There is change coming soon to one of Belize’s oldest and most important laws. The Representation of the People Act, Chapter 9 of the Laws of Belize, is being vetted for changes to help women gain greater access to politics. The report on strengthening women’s representation in national leadership in Belize, completed after three years of consultations with stakeholders, is sponsored by the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), whose deputy executive, Mikiko Sawanishi, spoke to us today.
“This project is extremely important. We made and effort and hopefully the result of this workshop today will be presented soon to the political parties and also to parliament and to be adopted, very soon, to reform and inaugurate the women in politics in this country . I really hope, sincerely hope.”
The project is spearheaded by WIN-Belize, whose program officer Sheena Gentle says today’s event is the culmination of national consultations designed to bring women into Belize’s political process. She describes what they found out.
Sheena Gentle – Program Officer, WIN Belize
“Some of the recommendations that came out would be to reform campaign financing, to reform the way that we look at the whole political arena when it comes to campaigning. That means all the ads that they put out, the campaign smearing and the personal attacks because it does get messy for women and most women do not want to be a part of that. So looking at these and trying to see how we can make the whole campaign process better for women or more conducive for women.”
“Okay looking at that point now, while it is important and while we are well aware, I think everyone on a whole, they don’t readily accept or don’t really like of course that political smearing. But it is a reality of the political arena or the territory. How do you guys navigate through that?”
“Well it’s difficult to say how we navigate because it is sometimes a personal decision if it’s not mandated by the political parties to stop these campaign smearing then it’s something that each politician would need to address on their own. So I guess one of the things that we do need to address is the whole cultural perspective of politics and what the voters want to accept.”
According to Gentle the process was intended to be non-partisan and non-political, and so there was representation from all major political parties and movements. The PUP was represented today by deputy party leader Carolyn Trench-Sandiford, while the UDP had two women standard bearers, Dr. Carla Barnett and Tracey Taegar-Panton, as well as Belize City Councilor Alifa Elrington-Hyde and former Senator, now acting chair of the National Women’s Commission, Pulcheria Teul, all present. But what about the next generation? They too will be active, according to Jherilee Palacio, member of the WIN-Belize Technical Working Group.
Jherilee Palacio -Member, WIN Belize Technical Working Group
“There have been several recommendations and one of them that resonates most with me is to include more youths in the different changes that we want to enforce in the different political parties. Include they youths so that they have more interest in political leadership and also include them so that they are better aware of what is going on in the political parties themselves and within the community on a whole.”
Aaron Humes – Plus TV Journalist
“What does inclusion mean to you?”
“Inclusion means that we want them to be a part of the party as the party grows and we need them to be major parts of the discussions that happen within the different communities, whether it be the Mayan communities or the different communities in the different parts of the country. “
The project was funded at a cost of BZ$450,000 over three years. The final report will include the recommendations from today’s meeting and will be released in another month.