Earlier this month, the National Women’s Commission launched the Revised National Gender Policy 2013. Since its release, the manuscript has caused quite a stir with the Belizean populace, first with the inclusion of a policy against the discrimination of gender orientation or sexual identity. But we’ll get back to that in a while. Meanwhile, another issue has taken the forefront – it is what appears to be a design to legalize prostitution. Seen on page 31, bullet five of the NGP booklet “Amend existing legislation to legalize and regulate the sex work industry. Develop and implement alternative economic skills training programmes and other support services for men and women who wish to retire from sex work activities.” PlusNews has been receiving a throng of concerns about the policy and the point of legalizing the sex trade, with people wanting to know –Is this for real? – Well, according to the NWC, it was merely a blunder, an “oversight.” In a press release issued yesterday, the NWC says it expresses sincere regret over the bulletin to amend existing legislation to legalize and regulate the sex work industry. The commission explains “The statement which is in dissonance with Government’s recent passage of stronger legislations on human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children is a complete oversight and should have been omitted. The statement was introduced into the document in the very early stages of the process as a part of the consultant’s first draft which was completed back in 2009. The statement reflected the purely technical recommendations emanating from the results of the Situation Analysis and early consultations with various groups working on an array of gender issues at the time.” It continues “Although there was consensus early on that the statement should be removed, it still appears in the version of the document that was printed for the launch The Commission is in the process of making the change in the majority of the policy documents that have been printed, but are yet to be distributed to tertiary level institutions, libraries and other organizations around the country.” But one has to wonder how could such a point be missed if it has already been approved by cabinet? Who read the policy, who were consulted, and is it really reflective of the spirit of the rest of the policy.
Sex trade legalization is not the only sore point for religious leaders. The policy seeks to slip in the words “sexual orientation” and pair it with “anti discriminatory” policies. Many have been accusing the Gender policy makers of a grand standing support for UNIBAM and its current lawsuit to remove the sodomy law from Belize’s books. The policy reads “Men and Women in Belize are not a homogenous group. Rather, the population is comprised of persons of all ages who come from races, cultures, ethnicities, faiths, sexual orientations, socio-economic situation and behavioral lifestyles. All policies and programmes must therefore reflect this reality diversity among the Belizean populace and customary, religious and cultural practices must be subject to the right of equality.” This point of religious beliefs being subject to the right of equality (inclusive of sexual orientation) has caused serious concern in the religious community. With anti discriminatory lawsuits being filed all over the world against Christians who stand their ground on their religious belief that homosexuality is a sin, the inclusion of that line has sounded many alarms. But once again, a press release was issued this evening to address that issue too. Cabinet met today to discuss the matter and it says, it’s sticking to its guns. The release says that cabinet has “considered the concern raised by various religious leaders in relation to The Revised Gender Policy, specifically a paragraph of the policy entitled, “Respect for Diversity.” After serious discussion Cabinet decided that it was necessary to maintain its policy to respect the reality of Belize’s wide range of diversity.” And as to the other part of that sentence, Cabinet says “It did feel that it would do no harm to that policy by omitting the last few words in the final sentence of the paragraph which reads: “… and customary religious and cultural practices must be subject to the right of equality.” Now the point of legalization of the sex trade and the subjection of religious and customary practices to homosexual rights are only but two points of many that will probably require press releases. We understand that Religious leaders and concerned Belizeans have obtained electronic copies of the policy and are already saying that there are more areas of concern they will need answered and clarified. We’ll bring you more on the Gender policy and some points of contention in tomorrow’s newscast.