The Revised National Gender Policy Should be Withdrawn
Written by: Godfrey Smith
I had followed only from the fringes the brouhaha that had bubbled in the media over the Revised National Gender Policy and had been meaning to bring myself up to date on the issue. After a day of courtroom arguments, I downloaded the document, summoned up my reserves of mental energy, readied myself to analyze a document thick with controversy and thorny with social implications, and then delved in.
The revised policy is the product of the National Women's Commission of Belize and is funded by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). It examines inequalities experienced by both women and men in Belize and recommends strategies to correct gender disparities in five priority areas: Health, Education/Skills Training, Wealth and Employment Generation, Violence Producing Conditions and Power and Decision-making.
It analyzes the existing situation in Belize in relation to each of the five heads, sets out objectives then lists manifesto-like commitments - "the government will ..." followed by a long list of laudatory but largely platitudinous aspirations. Men and children are given almost equal attention under the revised policy.
I slowly, despairingly trawled through the document for the "implications" that the Council of Management of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) said caused it to view the policy with "grave concern". In its press release of June 03, 2013, the BNTU said that a presentation had been made to its Council of Management. It is not disclosed who made the presentation to them. But following the presentation, the council resolved to "undertake a thorough review of the document with a view towards determining the impact the Gender policy will have on ALL." Without waiting for the results of the "thorough review" to be undertaken, the BNTU immediately called on the government to "put an immediate halt to any further action on this policy."
In effect, the BNTU was saying: we have not yet studied the policy ourselves but persons (unnamed) have pointed out certain implications of the policy which cause us to view the policy with grave concern, therefore, government, halt any further action on the policy.
The BNTU then takes a bizarre and incoherent "stand in solidarity against any system that will jeopardize the construct of the Belizean society." What construct are they talking about? I couldn't find any evidence in the revised gender policy of the introduction of any system that could jeopardize Belizean society. Small wonder then that the government's position is that it shall not be moved from the policy.
What got the goat of the religious leaders was one paragraph among several others setting out the principles that would guide the policy:
"Respect for Diversity: Men and women in Belize are not a homogeneous group. Rather the population is comprised of persons of all ages who come from diverse races, cultures, ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations, socio-economic situations and behavioral lifestyles. All policies and programmes must therefore reflect this reality of diversity among the Belizean populace and customary, religious and cultural practices must be subject to the right of equality."
Religious leaders want the mention of "sexual orientation" removed from the policy; they see this as an insidious acceptance of the LGBT agenda in Belize that will lead to other evils.
I surfaced from my reading an hour later - to borrow the words of the Belmopan Area Coalition of Churches - "saddened, shocked and outraged".
I fully expected to find under the heading "Violence Producing Conditions", recommendations for the ferreting out and prosecution of pedophiliac priests and evangelizing pastors who ingratiate themselves among communities then grossly abuse their elevated positions of trust and reverence among their congregations to sexually abuse minors or young adolescents. There was nothing to deal with this hidden but pervasive plague.
The BNTU see ghosts where there are none. What they should seek to exorcise in the Church-state educational system is that pernicious policy of Church leaders purporting to deal with predator priests under an ancient Canon Law process that amounts to nothing more than keeping information out of the hands of police and transferring priests to other parishes around the country where they continue to abuse children.
I had expected a bold denunciation of the churches' warped position on condom use which they say shouldn't be tolerated even if it is to prevent AIDS within marriage. In vain did I search for a rejection of that repulsive church position that women have no right to choose to have an abortion, even to avoid pregnancies that arise from rape or incest.
The Opposition, with Pavlovian predictability, showed no real leadership and merely rushed to ally itself with the church leaders without pausing to recall that this revised policy builds on achievements of the first National Gender Policy developed by the PUP in 2002. It is therefore nonsensical to call for its complete withdrawal. Responsible leadership demands that the opposition state what aspects of the revised policy it disagrees with and why. If the Leader of the Opposition has creditably and publicly stated that the PUP not only embraces homosexuals but also embraces their rights as Belizeans then he couldn't possibly have any difficulty with the paragraph stuck in the craw of the Christian coalition.
Perhaps it is left to women to show real leadership and Belize's Special Envoy for Women and Children has shown commendable courage in rejecting discrimination against the LGBT community. In the name of children worldwide, she should consider, at her next outing before the United Nations, to call for the prosecution of Pope Benedict who, as leader of an organization that hid from police pedophiliac priests who molested tens of thousands of children all over the world on a widespread and systematic scale, should be charged for a crime against humanity under international law.