Balanced Gender Policy Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 23 May 2013 00:00

Chair of the NWC, Esther Ramirez, CEO Judith Alpuche, Executive Director,  andNWC, Ann-Marie WilliamsThe National Women’s Commission launched the Revised National Gender Policy on Thursday, May 16th. Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Human Development, Judith Alpuche referred to the launching as both a ribbon cutting and groundbreaking ceremony: ribbon cutting because it is the result of almost four years worth of analysis and report and groundbreaking because the policy is merely a guideline for work that is yet to be done.

The revised National Gender Policy addresses the major challenges that are faced by women, men and children in Belize. The five areas of focus are health, education and skills training, wealth and employment generation, violence reduction and power and decision making. Adele Catzim-Sanchez was the consultant contracted to work on the document. She said that there was a need for the revision of the policy because, “life changes over time and there are new emerging issues that have come to our attention over the last few years.” Sanchez said that Belize has made great strides over the last few years in many of the areas of concern such as increasing the female members in Cabinet from zero in the last administration to two in the current (both by Senate appointments). However, there is much more that needs to be done.

In the area of health, the policy recommends that as a country, we must invest more in primary health care programmes and integrate sexual and reproductive health as a national development priority with a specific focus on increasing male access to sexual and reproductive health care services. It recommends the expansion of injury prevention and treatment services geared towards the special needs of women, men and children. The policy calls for a strengthening of the comprehensive mental health services delivered at the local level and the sustaining of increased access to health care for rural communities. The policy also recommends that measures be taken to encourage men to get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases because they tend to be tested much later in ailment.

In the area of education and skills training, the report calls for the elimination of gender based discrimination at all levels of the education system and the increase in support for “second chance” programmes for boys and girls who drop out of school. Executive Director of the National Women’s Commission, Anne-Marie Williams, said, “It's always amazing to me how we look at women graduating three to one, officially three to one, over their counterparts at the University; the highest level of education we have in Belize.” While this figure may seem like a note of hope for women empowerment, C.E.O. Alpuche said, “We do not want the empowerment of women at the cost of the marginalization of men.” The document recommends the development of incentives to keep men in school. Another sour note in relation to the university graduation figures is that it does not translate in to the labor force. Williams said, “The last labor participation rate shows that men are employed almost two to one over women,” she continued, “Somehow, [the university graduation figure] is not translated as part of the labor force participation rate.” The policy therefore recommends for there to be “opportunities for lifelong learning that is holistic, gender responsive, integrated and geared towards sustainable national development.”

On wealth and employment generation, the policy states that there is need for gender equity in the labour force participation and employment rate and the elimination of discrimination against men and women workers, including those in the informal sector. It also address the need for expansion of the social safety net for vulnerable men, women and children and greater equity in child maintenance provisions.

Gender based violence continues to be an area of concern. The policy recommends the expansion and strengthening of child protection programmes. Sanchez said that one of those new and emerging issues that have come to our attention in recent years “is the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents and so, the national gender policy includes those things and it makes specific commitments for how the Government will address that situation.” The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Prohibition Bill was passed by the National Assembly in December 2012 in an effort to offer more protection for children, who are vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. To continue to prevent and prosecute other forms of gender-based violence the policy calls for the building of institutional capacity to address gender-based violence/crime and guarantee access to justice. It also recommends the creation of psycho-social support mechanisms and resources for survivors of gender based violence as well as the establishment of family support systems that improves gender relations.

The policy calls on Government to continue this administration’s commitment to increasing the participation of women in decision making positions. There are two women ministers in Cabinet and several hold the position of Chief Executive Officers. An increase of women in decision-making positions would result in better institutional capacity for gender mainstreaming of all relevant policies, strategies and plans of action. The policy also recommends the implementation of gender budgeting across the public sector and across civil society organizations.

In Sanchez’s description, “The updated national gender policy is not just a women's document as people would tend to believe but it truly embodies all the issues that affect us as human beings, being male or female, young or old."