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New book revisits rocky road to passage of Belize’s Domestic Violence Act

July 08
17:47 2018
By Adele Ramos
Freelance Reporter

At one point in Belize’s history, marital rape was not deemed to be a crime and there were no laws to specifically protect domestic violence victims from vicious attacks perpetrated against them in the home. Today, though, thanks to lobbying efforts of groups like the Belize Women Against Violence (WAV) Movement, victims of gender-based violence have the force of law to help fight their abusers. On Monday, 25 June 2018, a new publication was launched, revisiting the tumultuous journey to the passage of Belize’s Domestic Violence Act, signed into law by Dr. Dame Minita Gordon on 23 December 1992 and implemented on 1 March 1993. WAV members from northern and southern Belize met on the occasion for a reunion at the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City, where “We Did It!,” a 41-page book, was unveiled.

Dorla Bowman, the founding president of the movement birthed in 1985, said that back in April, she found all the files documenting their work in the late 80s and early 90s, and that made it easier for her to put together what she describes as an educational tool.

“If we could have done it, anyone else can!” Bowman said, in speaking of the movement’s success.

Irma Carballo, who led the movement in Orange Walk, and her successor, Elia Cansino, both recalled the struggles women faced before the law came into effect. Cansino noted furthermore that even men went to them for help in domestic violence cases.

Felicia Nunez, who led the branch in Dangriga, recalled how effective self-defense training was in empowering women to protect themselves. The karate training provided to victims in that municipality was so effective that one woman who had taken on her abuser was never touched again for as long as her husband had lived.

 

Ida Westby of Punta Gorda spoke of her personal experience with domestic violence. She recalled that after having gone abroad, she returned to the same abusive relationship out of fear for her life and the safety of her children.
“There were no laws to protect women before… [and] the enactment was one of the greatest things in the century to help women,” she said.

The group, which includes Carolyn Clare Westby, who delivered welcome remarks, has also been able to celebrate the triumphs of women who not only overcame abusive relationships but who rose to stellar professional success after doing so. They cited the case of a woman who moved on to a successful marriage, earned her doctorate and became a university lecturer.

Anita Zetina, former director of the Women’s Department, credited WAV’s activism on both sides of the floor in the National Assembly for getting the law passed without opposition. Bowman said that to her recollection, it was the first law passed without dissent on the floor, even though all the House members at the time were males.
Zetina lamented that we are a product of a society that has ingrained beliefs when it comes to violence against women in the home, and she credited WAV for sowing the seeds it did. The movement was able to get over 6,000 signatures on a nationwide petition in support of the change.

The original law of 1992, which set a framework for occupation and domestic orders with penalties (fines and/or jail time) for violations, has since been revised and updated.

Complimentary copies of the book, available to the public for a donation of $20, were presented to a representative of the Belize National Teachers Union and the Belize National Library Service and Information System. Bowman said that electronic copies of the book will be made available soon and more print copies will be made for distribution as well.

Also available are a booklet on the establishment of Haven House, the first shelter for battered women in Belize, as well as “Women Can Govern: The Development of Belize Women in Politics,” published by the Building People Movement, another organization founded by Bowman. Bowman is the former Deputy Mayor of Belize City, elected to serve on the People’s United Party-led Council for the period 1989-1993.

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