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Gender equality does not sideline men, women leaders say

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2023. 9:54 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Former Principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) at St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, Professor Violet Eudine Barriteau, has defined gender as a “complex system of personal and social relations of power, through which men and women are socially created and maintained, and through which they gain access to or are allocated status, power and material resources within the society.”

At today’s launch of the Gender Equality Index, Executive Director of the National Women’s Commission (NWC) Michelle Irving approvingly quoted this definition in connection with the power afforded to women in owning land, creating wealth, being educated, being healthy, being safe from violence, and being able to participate in decision-making at the local and national level.

“It’s not a mystical thing that we want to hide and create a lot of animosity around; it’s a development tool that we all need to ensure that we are doing the right thing by each and every one of our citizens, every person within the borders of Belize,” Irving explained.

The LOVE Foundation’s Deborah Sewell approached the United States Embassy in Belize with a proposal for a gender equality index after encountering a frustrating lack, she says, of regularly collected and satisfactory data about gender issues. For instance, we often hear that two of every three children who advance to tertiary level education are girls; yet on average they are paid less when reaching managerial and executive-level status than men. The Index is funded by a U.S. government grant managed by the U.S. Embassy Office of Public Affairs.

Having regular data, as the Gender Equality Index will be measured annually by the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB), puts the Government in a better position to direct resources, says Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children Rossana Briceño: “This gender index is very important because it will also give the government of Belize a check and balance especially when it comes to #planbelize and what they have in place for women. So, I think it is going to be a very good indicator of where we are in the second year and a half of the present-day government.”

Statistics cited today by the Commission, gathered in 2021 by the World Economic Forum’s World Population Review, rated Belize at 69.9 percent equality, with high scores for economic opportunities, education, and health but a very poor rating in political participation.

Citing our earlier example of university places, Minister of Human Development Dolores Balderamos-Garcia says identifying gaps will also help to target resources to boys and men, and women leaders present say that the results should not be used to malign males’ economic and social position in a still-patriarchal society, though some advocacy for shifting and removal of certain gender norms was gently suggested.

The survey will be distributed countrywide to public officers through the Government of Belize and to the private sector through the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and will be conducted by telephone to engage the broader demographic. The survey findings will be published in June but Sewell told us she is hoping the data can be gathered and published annually with the support of the SIB.


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