Violence against women and girls is a universal problem of epidemic proportions. It is a subject that is whispered behind closed doors and hidden from others to see, but the ugly truth remains that violence against women is a universal problem, and is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Research has shown that at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime — with the abuser usually someone known to her. This gender-based violence devastates lives, fractures communities and stalls development.
In no country in the world are women safe from this type of violence. Out of ten countries surveyed in a 2005 study of the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 50% of women in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Tanzania reported having been subjected to physical or sexual violence by intimate partners, with figures reaching staggering 71% in rural Ethiopia. Only in one country (Japan) did less than 20% of women report incidents of domestic violence. An earlier WHO study puts the number of women physically abused by their partners or ex-partners at 30% in the UK, and 22% in the US. Despite some progress on this issue over the past decade, its horrendous scale remains mostly unacknowledged.
For the woman of San Pedro there is now an organization on the island that is dedicated to providing support to those who are subjected to domestic and sexual abuse. According to their mission statement, “Let’s Get Started” (LGS) “is a collaboration of Belizeans whose purpose is to celebrate and cherish the diversity of women and girls in Belize by empowering women in this and future generations with the resources to discover their inner strength and inner peace.” The program will be open to all women, all ethnic heritages and all socio-economic levels.
LGS plans to operate under the basic guidelines of women’s human rights, as set for by UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) and CEPIA, which is a non-governmental, nonprofit organization, dedicated to developing projects that promote human and citizenship rights especially among groups historically excluded from exercising their full citizenship in Brazil. Areas of concern will include networking among business women, training women of all ages to enter or rejoin the work force, education, health issues, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and chemical dependency. The program will also provide advocacy and trauma counseling for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
According to a LGS representative, the program will be overseen by a board of directors, whose identities will remain confidential. Because anonymity is of the outmost importance, no board member, administrator or client’s identity will be divulged to the public, nor shall any board member or administrator draw a salary or be financially compensated.
Future goals include long term therapy for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and establishing a battered woman’s shelter on Ambergris Caye. Other goals include anger management counseling for those convicted of domestic violence, education programs on sexual health issues and AL-ANON, which is a support system for family members of alcoholics. Plans are also underway to instate a sexual assault hotline.
The San Pedro Sun congratulates these dedicated volunteers and joins in the effort to protect human rights, regardless of gender.