Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Pedestal: Supporting Belizean Women, Diversity for it matters

14th March, 2016


On March 11th, I had the chance to walk with the 20,000 strong women march from B.T.L Park onward. It seems I will be late for my own funeral, but never the less, it was a taxi that allowed me to get to the back of the line. Why did I walk you might ask,its simple, for sister and mom. My sister, who helped to subsidize my life, when I was not working, she found a job for me at Lionel Welch Law Firm( who died) as an office assistant. As a result, I saved enough money on my credit union book that allowed me to borrow and pay back for my University Education. This was back in 2000 when I learned that the state will help with tuition, but gave me the responsibility to cover books and administration fees. It was my sister legal knowledge that built the foundations for my interest in law, provided support to do errands and have reports completed over the years. It was my sister I turn to when I need my KIA fixed for she was kind enough to marry a mechanic.

     For the record, I know nothing about cars, I learned to drive at age 39 and only learned that there are three holes that require fluid. I am still confused as to what goes into what. She found the car that I currently drive and she is the one who text or calls me, to check if  put in enough fluids in the car or at all. I am the one who call her when my batteries die, over and over again, in the first years of learning to drive. I am the one that called her for engine and basic maintenance problems, she then turns to her husband for guidance on the technical aspects of the car. Yes, when it comes to cars, I am dense. I was so dense, I was driving with two legs, until I realize that I was suppose to use one leg for gas and brakes. I have no shame in saying so. When I needed my Red KIA dragged from a village in the Orange Walk district, she got her husband to drive from Belmopan to Orange Walk to drag it back to Belmopan the same day. I asked them to sell the car in parts and they have done so slowly. My sister along with her husband has driven my car several times, as much as 50 miles to ensure its servicing was correct. I can never pay for the goodwill of my sister.

This is the influence of a woman with knowledge and a strong work ethic who's contributions to her family, remains undervalued, who's contribution to the economy remain invisible in formal economic data gathering, who is not represented sufficiently in cabinet, our police force, as an entrepreneur, as a doctor,fire woman and as a mother.

Of note, unemployment rate in Belize averaged 11.92% from 1993 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 23.30 % in 2010 and a record low of 8.2 % in 2008. It decreased to 11.1% in 2014 from 11.7 % in 2013. The unemployment rate as of September, 2015 stood at 10.2%, but literacy rates was 79.7% (2010), life expectancy 73.7% (2014), poverty rates is 41.3%(2009).

When we look at literacy rates, I must point out that it is mostly women who start their children to count fingers, repeat letters aloud, give their children crayons to scratch so their children could have the motors skills to form complete letter before or during their children attendance to kindergarden. In Belize, we spend in excess of 25% of our national budget on education, having almost 100,000 students at all levels double that of 1990 with almost 5000 teachers with 541 schools nationally. The Education Sector Strategy for 2011-2016 points out,"The early promise of achieving the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education, though close, is no nearer now than it was in 2000, the Primary NER in 2010 is 94% compared to 95% in 2001. The much needed increase in enrollment in secondary education has not taken place, the NER in 2010 is 49% compared to 44% in 2004."

Furthermore, when we consider that 7541 robberies, 1553 murders and 672 rapes occurred  from 2000-2015, it forces us to reflect on the value of "The 20,00 Women, Strong March" and opens the questions on who are on the frontlines that are affected by poverty, education access, health challenges, violence, unemployment. It forces us to reflect on the contribution of women and it's multiplier effect on Belize's Development and on families.


In the March, I saw a few males from St. John's College. It is unfortunate, how politicians, business leaders and general male population forget, it was women who clean the dirt from their bottoms, provided, taught them to recognize letters of the alphabet, ensured they had a meal, it was women who took them to hospitals for their vaccines and it is women who gave birth to them. As such, it is our obligation to give back the years of care and support that we have been given. It is our obligation to give women the support they need to break out in the world under any capacity should there be an interest or opportunity.


