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Belize

Gender-Based Violence

In 2018, 7.8% of women reported that they had experienced physical and/or sexual abuse by a partner in the past 12 months (1). However, it appears that domestic violence is still quite high- over 70% of rural women have experienced abuse at the hands of their partners (2). 50% of women are thought to have been a victim of domestic violence from a partner, and domestic violence is one of the leading causes of injury to women in Belize, more than car accidents, mugging and rape combined (4). In 2018, 78% of the 2000 domestic violence calls to the police were from women, and of the 143 murders that took place that year, 124 of them were women (5).


Current Law and Policy:

Belize has made no legislative changes since the passing of its Domestic Violence Act in 2007. However, the government has attempted to address the issue in other ways and continues to raise awareness of domestic abuse.

Victims of domestic abuse in Belize have access to a range of remedies under the 2007 Act, such as protection orders, occupational orders, tenancy orders and further ancillary orders. The Act also gives a broad definition of ‘domestic violence’ and covers physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. The police are under a duty to respond to domestic violence complaints and are also given the ability to intervene without a warrant in certain cases. However, in order to qualify for relief under the Domestic Violence Act 2007, a victim must either be (or have been): married to the abuser, living with the abuser, raising a child with the abuser, living in the household of the abuser, or a dependent of the abuser. In other words, the Act does not protect those in informal relationships. 

Belize implemented its National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action from 2010 to 2015 and, as a result, a number of services are now available for victims of domestic abuse. The police department operates a hotline for victims and each police station has a designated domestic abuse office with which victims can lodge complaints. The Women’s Department within the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation produced a “Handbook on Domestic Violence” and has engaged in a number of outreach and advocacy activities that deal with the issue. The same Department also provides training to police recruits on domestic violence cases and the new Domestic Violence Protocol mandates that police officers refer victims to other agencies for support/ assistance. These protocols were all designed in response to the common misconception that domestic violence is a private matter and is to be dealt with within the family, and not through police intervention. However, there are still reports that police officers are generally reluctant to intervene and might advise abused women to return to their partners. General discriminatory attitudes are also still prominent within the police force with many officers blaming the victim. These attitudes support research that domestic violence is still viewed as socially acceptable by some in Belize, which often leads to a lack of reporting by victims. 

In 2018, the Belize Judiciary released “Justice Through a Gender Lens”, a gender equality protocol for judicial officers (7). The Protocol identified the principal barriers to achieving gender equality in the courts and recognised that the court environment is insufficiently sensitive to the needs and experiences of victims of domestic violence. It also recognised the role of gender stereotypes in influencing the outcomes in cases of gender-based violence. In an effort to improve the outcomes of domestic violence cases and encourage more women to come forward and engage with the court system, the protocol made a number of recommendations to judicial officers in Belize. For example, courtrooms should be made less intimidating in domestic violence cases, domestic violence complaints should be treated with urgency and sensitivity and separate waiting areas for both parties should be made available at court. The Protocol also reiterated that mediation is not an appropriate outcome in domestic violence cases. 

On 30th January 2019, the Belize City Council held the first domestic violence conference in the country (8), which was open to the public. The panel was made up of leading social and political figures, such as the new Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, human rights activists and senior lawyers. Experts and officials shared their thoughts on domestic violence and the event was widely reported in the press. Special Envoy, Kim Simplis-Barrow, commended the holding of the forum and highlighted the importance of spreading the message that domestic violence is not acceptable in Belize. She also voiced her hope that more action would be taken following the forum and mentioned that her office is working closely with the police department to reduce cases and end victim-blaming.

Upon taking over the Belize Police Department in January 2019, the new Commissioner of Police, Chester Williams, announced that he would make domestic violence one of his priority areas (9). As part of his stricter stance on the issue, the police can no longer ask victims if they would like to take court action but, instead, instigate the process automatically upon receiving the complaint. Williams also spoke of setting up an independent centre for investigating domestic violence away from the police station but this is yet to be achieved.


Health

A lot of babies are born to younger mothers- in 2019, 58.2 children were born to teenage mothers per 1000 women (1). Maternal birth rates are low, with 36 maternal deaths per 100,000 births (1). Many women have their family planning needs met through contraceptive forms- 64.9% of women did in 2016 (1). 19.9% of mothers are receiving cash benefits (1).


Education

Boys and girls are similarly matched in education- the literacy rate is 70.3% for both (1). Furthermore, 4.8% of girls are out of education, compared to 4.2% of boys (1). Whilst ¾ of primary school children go to secondary school, only 20.3% had completed secondary school but had not gone on to higher education (3). In 2016/17, 16.9% of children had not completed any formal schooling (3).


Political representation

There is a disparity between men and women in politics. Between 2008 and 2012, there were no women in parliament (6). However, by 2021, 12.5% of seats were held by women compared to 31% of seats which are held by men (1).


Gender Equality at Work

8.8% of women are employed but live in poverty (1). Only 42% of women who are eligible to a pension are receiving it, compared to 55.5% of men, and women only earn 56% of the income of a man (2). 51.1% of women are in managerial positions (1),however they are 30% less likely to have access to the same opportunities as men (2). For women aged 15 and over, the unemployment rate is 9.8% compared to 4.6% for men (2).


Frontline Services:


Sources

  1. Country Fact Sheet | UN Women Data Hub

  2. Examining Women's Rights in Belize - The Borgen Project

  3. Education In Belize – Overview of Educational System and Institutions

  4. Point and Counter Point: Domestic Violence - The lasting scars on battered women in Belize (breakingbelizenews.com)

  5. Violence against women of Belize in rural communities (osu.edu)

  6. Women in Belize: Empowering Future Female Legislators - BORGEN (borgenmagazine.com)

  7. Belize Judiciary, “Justice Through a Gender Lens: Gender Equality Protocol for Judicial Officers”, (2018), Protocol.

  8. Amandala, “CitCo Hosts Domestic Violence Conference”, (amandala.com.bz, 2 February 2019).

  9. 7 News, “COMPOL Proposes Progressive New Appraoch for Domestic Violence”, (7newsbelize.com, 31 January 2019).

 

Further Reading


[1] Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, “The National Gender-Based Violence Plan of Action”, (humandevelopment.gov.bz).

[2] UN Women, “Caribbean – Belize”, (caribbean.unwomen.org).

[3] UNDP, “Legal Aid for Women Victims of Gender Violence in the Caribbean – Identifying Gaps and Programmatic Responses”, (2014), Legal Aid and Gender Violence Study.

[4] OECD, “Belize”, (2019), Social Institutions and Gender Index.


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