Situation Analysis of Gender and Politics in Belize; women far behind
Also in the political arena, a report on gender and politics was released this morning by the National Women’s Commission and the scale is heavily tipped in favor of men. The report looks at the situation of women’s representation globally, in the Caribbean region and narrows it down to Belize. It also studied the data from village, municipal and national elections and interviewed both men and women involved in the political process in the past fourteen years. After a year of analysis, the report concludes that Belizean women are way at the bottom in politics. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
Toward Equality of Opportunity for Equality of Results; a Situation Analysis of Gender and Politics in Belize provides a comprehensive look at the participation and representation of women in electoral politics. The last such study, according to the Executive Director of the National Women’s Commission, Ann-Marie Williams, was in 1998.
Ann-Marie Williams, Executive Director, National Women’s Commission
“It’s one of the many activities that is put out under this Strengthening Women in Democracy project. It happened to be an important piece of work. It was timed to look at the situation of gender and politics in Belize because the commission did a first work and since 1998, there’s been no new body of work. So it was timely. The other thing, as we all know, we need to raise women’s political representation and so it’s an opportunity to look at the situation on the ground, what exactly is happening.”
But despite ongoing programs to train potential female candidates, the publication, launched today, paints a dismal picture.
Debra Lewis, Consultant, Situation Analysis
“Only three point one percent of our elected members of the legislature in this round are women. That’s one out of thirty-one. At Belize City Council, we’ve actually gone backwards over the last ten years or so. In 2003, we kind of hit a pinnacle when just over half of the members of the City Council were women; six out of eleven. Since that time, the numbers have decreased in every election since to the point now that we have only one out of the eleven members being female. So in that case it’s really been a case of one step forward two steps back.”
In 2003 there was a spike in the number of women who took part in the town board and village council elections, but those numbers are also declining as Consultant, Debra Lewis explains.
“When we look at town boards, we find that less than twenty percent of the members of town boards are women and in this case too, the numbers have actually declined over the last few elections. We were actually up over twenty percent for a few years and in this year’s election we actually dipped below that level for the first time in about ten years. When we look at village councils, we find that about one and a half out of seven village council members on average are women. And this varies quite a bit by district but when you look at the national picture, I think it’s one point six two out of seven. More than a quarter of village councils in Belize have no women at all.”
While it’s not good news, the information and recommendations in the situation analysis will be used to create strategies for improved statistics.
“Making change is going to require these kinds of things; developing women as a political block, temporary special measures or quotas, addressing the role of political parties as gate keepers to our political process, empowering women to run and changing the culture of political institutions.”
“It’s time now for people to look seriously at the recommendations—political parties, government and civil society—to see what is it that we will put in place to do this. I am happy that the minister of education, the Honorable Patrick Faber, who served as a member of the advisory committee for this project, when we had a presentation he actually said at the presentation—and I’m not telling tales out of school—that he would like to sit down with the somebody from the People’s United Party to look at what both parties can do to help to fast track women’s political leadership and that is encouraging.”
But there is plenty of work to be done, since Belize has only one female elected representative and millennium development goal number three requires that women hold thirty percent of seats in the National Assembly. Guyana is the only country in the region that has achieved that goal following the implementation of a quota system in the constitutional reform of 2000.
Deborah Backer, Deputy Speaker, National Assembly of Guyana
“Women should be involved and participate in the corridors of power so that when agendas are being set, when policies are being thought of, we are there to make our voices heard. So it is important that we take part. And secondly, we must go into politics to be the agents of change. Debra spoke about the old boys club, the disconnect with the population—we cannot want ten more women in Belize at least to get into politics by 2017, if they are going to go and continue with business as usual. We must be the agents of change.”
“When you look at the Latin American/Caribbean region as a whole, we find that it’s just over the global average at about twenty-one/twenty-two percent but when we look at the average for the English Speaking Caribbean, we do much worse and the average for the English Speaking Caribbean is less than fifteen percent. So there’s quite a difference there. And of course, Belize sits at the bottom of the list, even within the Caribbean at three point one percent.”
The report took almost a year to complete since it includes the data from this year’s general and municipal elections. Delahnie Bain for News Five.
The project was funded by the United Nations Development Programme.