Think about the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and you’ve just thought about a treaty that’s devoted specifically to gender equality (MDG 3).
This Bill of Rights for women was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 1979. Belize did its part by ratifying CEDAW on May 16, 1990 and the Optional Protocol on December 9, 2002. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, CEDAW addresses women’s political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights.
The Convention’s general recommendation 19 on violence against women views gender-based violence as a form of discrimination that constitutes a serious obstacle in the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by women and addresses intersections of gender-based violence with the different substantive areas covered by the articles of CEDAW. It defines gender-based violence as “violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or which affects a woman disproportionately. It includes physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threat of such acts coercion and other deprivations of liberty.”
The Committee in its concluding comments to Belize on its third and fourth periodic report of July 24. 2007 welcomes the new Domestic Violence Act which came into force on October 2008. The new act provides for stiffer penalties to perpetrators and gives more teeth to the family court. The committee urges the State Party(Belize) to place high priority on implementing a comprehensive approach to addressing all forms of violence against women, including through the effective enforcement and monitoring of the Domestic Violence Act. It also urges Belize to raise public awareness, through media and educational programmes that all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence and marital rape are unacceptable and prohibited by law.
For Belize, 16-Days-of-Activism against Gender-based violence, November 25-December 10, was an opportune time to raise public awareness that violence against women is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
The Young Women’s Christian Association, Y.W.C.A. Belize in partnership with the National Women’s Commission and the Women’s Department tried on “In Her Shoes” for size. The 16-day exhibition of women’s shoes was officially opened by President of the Y.W.C.A., Dr. Carla Barnett, who reminded all present that like women, girls are extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence which usually begins with a disrespectful word, a push or a slap. As a society, she added “we need to stand collectively against violence.”
Director of Ceremonies, Ann-Marie Williams, herself a Board Member of the Y.W.C.A. excerpted Human Development and Social Transformation Minister’s speech, for the International Day to End Violence against Women. Hon. Peter Eden Martinez—“Ending violence against women is not the job of the government alone but rather as individuals, as communities and families, we all must do our part to ensure that violence stops.”
Williams seized the opportunity to remind the close to 100 guests present that as a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Belize pledged to eradicate violence against women. “CEDAW’s General Recommendation 19 looks at gender-based violence as a form of discrimination which poses a serious obstacle in the enjoyment of women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms…” The traveling exhibition which took place at the Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts in Belize City told incredible women’s stories of years of heart-wrenching abuse at the hands of men who professed to have loved these women.
Laced with feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, hatred and hopelessness—still these women rose to tell the survival tale. The event featured 27 pairs of women’s shoes, one pair for every 50 women who have reported the 1,351 cases of gender-based violence in 2008.
The shoes—white shoes, bright shoes, strappy, red peep-toed shoes, flats and slippers at that, were all worn. And had to be. It was the walk in her shoes concept of story-telling. The display utilised the colour purple and teal, two colours of the women’s movement shaping the display.
The exhibition remained opened until December 10, the end of 16-Days of Activism and International Human Rights Day. The sign- in book at the end of the exhibition recorded that over 500 visitors viewed and commented on the first-of-its-kind graphic display of gender-based violence, up close and personal in Belize. In Her Shoes was also well publicised by the media during their various newscasts. (Written by Ann-Marie Williams).