It is fitting that during March, a month in which we traditionally highlight the accomplishments of women, two women have been appointed to serve as ministers in the new government. Congratulations to Hon Liselle Alamilla and Hon. Joy Grant. In an ideal world, women of their calibre would have sought and won election but this is not an ideal world and their appointment is a cause for celebration. A few organizations and individuals have already started to raise questions and in a democracy, this is their right. It is therefore important to be realistic about what can be expected from these and the other appointed senators, Hon. Godwin Hulse and Hon. Charles Gibson.
Under our parliamentary system, members of Cabinet must support decisions taken by the cabinet. They can lobby and try to persuade fellow members of the cabinet before a decision is taken but should their opinion not prevail they must either support the collective decision or resign. Undoubtedly, there will be areas of disagreement along the way between all members of cabinet but a decision to resign should only be taken if the issue is of such import that a Minister cannot in conscience support the collective decision.
Some Maya leaders have criticized the inclusion of a mandate to address issues concerning indigenous people in the Ministry to be headed by Hon. Liselle Alamilla on two grounds. Firstly, they state that the government should first have consulted the organizations representing indigenous groups on the creation of such a mandate and secondly, they state that such a post should in any case be held by a member of an indigenous community. These concerns stem from a misunderstanding of the proposed ministerial mandate. That there are issues concerning the rights of indigenous peoples is not in question. Sometimes, the best interests of indigenous people may appear to be in conflict with a more comprehensive view of national interests and negotiation between the government and those who have been selected to represent indigenous people. Ms. Alamilla’s appointment clarifies who the government’s chief negotiator will be in such cases. Obviously, the organizations representing indigenous people cannot appoint both their own negotiators and also those negotiating on behalf of the government.
In the same way, those questioning whether Joy Grant and Liselle Alamilla can perform their Ministerial duties and at the same time remain true to their conservation roots are working on the false assumption that governments are inherently hostile to conservation. This confuses ends with means. Any sensible Belizean government will want to conserve our natural resources but at the same time the government is charged with the difficult task of satisfying the material and developmental needs of the majority of Belizeans. The complicated balancing act of encouraging development, while at the same time protecting the environment, is one that every government of whatever political stripe will face. The solutions favoured by governments to such complex issues will of necessity also be complex. Usually, these deliberations will weigh the risks and benefits of developmental action and inaction against the dangers to the environment and if a decision is taken to act then, various mitigation measures will also be instituted. Environmental agencies have a much easier task since they concentrate only on conservation and hence, their first response is always to oppose any development that might pose an environmental risk however slight that risk might be.
Thus, offshore drilling and drilling in protected areas are not the true issues but rather protection of the reef and the environment in general against accidental oil spills. There are many means towards this end. One possible, but extremely blunt, means to this end is to prevent all drilling but there are many other sharper tools that can be means to the same end. That is why it is important to have a comprehensive and well -informed public debate that fully explores all possible options that can result in something on which we are all in agreement but before any decision is taken. It is quite possible that many people of integrity, including some conservationists, will disagree on the best means but this will not be because they have “sold out” but, because weighing the issues, they have reached their own conclusions.
The four appointed ministers joined the eleven elected ministers in taking their oath of office, in which they swore allegiance to Belize and pledged to carry out their duties without fear or favour. Until proven otherwise, we should assume that this is what they will do. Congratulations to all the new ministers but especially Liselle and Joy, who will face especially hostile scrutiny from some quarters. I have every confidence that these women and men are up to the difficult and exciting work that lies ahead.
Today the Women's Department held its 7th annual Women's Summit - just one of the many highlights of Women's month. Women from urban and rural communities from around the country gathered where they all joined in a dialog to share their experiences as women. Director of the Women's Department, Icilda Humes who told us why the summit is more than just a talk shop:
Icilda Humes, Director of the Women's Department"This year we really wanted to ensure that we are being true to the theme " Connecting Girls Inspiring Futures" and for that reason we made a very special effort to ensure that we had a large population of young women participating in this event because we really do need to engage in more inter-generation dialogue; women to girl - girl to women, so that we can understand the different perspectives that we have, so that we can understanding the perspectives of young women, the perspectives of girls and so that they can understand our perspective in a mutually respectfully manner."
"I think that we need to do more of this. We continue to do at the smaller scale throughout the year, but I think women/girls have really started to look forward to the summit as an opportunity for them to speak freely with their peers and with those who they might not consider to be their peers because we often celebrate the similarities that we have as women and as girls and as members of the female population."
"We don't really talk about the differences and the fact that it is those differences that make us unique. It is those differences that make us a very diverse group of people and so we need to understand that yes we embrace our similarities but we also respect and embrace our differences as well."
There was much to celebrate on Wednesday, March 21, 2012, as 16 women from the Women in Politics WIP Program (WIP) were awarded certificates during their graduation ceremony, held at the Belize Best Western Biltmore Plaza.
This cohort marks the third to graduate from this program. Cohort 3 started with 20 women participants; 6 successful completed the 13-week program.
The graduation ceremony was very welcoming, informative and high-spirited as guest speakers took to the stage and songs were sung by St. Luke’s Methodist Choir. One cohort 3 participant, Melanie Nicole Price, told the audience during her graduate reflection that she will be entering the political arena at the next General Elections. Price also divulged that her aspiration for political office will lead her in pursuing the title of the first woman Prime Minister of Belize.
Price, during an interview with us, said that despite being born to Belizean parents overseas, she returned to Belize over a decade ago to make a difference in her society. She explained that it was her mother who, from an early age, encouraged her to become a leader.
