REPORT #203 Mar 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Belize has many ethnic backgrounds of varying religious persuasions. Each one has it's own culture. Probably the most oppressive culture for women is that of remote subsistance slash and burn Mayan agricultural villages. Here the male is dominant by tradition. Brides are arranged by marriage broker and women are trained from childbirth to be subservient to the male. Usually by violence in the cultural tradition of Mayan history. There is little escape either for the female in a small Mayan community from an abusive male father/husband/owner. In subsistance agriculture, the male is needed to clean the jungle trees every three years for new agriculture slash and burn plots. Should a female flee and some do, to distant towns in the country of Belize, being caught can really be violent on her person. Like many Arab Muslim states, the remote hill country Mayan female is chattel, owned as a possession like a mule. Ownership is enforced by economic deprivation.

A new type of culture has developed in the expanding politically dominant port of Belize City. It is one in which females are abandoned by males, or lack families altogether in growing up in the back alleys and become prey for economic subsistance on males. This is predominantly a Creole city ethnic problem.

Acts of homocidal violence against women in different cultures are common throughout most of the world. This is where laws and society, because of faulty cultures, fail to protect them. There was a meeting in Bejing, China five years ago, to highlight this problem of gender discrimination by culture. The situation has worsened since then. Violence against women is even sanctioned by many cultures. In Belize, the government itself hardly ever gets to remote Mayan villages and leaves the males and Mayan culture to police themselves. In the port city, the Creole female gender abuse is economic and a combination like any city in any country, of lack of education, lack of babysitting means and lack of three generational extended family support.

In third world countries, particularly in the tropics, the traditional way of handling social problems is the cohesive nature of subsistance agricultural families that live in compounds, or close knit villages via the three generational method. In groups of varying ages, the social compact allows the group to meet the demands and economic needs of their members, despite outside problems, that are usually economic. In manufacturing nations which are more congested, organized differently, and usually facing different seasonal weather problems, the governments have had to substitute financial answers to separated families created by zoning codes, unemployment, housing and other things. In the tropics, usually because of lower income flows for the governments and inhabitants orientated to raw materials and agriculture, the social problems are still best met by the three generational agriculture compound process.

In Belize City the largest port town in the nation of Belize, the three generational extended family of social cohesiveness has broken down. We are now on the 3rd or 4th generation of fragmented families from colonial days. Yet the answer of government intervention by financial means seems to have failed. A way to restore the three generational extended family system is needed in this tropical paradise, for the Creoles of the port Belize City problems.

Worldwide, the problem is very serious. In India, more than 6000 bride burnings, or other types of 'lack of dowry' deaths were reported in 1997. The women were burned to death by cultural tradition, because in-laws were not satisfied with the dowry, or the husband not satisfied with the wife bartered, or bought by his parents. In Afghanistan, there are now hundreds of thousands of deaths of women attributed by religious fanatics who are ruling the country in the name of religion. In Bangladesh, acid attacks on females are a favored cultural tradition by males thwarted with female rejection of their attentions.

The United Nations reports that when they send people on assignment to southeast Asia, with the sex business, the UN people come back raving feminists within six months.

The path of gender equality and economic equality for women comes into collision with laws and governments that favor men. Much of the violence and oppression of women is excused by government people and males in different parts of the society in the name of culture, or religion.

In general, Belize enjoys a large measure of independence for women. But there are segments of the Belizean national society, wherein the culture is different and women are oppressed and the government has not recognized, or found solutions. Being an agricultural nation, some independence for women by plots of land and housing is necessary. For the city females on their own, a move perhaps to a different culture than that of the port city is needed. A place where they can re-build extended family and three generational social and economic support.

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