Thirty years after independence, the women of Belize are profoundly underrepresented in their government. In the 2012 Elections, only one woman was elected to the 31-seat parliament (3%), an increase from none in the previous election cycle, and below a modest historical high of 2 members (6%). Equally so, the situation at more local levels of government is only slightly better, where women make up only about 1 out of 5 councilors.
This distinct lack of progress towards parity is out of step with regional and global trends and has prompted both national and international concern. The National Women’s Commission of Belize and the United Nations CEDAW Committee have both called for increases in the number of women elected to office through party action, electoral reforms, and the use of Temporary Special Measures such as quotas.
In this context, WIN Belize, a national network of gender equality advocates, supported by UNDP organized a BRIDGE workshop using the recently updated Gender and Elections module. The participants of the workshop included elected officials (both serving and former), civil society representatives, and election administrators. The workshop design was additionally informed by the recently-launched Situation Analysis of Gender and Politics in Belize (http://www.undp.org/content/belize/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2012/12/10/situation-analysis-of-gender-and-politics-in-belize-1998-2012-launch/). The Workshop took place over 4 days in Belize City.
The facilitators aimed to familiarize participants with strategies to promote women’s participation in electoral processes; to provide tools for all participants to critically assess political institutions from a gender perspective; and to offer a networking opportunity for advocates of gender equality – both men and women. The workshop covered topics including international norms and standards, electoral quotas and system reforms, political finance, political party reforms, voter education, and candidate recruitment and selection.
Participant feedback on the workshop was overwhelmingly positive. During a series of ‘make it happen’ activities – participants developed outreach strategies, electoral reforms, and an action plan for next steps.
The workshop was made possible with the financial support of the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) as a component of the larger Strengthening Women’s Representation in National Leadership in Belize program implemented by WIN Belize and UNDP. It was also made possible through support provided by UN Women. The workshop was facilitated by Julie Ballington (Political Participation Advisor – UN Women), Aleida Ferreyra, (Electoral Policy Specialist – UNDP), and Skye Christensen (Independent Electoral Consultant).
For more information on the Strengthening Women’s Representation in National Leadership in Belize please contact WIN Belize (winbelize.org) or UNDP Belize (undp.org/content/belize).