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Mar 26, 2020

Healthy Living: Domestic Violence & Social Distancing

Typically in March, Belize would celebrate Women’s Month with a plethora of activities that would celebrate women, as well as, bring to focus the issues specific to our gender. All those activities, though, have been shelved as the world now focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic. But, gender-based violence is still a genuine threat for many women across the country. Health experts continue to advocate for more people to stay home to reduce the spread of the virus and ultimately stay safe.  So what do women do when being at home is the least safe place to be? Tonight in Healthy Living, we find out more about what you can do to protect yourself or your loved one during this time. 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

The shuttered stores and empty streets across the country prove that many Belizeans are listening to the advice of health experts to stay home and stay safe. Yes, this is the best way to stop any potential spread of COVID-19, but it leaves a lot of people gravely exposed to something worse. Agencies like the National Women’s Commission are issuing their own warning about the possible escalation of gender-based violence.


Cynthia Williams

Cynthia Williams, Executive Director, National Women’s Commission

“When it comes to this situation, the aspect of isolation and the aspect of staying at home definitely increases risk for certain populations, particularly those who experience gender-based violence, one of them being domestic violence or sexual violence.”


Many families are already in crisis as they grapple with lay-offs, pay cuts, or meeting the costs of stocking up to stay home. And the general the feeling of loss of control as no one can tell us what’s going to happen next. All these factors create are amplifying the risks for people in abusive situations.


Cynthia Williams

“Gender-based violence it is really rooted in power and control and so the fact that people who are unable to manage these types of concerns in a positive way then often it could lead to them being able to exert violence or control over them around them, it could be their partners, their elderly parents, it could be their children as well. So it is definitely something we have to look at.”


Even if there is no job loss, also sharing a space to work from home can bring its own complications.


Cynthia Williams

“Sometimes those were the times hone maybe those persons were able to access services for go ask for help or be able to just go with someone to talk about what is going on.  Not being able to step out of their homes or not having that space because they are there in the home that adds another burden as well. The fact that they might think that even if they access the services, they will contract the disease in some way.”


So what can you do to prepare for this potentially dangerous time?


1) Create a safety plan (The Women’s Department can help)


Cynthia Williams

“Every case is different. People need to be aware of patterns that their partners already exhibit as too when exactly these violent incidents will occur, and a lot of times, they have a sense that there are certain triggers that they can begin to see. So be aware of that. If possible, depending on where you are. It would be advisable for them to remove themselves from the situation – if possible to maybe a safer place in the house. We know this can be a challenge because a lot of our families live in very confined spaces.  When you look at the issue of weapons, know where these weapons. Try as best as possible to minimize. Try at least to hide them and things like that.”


2) Create codes to ask for help


Cynthia Williams

“If you have a neighbor, you can let them know that this is a code that I can use. When I use it, you know something is going on, and it’s not very evident, and the person doesn’t have to know that I am asking for help.”


3) Make a Plan for your Children


Cynthia Williams

“For those who have children, depending on the age range and the maturity of the children, how best to let them know. Most of the time, the children know. A lot of the times, they are also victims of abuse, so how do you also help them understand avenues of how to get out of the house the easiest and the fastest and the safest way. What are the codes we can use as a family to let us know that this is escalating and as well?   How do you help children understand the coding? The numbers to call – a lot of times children we think that they don’t understand, but they can learn: who to call and how they can evade, especially if they are smaller how to come out but always try to protect their children at all times.  They have to look at the threat to life the more imminent threat to life in that instance not only on themselves but also on their children, I often think when it comes to these situations, people are unable to even act because of the level of stress in that situation and it’s important for them to try.”


Every year from 2016 to 2018, there were over two thousand reported cases of domestic violence in Belize. The total numbers for 2019 are not available as yet. Williams warns that these numbers are just a small part of what the situation really is in our country. So, as everyone shuts their doors to shelter at home, she urges families and communities to not shut out their loved ones.


Cynthia Williams

“We keep hearing at this moment in the virus situation that we are our brothers and sisters keepers. So it’s important for us to actually act on it.”


Once again, if you’d like to know more about creating your own safety plan or need information on how to help your loved ones. You can call the Women’s Department at 615-1780 or 615-2252. In severe or potentially life-threatening situations, call your nearest police station. 

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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