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#MeToo in the BDF

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Posted: Monday, June 29, 2020. 10:23 am CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Lisa Shoman: On June 19, 2020, the Friday before last, the BDF invited the media for a press briefing and requested that during the first part of the briefing they turn off cameras and recording devices.

That bit of information related to me by two reporters present struck me as more than a little strange. The whole point of a press briefing is for publicity. It is understood that you are inviting the media in order to have them record and hopefully tell your story for you.

Apparently the BDF was concerned about something more important than telling their story : Damage Control. Reportedly, media worker present were presented with the angst of the BDF that in exposing complaints of sexual assault, violence and sexual harassment, the careers of good BDF soldiers was being destroyed.

You read that right : The alleged concern of the first part of the session was to appeal to media workers to cooperate in not exposing the BDF’s ugly underbelly of culture quite so much.

The high command of the BDF doesn’t seem to get it. They do not seem to understand that military culture in 2020 is no longer one of might makes right, that a modern army doesn’t rape or pillage its own, and that women are full and equal partners in the Shoulder to Shoulder enterprise.

I carefully parsed the words of Major Lionel  Olivera, the trained lawyer in the force on the matter of the new sexual harassment policy. As reported on Channel 7 news on that same day, Major Olivera said “We have also started to do the compaign concerning the sexual harassment through out the force. More specifically we have started with the females, the senior females and then at a smaller level, the female soldiers that are currently located at this camp. However there are intentions to do the entire tour of the country so that we could have them at the different locations generating the same presentation.”

Pause a moment and examine the words. First off, the BDF was admitting that previously they had not had any sexual harassment policy in place, despite a 1996 Act mandating them as an employer and/or institution to do so.

Secondly, Major Olivera was announcing the intention to commence instituting the new policy by starting “with the females, the senior females and then at a smaller level, the female soldiers that are currently located at this camp.” And then going on to the rest located elsewhere.

From my perspective, it sounds as if the BDF is expecting the women of the BDF to monitor, and police sexual harassment. If so, this is a bass-ackward move.

First off, the BDF is comprised of far more men than women. They are in a vast majority, and by far make up the majority of officers and non-commissioned officers, that is, the people in command of the rank and file.

But instead of starting with educating the top ranks and moving through the various levels of the brass, tasking them with monitoring and control and reporting, the BDF instead is starting with the women.

The inference is inescapable. Sexual Harassment is a problem of women, and they must be vigilant to monitor, control and report it. In the words of a Caribbean proverb: Lock up your cow, because my bull needs to roam free.

Whether the Major and the high command mean that or not, that is the only conclusion that the proposed roll out by the BDF of their sexual harassment policy leads to : That women have to watch their own back. That they are responsible for policing sexual harassment.

I’d like to believe General Ortega when he says that the BDF needs women. In his exact words, “Brig. Gen. Steven Ortega, BDF Commander: “In terms of male dominated as you know we’re trying to recruit more females because we understand that they actually bring a lot to the fight, they actually play a vital role in terms of a different perspective and it is a perspective that has been lacking not only here in Belize but throughout the world that the natural culture for women wasn’t the military and so we’re advertising out there to invite more of them to join because it is a needed perspective for us to improve the organization that we have and the job that we do. As we mentioned earlier that times are changing and so we have to change with the time and as Major Olivera mentioned that’s why we’re implementing change as we progress so the new sexual harassment policy actually addresses quite a few of those concerns for women and not only women but male as well. Those are some of the things we continuously evolved into for us to make the BDF a more welcome organization for all.”

The notion that “that the natural culture for women wasn’t the military” is so mid-last century. It has been at least 40 years since the rest of the world moved on from that.

In Belize, however, the BDF doesn’t seem to have really understood that, and no amount of pious platitudes about  trying to recruit women “because it is a needed perspective for us to improve the organization that we have and the job that we do” will make up for the clear message that it is women who must adjust to the BDF, rather than the other way around.

According to Ortega “In terms of male dominated as you know we’re trying to recruit more females because we understand that they actually bring a lot to the fight, they actually play a vital role in terms of a different perspective”. For that, to happen, the BDF needs to change, and change drastically.

For now, there is no way “to make the BDF a more welcome organization for all” unless the BDF understands and accepts that the women of the BDF are as valuable to the institution as the men .

And  until the concern of the BDF is for the long term career of the women of the BDF, in the same way it is for that of the men, nothing much will change.

 

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