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#508935 - 11/07/15 11:39 AM Elections: Where are the women?
Marty Offline

Out of 88 candidates who ran for elections on November 4th, only 11 were women.

The low number of female representation in goverment is a global trend, which is slow in changing. Yet Belizean women continue to fight for fair representation in government, facing considerable struggles and obstacles along the way.

Women’s representation is a right that has taken decades to evolve. The struggle for women to claim an equal place in society and government marked most of the Twentieth Century.

After many movements and much dialogue, women may have won the right to be recognized but that social recognition did not translate into equal participation in government.

The Current Situation

While the modern era has seen more women in leadership roles, the reality is that men still dominate the political arena. This is so, despite the fact that more females are becoming educated, with graduation numbers raking in a two to one ratio to their male counterparts.

Although an unprecedented number of Belizean women ran for general elections this year, the participation of women in politics is still strikingly low. This has been a concern of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for more than 10 years.

In 2001 the UNDP emphasized the need to meet the Millennium Development Goals for 2015, to reach a 30 percent female representation in government.

Belize’s participation percentage is under-achieved at 12.5 percent. The already low percentage is diminished even further after the election as only two women won at the polls – marking a 6.4 representation percentage.

The recent Organization of American States (OAS) Electoral Observer Mission (EOM) also noted “the continued high levels of participation by women in most areas” of the political process. However, despite an increase in the number of female candidates, there remained, a significantly low ratio of female to male candidates, it said.

The Mission recommended that efforts be made by all political parties and the government to continue promoting the participation of women in electoral competition and to create avenues that will encourage the participation of women at all levels of the political process, providing training programs and mentorship.

Why is it important to have women in government?

The study: Toward Equality of Opportunity for Equality of Results, A Situation Analysis of Gender and Politics in Belize, published by the National Women’s Commission with the support of the UNDP, cites “the right to take part in government as a key manifestation of human rights.”

Therefore, the more equal gender representation there is in government, the more it will enhance the human rights of both genders.

Executive Director of the National Women’s Commission (NWC), Ann-Marie Williams states that having women in government is important because “no society will ever prosper by leaving 50 percent of its population behind.” She believes that “everything would change” if women were in government because when women thrive, it has a domino effect, ensuring that all of society thrives.

Reporter took the opportunity to interview 4 of the 11 political aspirants for a local perspective on the matter – Tracy Teagar Panton, a United Democratic Party (UDP) candidate; Edna Diaz, a Belize Progressive Party (BPP) candidate; Yasmin Shoman, a People’s United Party (PUP) candidate; and Samantha Carlos, an independent candidate.

Panton and Diaz shared Williams’ opinion, that it is essential to have women in government, in order for it to be representative of its population.

Shoman elaborated, that “[women] understand the needs and the problems of other women,” and are best suited to define governance policies and laws that would best protect and progress women and families by extention.

As a case in point, Diaz and Carlos note that discrimination, especially against, single parent mothers, is a great concern in their constituencies today.

Carlos and Panton outlined certain female characteristics that they view as essential to progressive governance.

“Imagine a woman, who is kind hearted by nature, running the country, she would have the best interest of the people at heart”, said Carlos. Panton agreed, stating that women bring a sense of compassion and motherly instinct to the table.

What hinders women from political involvement?

The second objective of the UNDP analysis was “to study the economic, cultural and political context that hinder women participation in politics.”

In speaking with these women, a number of hurdles were identified, including time, finances, double standards and archaic mentalities.

Time

Ann Marie Williams, explained that for women to have the time and mental state to perform well in a field as demanding as politics, men must accept the shared responsibility of the home.

She believes a cultural shift in male roles must take place, if women are to have a fair chance at excelling.

“It is important that men get educated in regard to the fundamental part they play in supporting their spouses. We have to raise men who are confident”, she explains, adding that in our society, men still have a superiority complex that relegates women to the spectator gallery.

Women today multi-task, playing triple roles as mother, homemakers, and employees, says Williams. Shoman and Diaz both agree, noting that the responsibility of the home mostly falls on the woman, limiting her capabilities in the work force. Shoman explained that, “Many times women are the head of the household and they have to be concerned about who will take care of their children, and who will provide an income.”

Of note, Kim Simplis Barrow, Prime Minister’s wife, recently acknowledged her husband’s support in the creation of the New Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Karl Huesner Memorial Hospital.

She affirmed that without his support in the home, her achievement would not have been possible. She cited his commitment in taking time take their daughter to school and check her homework, as instrumental for her to have the peace of mind to carry out her work.

Finance

In terms of finances, Williams states that the political field is uneven for women because “political rules are not [women] friendly.” Male campaigns are better funded than female campaigns and stand a better chance of reaching their constituents.

