The Channel five report was entitled " Gender policy updated and it is against discrimination by sexual orientation" a telling title that demonstrates how far we have come in our discussion about gender. More importantly, most would not know that our involvement informing the gender policy really started in our contribution to the situation analysis that was produced by Adele Catzim-Sanchez that dialogue goes back 2009 that was advanced in 2010 at the Women's Issues Network Office and in our National Advocacy Working group (N.A.W.G) when as a coalition, we had to beat back efforts to regress women's health back to the dark ages. The nuggets in the gender policy includes the following:
One of the principles in the gender policy is that it recognize respect for diversity and does not shy away from using the term sexual orientation . It spoke to eliminating "gender base discrimination at all levels of the education system" that the Belize government will ' take special legal and infrastructure measures to safeguard the rights of vulnerable groups...(men who have sex with men..). Establish a mechanism for redress of all forms of discrimination...as well as legal assistance by the government for advancing cases of discrimination through the justice system. Create an anti-discrimination law that includes the elimination of all forms of gender related discrimination...We have never seen such progressive language in any policy document in my 10 years of work. I don't normally have much good to say about government, but this was certainly a progressive stance taken and can be an example of leadership for the Caribbean.
Now its our time, and its my feeling that we will have a history of defending women's health, for its my belief that if they loose their health rights we are made weaker in our efforts to demand rights enforcement. More importantly women cannot be allowed to go backwards in labor and political movement for they have a multiplier effect in the community. The time for higher social and political involvement of women is here.
It was the most exciting time to be at the Biltmore to see the Gender Policy launched with the most progressive language yet that was approved by cabinet. Adele Catizm-Sanchez spoke to the issue on channel seven when she said,
"It also includes sexual harassment that happens within the work place and it includes rape that happens either at home or on the streets but it also includes all the harassment and the discrimination against persons because of their gender, orientation or sexual identity. One of the things that we had to make sure, for example, is that sexual minority issues are also represented in the national gender policy because gender orientation is also a gender issue."
Granted the gender policy spoke of many diverse issues like sexual and reproductive health services, labor inequity, discrimination against older persons, commercials sexual exploitation etc that cover the life cycle of women, girls, men and boys in this country. However, for purposes of this article, I will seek to focus only on L.G.B.T. issues.
– it also speaks to what is called gender identity. That sounds suspiciously like that hot-button issue L.B.G.T, or what might be called UNIBAM. Interesting because in court the state is upholding anti-sodomy laws, so we tried to get some clarification."
The challenge in this interview is that Ann Marie presumes,correctly, that she does not have a formal position on section 53 and recognizes that should be expressed directly from the National Women's Commission. It can be argued that formal position comes within the context of the gender policy itself, starting with the principle of respecting diversity. Still, the point can be made that perception is relative.
"I'm asking if the women's commission supports the removal of that portion of the penal code regarding sodomy because you say you are referring to sexual orientation."
"Regarding the code, I cannot speak for the women's commission and we never had a statement out on that but the policy speaks to the constitution. Part of the preamble of the policy speaks that in 1981 the constitution says that all citizens of Belize are part of this gender equality mix and that they are..."
"But they did not refer to sexual orientation"
"I'm telling you, they're part of the gender equality mix and they should not be discriminated against, regardless of their race, color, creed, political affiliations, or sex and is part of the preamble policy and is the constitution"
"So basically you are saying the policy and the constitution supports UNIBAM, that's what you are saying?'
Nevertheless, the document speaks for itself and is an acknowledgement of the rights of women, girls, men, boys and L.G.B.T citizens who are part of the gender construct of this society. When comparing this interview with channel five, reporter Jose Sanchez , the interview,clearly maintains a bias either because of lacking knowledge or refusing to reflecting critically on fundamental rights and freedoms.
Jose Sanchez report gave a brief history of the gender policy and coverage of the CEO Alpuche comments spoke of the document as " robust" and she called it "Vale la pena" because the document is well thought out and comprehensive. According to the document it identifies and examines inequities experienced by men and women while suggesting ways to correct gender disparities and implementation of relevant policies. The interview with Jose Sanchez continued in the following way with Anne Marie Williams:
“According to what you have here in respect for diversity, refers to sexual orientation. Is the women commission going against the grain and supports UNIBAM? I see Mr. Caleb Orozco is also here in full support you.”
Ann-Marie Williams, Women’s Commission
“I invited Caleb because Caleb works as a member of the N.G.O. community, but I’m not sure what you’re asking me.”
“I am asking you if the Women’s Commission supports the removal of that portion of the penal code regarding sodomy because you are referring to sexual orientation in relation to diversity.”
“Well, regarding the code I cannot speak for the Women’s Commission. And we never had a statement out on that. But the policy speaks to the constitution. Part of the preamble of the policy speaks that in 1981, the constitution says that all citizens of Belize are part of this gender equality, mixed…”
“But it didn’t refer to sexual orientation.
What Jose Sanchez does not know is that the issue of sex being inclusive of sexual orientation is not a new one. Justice Cawich back in 2004 in in Oscar Selgado vs Attorney General Office, Minister of defense and Security Services Commission pointed out the following in his judgement," Captain Selgado might have put up a formidable sex discrimination case under S: 16 of the Constitution of Belize, even a constitutional motion case, had he owned up to homosexuality." what the statement reveals is that until L.G.B.T citizens are prepared to fight discrimination in the court, advancement of rights will remain difficult and the wider society will remain confused or resistant to the idea our fundamental rights and freedoms are the same. Rights defense is only limited by our willigness to act and defend our rights as human beings, to love and ensure our security as we work to mainstream our concerns.