Price spoke on her experience as a participant in the WIP program, “I feel happy. I feel blessed. I feel I’ve achieved a goal that was 12 years in the making. It is 12 years ago that my mom told me, ‘you need to go to Belize and contribute what you can; based on your education and life experience, and give back to your country.’”
“These programs, like WIP, are critical because, one, most of us are operating out of ignorance; we don’t have adequate information to even make qualified, capable decisions especially in relation to politics in Belize.”
“The Women in Politics is the number one program in the country to support people in figuring out what is of most importance in relation to being a political leader”.
The project manager of WIP, Ann-Marie Williams, commented on the importance of these programs in facilitating political aspirants with the proper knowledge about politics here in Belize. Williams said, “This is one of its (WIP) mission to raise a critical mass of women for the highest level of political leadership in Belize”.
So far 98 women have been trained through this program; eight of the women have entered the political arena . Williams continued, “It’s an opportunity for those, who truly express an interest standing for elections, to get a basic foundation and what we feel is requisite training for them to be prepared when they are ready to represent us as a nation”.
We also asked Williams how she is feeling seeing her students graduate from the program. She said, “It is one of mixed emotions, a lot of pride. Pride in the fact that these women came and stayed the course and today they are here.
“It thrills me to see women live up to their full potential”.
As part of women’s month the Women’s department held its annual women’s summit. The event was held at the Radisson Fort George Hotel. The summit provides an opportunity for women from across the country - urban and rural communities to come together to discuss the issues associated with women's month theme "Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures". The summit provides women with an opportunity to network and it's also forms a basis for education and information. Director for the Women’s Department, Icilda Humes, shared more on the summit.
Icilda Humes, Director, Women's Department It is an opportunity to bring together women from urban and rural communities in one space to openly and respectfully talk about various issues pertaining to women. This year our theme is ‘Connecting Girls, Inspiring Future’ and for that reason we really made an effort to engage as many teenagers as possible to be a part of this event. So you will see that we have a wide cross section of members of the female population in terms of ethnicity, age and socio-economic backgrounds and that really is what the summit is about.
Currently there are more females advancing in and achieving higher education; in this light Humes was asked about the need to promote women empowerment.
Icilda Humes You look at the classrooms, from the primary, secondary and university schools and you certainly see more women than men, but what happens after that? It’s not translating into women in leadership positions. Then you will even have to start the discussion about a critical mass of women in parliament, because we all recognize that this is an area that desperately needs to be addressed and so we commend our sister agency, the National Women’s Commission for their efforts in women in political leadership. Even though we are seeing more women than men in the classroom, it is not translating into women really reaching to the level of leadership development that we should be at in terms of making sure that there is quality in decision making and leadership in the highest level of our country.
The women’s department can be contacted about other activities related to women’s month.
The entire month of March is dedicated to the advancement of the women’s agenda. A summit this morning at the Radisson organized by the Women’s Department discussed how the information highway affects empowerment and development of women. The organizers feel that socialization begins at birth and that early exposure is the key to making informed choices. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Critical to the empowerment of women is the availability of information. Director of Women’s Department, Icilda Humes says that the transfer of that knowledge continues to remain key, and one of the primary reasons behind the annual women’s summit.
Icilda Humes, Director, Women’s Department
“We tend to celebrate our similarities as women, but we often forget that it is our differences that make us unique and diverse. Perhaps we need to take a step back and look around and say, ‘she is not me, she is she’. We mustn’t lose sight though, of the fact that sometimes we make decisions without the right information. For that reason, one of the objectives of the annual women’s summit is to provide women with knowledge so that they can make informed decisions.”
And that is vital, because girls’ socialization starts from birth; which is central to their development as women, says C.E.O. Alpuche:
Judith Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Human Dev, Social Trans & Poverty Alleviation
“We think about all that our girls, or our children on a whole, but certainly our girls are bombarded with these days, with regards to the internet and all the information that is out there, the media, etc and how that impacts on their sense of self. How do we help our girls? That is a reality of the world that we live in. Although we can work on making the media more sensitive, that is laudable and work than needs to be done. But the reality is that from the girl is born, the clock starts ticking and we have about eighteen years, and so to my mind, a lot of the emphasis needs to be on inculcating values and building resiliency in our girls. In helping them to navigate all that is around them.”
And for that reason, this year’s theme, ‘’ resonates well within a local context:
“We were elated when the international theme was announced this year, because the theme in itself is a call to action and a less than subtle reminder that we are not engaging our girls in our advocacy, in our activism, or in our discussions. I am sure most of you have heard me say this before, and I will say it again, and keep saying it because anything that promotes positive change and that will move our country forward, is worth repeating a hundred times. So, our young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today. Saying otherwise, their values, their contributions, sends a message that age trumps commonsense; it trumps creativity and innovation and it trumps visionary and transformational leadership.”
But for there to be more inclusion, there must be a balance within an open discourse setting:
“The whole issue of children’s participation, young person’s participation and opening up the space for girls is very key, to my mind. And really, ensuring and understanding that in their own right, they come with their experiences and ideas, we need to value them because they do have something to say. And they are the experts on their situations.”
“As the adults we tend to believe that our values are more important than theirs. How many times, have you heard people saying, ‘Oh this generation is nothing like ours,’ but you know what, every generation says that. I certainly have head my parents say that and I have said it to my sons. But what exactly are we saying when we say this, is it that generation after generation should think, act and look the same? Well if that were the case, then this world would be kinda boring, and we would not have grown as a people. So where exactly do we draw the lines on the values we want to instill in our girls and imposing our values on them?”
Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.
Another activity to look out for takes place at the end of the month at the Bliss parking lot where Maya Women’s Expo will be held.