Panton and Diaz agree that a lack of finances and resources were a hindrance during their campaigns. “Mobilizing your campaign . . . the lack of funding/finance,” is a challenge said Panton. “Especially if you come from a rural area and are not of a wealthy family”, Diaz added.

These women believe the boy’s club mentality must be broken. Simply because it is a male-dominated arena, many women still believe that politics is for men, says Carlos. This and the fact that personal attacks originating from the male camp have become common at official meetings and gatherings, discourage women from offering themselves as candidates.

“Not many women can stand being slandered, or have their names dragged through mud”, said Carlos. Williams however, is not convinced and offered that the political field is not as traitorous as it is made out to be and that “women are not afraid” of slander and personal attacks.

Double standard

Belizean politics is also immersed in double standards, say the women. Female candidates are called to a higher standard of education and etiquette. Often times female candidates are expected to be well educated and abide by higher moral standards. Yet the unspoken expectations are lowered for men – rewarding those who take moral liberties and have limited education – with multiple terms in office.

Panton believes that women are judged harsher in their behavior. “There are certain things men candidates can get away with that women will never be able to get away with.” Shoman agrees, “Our society can be very cruel sometimes. Your private life, if you’ve made a mistake in the past, they splash it all over the media.”

What can the society do to encourage women to become involved in politics?

The UNDP report aims “to foster a national dialogue to create a better environment that will encourage women to participate in politics.”

Along those lines, the NWC, Women In Politics (WIP) movement, has seen success. Out of the three cohorts that the WIP has conducted, five participants have endeavored into a political career at the municipal level and WIP saw its first participant, from its third cohort, Tracy Teagar Panton, undertake the candidacy of area representative for the Albert Division.

Panton attributed the WIP in giving her, “an opportunity to network with women from all over the country who have a vested interest in terms of seeking political office. It created a support network, to share ideas, to hear some of the unique concerns that women are facing in their lives and it really helped me to consider the opportunity to run for politics in a serious way.”

Williams believes that the program has directly influenced a change in the political landscape in the seven years of its operation. “The commission is doing foundation work. If the Commission would have been doing the work 20 years ago, we would have already seen more changes”, said Williams.

Out of 11 female candidates, seven were from the Belize District, while only four were from other districts – showing a disparity between female political involvement across the country. In Williams’ view, there needs to be an environment of exposure and awareness into leadership. Although most districts have women groups, most focus on income-generating objectives and other issues related to the home and not on leadership and governance.

So what advice do these women give? Panton and Shoman believe that more bi-partisan dialogue to educate women and girls about the importance of politics would encourage females to consider a political career. Diaz takes it one step further, as she believes that engendering a mentality of equality from as early as preschool will change the political landscape of the country.

In ending, Reporter asked when Belize would see its first female Prime Minister.

Panton is hopeful that it will be in her lifetime. Shoman and Diaz believe that the next two or three terms could see a woman as the face of Belize.

Samantha Carlos, however, confidently stated that she would be the country’s first female Prime Minister!

The Reporter


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#509121 - 11/14/15 11:22 AM Re: Elections: Where are the women? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Women Watch in Election 2015

By: Ann Marie Williams

The 2015 General/National Elections have come and gone and as such have taken its rightful place in the annals of Belizean history. According to the Elections and Boundaries Department, the total number of registered electors as of September 2015, stood at 196,587. And of that number, only 142,900 voted (72.69%).

Despite the turnout, the elections were historic in more ways than one:

  • The United Democratic Party (UDP) won three unprecedented and consecutive elections since post independent Belize
  • The People’s United Party is the first party to suffer three consecutive defeats since post independent Belize
  • It is the first time that a father and son have been elected to the National Assembly (Said and Kareem Musa)
  • It is the first time that a third party has fielded so many candidates (The Belize Progressive Party, 25candidates).
  • It is the first time that both mass parties fielded four women candidates each and first time ever in Belize’s political history that a total of 11 women contested National Elections, four UDPs, four PUPs, two Belize Progressive Party candidates and one independent.

How did they fare?

The UDP women candidates namely; Carla Barnett of Freetown, Tracy Panton (Albert), Beverly Castillo (Belize Rural Central), and Guadalupe Magana Dyck of Orange Walk South all did very well being political novices.

The Fonseca/Barnett Effect:

Someone told me that Francis Fonseca will lose his Freetown seat because his party will make sure he loses. I told the person “I am certain that will not happen this time”. I went on to tell him that I have been studying the division and tracking trends over the years, ever since Derek Aikman first won in 1984 defeating then Prime Minister, the late George Price in what I feel still remains the biggest political upset in post independent Belize.

