Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2021. 7:50 am CST.
Photo credit: Valerie Woods
By Aaron Humes: Former journalist, executive director of the National Women’s Commission (NWC), and current deputy program manager for gender and development at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, Annmarie Williams, joins the publishing world with a book on Belize’s women in political and executive leadership.
“Political Women in Red and Blue”, per the online review of Speaker of the House of Representatives Valerie Woods chronicles a near-exclusive club – 11 women from Gwendolyn Lizarraga to Dolores Balderamos Garcia who have served in the Executive branch of government, either by being elected to the House of Representatives or appointed to the Senate.
Lizarraga was the first woman to serve in parliament and as a Minister; “Miss Jane,” sister of Right Honourable George Price, was the second. Faith Babb blazed the trail on the United Democratic Party side, and at the turn of the century, Sylvia Flores of Dangriga became the First Lady Speaker of the House of Representatives (with Elizabeth Zabaneh and Woods herself following there have been more women as Speakers, narrowly, than men).
An accomplished and ambitious set followed: Balderamos Garcia, Patricia Arceo, and Lisa Shoman under Said Musa; Tracy Taegar-Panton, Dr. Carla Barnett, Ambassador Joy Grant, and Lisel Alamilla under Dean Barrow. Taegar-Panton and Balderamos Garcia are currently active in the House and the Belize Rural Central representative is the sole female full Minister (and has a female Minister of State).
The Speaker’s mini-review calls such history as this “long overdue” and “woefully lacking.” The truth, Woods states, is that the men, even Price himself, could not win without women campaigning for and supporting them and some of the women above are not yet recognized for their contributions to national development.
Among those examples are Gwen Lizarraga’s drive for land ownership for women (because if left to the men in leadership, women would have remained landless); common-law unions now are fully respected due to the determined efforts by Dolores Balderamos Garcia; a youth parliament in Belize is a result of Faith Babb’s commitment to youth development.
Says Speaker Woods, “As long as we depend or wait for our stories and lived experiences to be written into history books by men, then our stories will never be told and we will remain invisible.”
And her review concludes, “Ensuring we have more women in leadership is not just about human rights or women rights. It’s also about responsible democratic governance especially when you consider that women account for half of our population. With only 4 women out of 31 elected area representatives, Belize has much work to do. We need the support of men and women to bridge this gap. The Hon. Sylvia Flores once was acting Prime Minister during the Musa administration. I’m optimistic that within my lifetime, we can have female party leaders of the major political parties and therefore a female prime minister. Oh Yes, We Can!”
We will seek out Williams for further comment in a future published story.
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