Unfortunately, there are ill-informed men out there who will say," you no belong deh da di rally! You dah no woman!"  which had happened to me while I was waiting in the middle of the road to go to my office. To that I say, supporting women's rights and concerns, is everybody's concern. As men have benefited from the sacrifices women have made in our development as children and  in becoming business and political leaders, as officers of the court, as vendors on the street, as students  and in every conceivable role we may fall into in the development of this country. It is women who has laid the foundation of learning and sense of security, so, we are obligated to acknowledge those sacrifices  and believe in the endless productive possibility of women in our social, financial and political institutions. The sky is the limit in advancing gender equity that matters.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

The BLACK March: LGBT Prospective

7th March, 2016

The BLACK march or Be Loving And Cease Killing was organized at NAPA on March 17th, 2016 in Belize City. For the first time, we had, Tikkun Olam, a sex worker advocacy organization, along with three LGBT led community-base groups and organizations, Our Circle, EYBM, BYEC & UniBAM made is presence felt, as all recognize that crime is about citizenry that unites us  in our concern about personal security.  Security concerns that shows up data in crime from 2000-2015. For example, data for murder was 1553 persons,cumulatively over 5 years while there were 672 rapes and 7, 541 robberies as well.  Why is this important? The data reveal that violence is a loose social tool that forces people into a state of alert or psychological guard.




From a constitutional prospective section 3(a) offers protections for life, liberty, security of the person, and the protection of the law. 3(c)  offers us protection for his family life, his personal privacy, the privacy of his home and other property and recognition of his human dignity.

What we discovered in practice is a victim of rape will get state intervention and rights defense through a medical exam & making a police report etc in making a case, but carry the burden of responsibility to deal with the social stigma attached to being a victim of sexual violence. Such experience can be called horizontal violence that can be covert or overt in nature. It is perpetuated by whispers, gossiping, name-calling, back-stabbing by community, friends and family, rendering the person to question their ability to assert their concerns in section 3(a) of the constitution. Horizontal violence can be argued to be an effective social mechanism to protect male social entitlement to a woman's body, but more importantly act as a weapon to erode the  human dignity of that person. When we add the LGBT component to it, 7 cases of rape or sexual assault of received reports between 1997-2015, the issue becomes even more complicated.  Adding biblical teachings about homosexuality that perpetuate social prejudice, legal exclusion that does not acknowledge the existence of sexual identity in a positive way, the social & gender politics that men are not suppose to not be victims of rape or sexual assault, and the environment becomes layered with informal and formal processes that discourages men from reporting violence.

In an article written by the Guardian of London, in 2011 called "The Rape of Men: The darkest Secret of War, the journalist wrote,"His captors raped him, three times a day, every day for three years. And he wasn't the only one. He watched as man after man was taken and raped. The wounds of one were so grievous that he died in the cell in front of him."  Data collected by Lara Stemple, of the University of California's Health and Human Rights Law Project, study revealed that incidents of male sexual violence occurs as a weapon in wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. 21% of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.

So what does this have to do with Belize, structurally, we have a domestic violence unit, but there is no Unit in the Police Department on sexual violence.  The Amandala coverage of the Chief Justice speech in 2015 revealed, "In 2013, the conviction rate was pegged at 39 percent in the system. This figure, Benjamin said, was “sullied with only an 8 percent conviction rate for murders,” adding discussions of LGBT murder in Belize from 1997-2015, 32 in all for various reasons, high lights an additional structural problem. The state does not acknowledge a crime can be bias-motivated, as such,state system are under no legal obligation to report murder in its police report with any additional characteristic. Furthermore, the Ombudsman office powers in practice are limited to public authorities. It does does not investigate discriminatory practices, but mal-administration. The result is that justice is accessible to if you have the money, time or support. For many LGBT persons, highlighting their sexuality as part of a case is troublesome in Oscar Selgado vs Attorney General, Minister of Defense & Security Service Commission. The justice pointed out in case action 418 of 2003,"...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." 

The BLACK march, then, became a symbol of opportunity and a short term public relations investment, masking the substantive needs to strengthen our citizens concerns about inadequate accessible redress mechanisms. The lack of  state system response to legal marginalisation of its LGBT citizens has helped to amplify the social effects of state systems policing the bodies of  its citizens. The policing of female bodies, in particular helps to undermine their economic options in employment, where two-thirds remain outside of the labour force. When state system inadequate investments in promoting jobs for its citizens take place, it must be noted, that women who voluntarily seek sex work are arbitrarily penalized for their work ethic, use of resources earned from sex work by banks, custody rights of children and along with their children in school. The result, is that economic independence is de-legitimatised  or discouraged in a way that forces these women to carry the burden alone in giving life to their aspirations.The L.G.B.T socio-economic concerns are inter-related as well, as family, job security, access to education and custody issues are equally marginalized or excluded by current laws that do not acknowledge the current  dignity and economic safety-net concerns of couples and individuals alike.

In Be Loving And Cease Killing, we would hope that the slogan is about hearts and minds, about human capacity to find peace, understanding and stability in a exclusionary legal environment. We united in the basic premise of the BLACK March, we hope, that its core value of Love can be reciprocated. The proof, will be in the practice and social actions that are yet to come.