While politics is a social science and you can learn a lot from tracking social behaviour, a few anomalies still pop up from time to time but, this wasn’t going to be one of those times. It is a fact that it’s hard to unseat a party’s leader…the position wields huge amounts of power, much largesse have flowed to voters from that powerful stream plus, leaders are seen as mini gods in Belize and perhaps more importantly, the body politic is clear here; you don’t hit a ‘man’ when he’s down.

As a student of politics coupled with years of being a political analyst, I concluded prior to the elections that if Barnett had won, the UDP would have had a landslide…and it had little to do with her, and more to do with the mighty wind needed to have blown out the PUP leadership. This is not new. We saw it in 1998 when UDP Candidate and Party Leader, Manuel Esquivel lost to PUP Candidate Jose Coye in Caribbean Shores. The PUP had a landslide victory. That was the day the music died for the UDP. This massive defeat came after PUP gerrymandered Caribbean Shores in the early 1970s and Esquivel took an immediate foothold for 25 years, winning every election before he lost.

It happened again in 2008 and while Ralph Fonseca was not the party leader per se, he was close enough to have caused the UDP to win by a landslide when the mighty wind took him and he was defeated by Michael “Hutchy” Hutchinson in Belize Rural Central. Absolutely no one believed it…

The Women in Blue:

The PUP women never did so well when you compare each of them against their UDP counterpart… I submit that it’s largely because the blue women went up against stronger red competition in the various constituencies and they were not well financed as most of the ladies in red.

For example, Dorla Vaughan had Michael Finnegan, a political institution as her opponent. Finnegan won the last two general elections in Mesopotamia by 1,461 and 1,177 votes respectively. Yasmin Shoman lost in Collet, a predominantly blue division prior to incumbent Patrick Faber’s foray into politics in that area, which has the dubious distinction, twice over, of two candidates, one blue, one red winning by a single vote. Lesbia Guerra went up against another political institution, Erwin Contreras in Cayo West. And then there’s the womens’/children’s rights champion, Dolores Balderamos Garcia who was defeated by Beverly Castillo in her stomping grounds of Hattieville in the Rural Central Constituency. It was a nail-biter of a victory for Castillo who won by 58 votes. Noteworthy, is that Balderamos Garcia is a bit of an outlier because this is only her second time she stood for elections in Belize Rural Central. The first was in 2012 when she defeated Michael “Hutchy” Hutchinson (the UDPs David) by 204 votes. Balderamos Garcia found her early political victories in Port Loyola.

Like it is:

In 2012, two women were appointed as Senators and brought into the Cabinet with full ministerial responsibilities namely; Senator the Hon.A. Joy Grant and Lisel Alamilla. Today’s Cabinet has seen a marginal increase of one woman over 2012. She is Vanessa Retreage, the first woman Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs (she doesn’t have to be elected because of a change in the law). The two elected women representatives are both Deputy Ministers. Tracy Panton is the Minister-of-State in the Ministry of Economic Development, Investment, Trade and Commerce while Beverly Castillo, is the Minister-of-State in the Ministry of Immigration.

The Way Forward:

How do we keep the elected women and others interested in politics together for the long run…literally?

Well, the Organization of American States which served as election observer suggested in its recommendations that “efforts be made by all political parties and the government to continue to promote the participation of women in electoral competition and to create avenues to encourage the participation of youth at all levels of the political process, providing training programs and mentorship for women and young political leaders”.

The National Women’s Commission as part of its mandate to monitor the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2009 found it necessary to have prepared and socialized women for politics via the Women in Politics Project (WIP) in 2009 which has trained 98 women; some of whom have successfully stood for and are now serving at the Village Council and Municipal Levels. Punta Gorda, Mayor Fern Gutierrez and Dangriga Deputy Mayor, Earth Lopez are two WIP graduates. Newly elected Albert Representative, Tracy Panton is also a WIP graduate. The Women’s Issues Network (WIN-Belize) has also trained women in leadership who are currently serving in Town Councils.

The success of WIP has been incremental as expected however, the early investments have yielded much fruit and as a country it is imperative that we stay true to Sustainable Development Goal 5, which speaks to Gender Equality if, we’re serious about utilizing half of our country’s brain power for national development.

Ann-Marie Williams is an Award-Winning Journalist and Former Editor of the Reporter Newspaper.

She has served as political analyst for the last six General Elections and has written on election issues in Belize.

She is a British Chevening Scholar and a Hubert Humphrey Fellow with specializations in Gender & Development and Human Trafficking Policy and Law.

The Reporter


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#509129 - 11/14/15 01:34 PM Re: Elections: Where are the women? [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
$$$$$$. The UDP had it and the PUP did not. Remove $ from the equation not addressed above and results would have been different and less people gone to the polls. We need election reform. Not chest beating from a weak Women's Dept who still call women candidates 'ladies'. Geez!
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www.belize-trips.com
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