women's rights in BelizeAlthough gender roles in the Americas are constantly evolving, Belizean women still face discrimination. Women make up more than 50% of Belize’s population, yet they are approximately 30% less likely to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Belizean women also have little representation in the country’s political, social and economic spheres. The fight for women’s rights in Belize aims to remedy gender-biased treatment by prioritizing equality.

Gender Roles and Gender Gaps

Gender roles in Belize are typically traditional, with significant value placed on marriage and childbearing for women. Belizean women are often expected to stay home and look after the children, while men are the primary breadwinners. In families living in poverty, women often depend on men for economic stability.

The rate of employed people older than 15 and living under the international poverty line in Belize falls at 8.8% for women and 11.3% for men. However, the U.N.  Women Count Data Hub finds that Belize’s unemployment rate for people older than 15 is 9.8% for women but only 4.6% for men.

In regard to political representation, women held only 12.5% of the seats in the nation’s parliament as of February 2021. Women in Belize also face exploitation in the workforce, earning “only 56% of the income” earned by their male counterparts, according to Statista. Yet, in terms of literacy rates for people older than 15, Belizean men and women are on par at 70.3%.

Belize’s gender gap is often attributed to chauvinistic societal standards that favor men and traditional masculinity. Additionally, the lack of gender-based data makes it difficult to assess the true state of women’s rights in Belize. Only about 37% of the data needed to monitor sectors such as unpaid domestic work and violence against women was available as of December 2020.

Violence Against Belizean Women

In the year 1992, “the Belize Domestic Violence Act was passed.” The act was reenacted in 2007, with broadened and extended protections. The Women’s Commission of Belize is an instrumental figure in gender-responsive legislative reform and women’s rights.

In June 2010, the Belizean government adopted the three-year National Gender-based Violence Plan of Action, which aimed to remedy the domestic violence, assault and abuse that disproportionately affects women and young girls. The Women’s Commission also developed a “domestic violence protocol” for Belizean police, “with the goal of improving the effectiveness of police investigative practices in addressing violence against women.”

However, many Belizean women continue to suffer violence, especially those who live in rural areas. More than 70% of rural women experience violence at the hands of their partners. Not only do these women often lack basic infrastructural resources but they also face difficulties in accessing protective services. Additionally, domestic violence studies often overlook Belizean women in rural areas.

Improving Women’s Rights in Belize

In order to promote gender equity, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) guided the creation of the 2017-2021 Country Programme Document (CPD). The CPD outlines a program that prioritizes three focal areas covering issues such as safety, sustainability, health, justice and resilience, “with gender as a cross-cutting theme.” As the CPD addresses poverty, the CPD also aims to address gender equity as part of bettering Belize.

In addition to helping develop domestic violence protocol for law enforcement, the National Women’s Commission of Belize partners with organizations such as the Belize Crime Observatory and the Ministry of Human Development, Families & Indigenous People’s Affairs. As an advisory board to the government, the Commission promotes women’s rights in Belize through political and social advocacy and provides resources to women facing domestic abuse.

In a year, the Belizean police receive more than 2,000 “domestic and sexual violence reports.” However, victims often endure “unfair treatment when reporting.” The National Women’s Commission aims to remedy this with the launch of the Gender-Based Violence Services Complaint Form in 2020. The form encourages reporting and identifies the authorities involved in unjust treatment.

Efforts from the government and organizations contribute to a more equitable future for women in Belize, empowering women to rise out of poverty.

Cory Utsey
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Rights in BelizeCountries around the world celebrate March as International Women’s Month, and Belize is no different. On March 16, 2018, the country hosted its annual 20,000 Strong rally for women’s rights in Belize. Women traveled from all over the country to Belize City to add their voices to the thousands of empowered women making a statement about gender equality. Wearing orange and supporting the businesses of other women, attendees made a public statement that they refuse to live in fear.

The 20,000 Strong Rally

The 20,000 Strong march began in 2014, boasting the slogan “Imagine a Belize Without Women.” Women were encouraged to take the day off from work in order to demonstrate how Belize is dependent on its women. Attendees were asked to wear orange clothes to show support for the UNITE Campaign, a U.N. campaign focused on ending violence against women around the globe.

The National Women’s Commission planned the event and executed it with the help of several other government departments. Speakers came to empower the women in attendance and encourage conversations about solutions for gender-based violence and women’s rights in Belize.

Initiatives like the 20,000 Strong march are critical for ending violence against women in Belize. The country has historically been a dangerous place for women to live. Abuse, rape and trafficking are real threats to women and children in Belize. While the 20,000 Strong march has always had special significance for women’s rights in Belize, the 2018 march could not have come at a more appropriate time.

Coming Together for Justice

On March 1, Belizeans awoke to the news that a 17-month old had been violently raped by her stepfather. She died on March 4, and Belize took to the streets on March 5 to call for justice. Belizeans gathered outside the courthouse in Belize City during the stepfather’s trial, demanding that justice be served and action be taken to protect children from heinous abuse.

The horrifying events of the month added fuel to the flame of the 20,000. On March 16, thousands of children joined the marchers, adding their voices to the conversation about women’s rights and violence against women. The coast guard, the Belize Defense force, the police and the First Lady of Belize joined the march, a crucial demonstration of the government’s support of women’s rights in Belize. Along with hosting speakers, some of whom are in high school, the event also supported Belizean small businesses operated by women.

The State of Women’s Rights in Belize

Women’s rights have been a point of concern for Belize. While rape is illegal, the justice system rarely convicts rapists, typically because the accuser cannot testify for fear of physical retaliation. Domestic violence records contain similar patterns. Belize has laws designed to combat sexual harassment, but they are not incredibly effective in practice. Employers are also mandated to pay men and women the same, but the pay gap and unemployment gap remains substantial. Furthermore, female representation in the government is low, with only 3 percent of Parliament members being women.

Female empowerment initiatives speak strongly to the direction Belize is headed. These women (and men!) are coming together and brainstorming ways to inspire change. With the support of the government, legislation is sure to follow that will improve conditions for women. The high attendance from schoolchildren also provides substantial hope for the future. More than 50 percent of Belizeans are under the age of 25, so they will set the direction for the country in the next few decades. With empowered women and children, Belize can look forward to better equality in the future.

– Julia McCartney

Photo: Flickr