youths. While she was the Minister of Education the first Junior Secondary School was established in 1968 which later became Gwen Lizarraga High School and she also endorsed the bill for the introduction of Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) to Belize.
This exceptional woman holds at least two records in this country: as she was the first woman to be elected to the National Assembly and first female minister. She was also the only politician who made no secret of her opposition to the granting of a casino concession in the country of Belize.
Madam Liz was an excellent chess player as well and helped organize the first chess club in Belize. She conducted pioneer work as a folklorist and choreographer in the revival of the Mestizada dances.
Gwendolyn Margurite Lizarraga passed away on June 9th, 1975 at the age of 73 years. The pallbearers for her funeral included the then Premier Hon. George C. Price and then Deputy Premier Carl Lindbergh Rogers. Internment was at Lord’s Ridge Cemetery.


Lisel Allamilla showing here support wearing our wristband while Boots Martinez showed his support for Belize Action our opponents in the following way on the right:


Beyond Madam Liz, was the results of the women's movement whihc included  Women's Against Violence, BoWAND, WINBELIZE and now POWA. There are many community-base women's groups that contributes to the socio-economic needs of their community, but it seem like its the formalizing of structure which seem to allow for things like Domestic Violence, Sexual Harrassment and the equalizing of the minimum wage to occur in legislation for women. The formation of the Women's Commission, the Women's Department, the Family Court did not develop without women's input and so lessons can be learnt about the approaches they used and the structure they built to inform the current gay rights movement currently in Belize. They live in the same patriachial led stuctures, but where able to advance. For Example, marginalization was overcomed with the cultivation of leadership in the community. While BOWAND and WAV is not around WINBELIZE to which the United Belize Advocacy Movement belongs remains alive along with the Women's Commission.

The lessons learnt it seems for the United Belize Advocacy Movement is that international approaches like shadow reports being effective tools, like the Universal Periodic Review of 2009 and doing a shadow report for the International Convenant for the Civil and Political Rights that was submitted recently in 2013 while The Women's Movement used CEDAW as a submission channel. The Women's Movement used a constitutional challenge to get Maria Roches  right to work recognized, for she was a teacher that was fired for being unmarried and pregnant and we have used section 53 as a legal challenge and while we facilitated the legal advocacy around our present immigration law. The indigenous population have also used the court to address land rights disputes and so we see how groups have used the court for redress. Like the women's movement, the churches have expressed it opposition to condoms and contraceptive discussions in school, they have opposed us in the use of the court to advance LGBT rights.  Similiarly, we see our base as uneducated about their rights, highly critical of an issue they dont understand and a public perception framed by media sensationalism rather than facts.

Beyond this, when we talk about the AIDS epidemic in Belize we dont usually think of it as a platform for the gay rights movement in Belize. However, it was men affected originally by the epidemic back in 1986. It has evolved into a 1:1 ratio and then climbed back to 1:5 to 1 in 2012 according to Dr. Marvin Manzanero of the AIDS program. The recent BSS research showed that 13.9% prevalence for the 131 persons who participated in the study. It also revealed problems with extortion, verbal abuse etc. The point can be made that AIDS is a platform for addressing the need to strengthen a broader framework of human rights protections that include PLHIV, Women, LGBT and young people. It also is an opportunity for the United Belize Advocacy Movement to united the populations in a boarder effort to get the system to commit to specific actions either through the National Strategic Plan for HIV or through the Universal Periodic Review which called for the development of a National Human Rights Institution. Time will tell if the United Belize Advocacy Movement will have a lasting effect and pass its 10 years of existence or end at 10 years as it struggle to build political currency. The three issues of AIDS, Women's Movement and our Gay Movement inconnectedness of social justice is about base-building and having strong leadership that learns and do things better.We shall see!


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