Women in Belize’s Development
We take a look at the interview we did with one of our own Assistant Professor and researcher Dr. Candice Pitts about her research entitled “Belize a nation (still) in the making” which was published in the international Journal on contemporary writing Wasafari Journal.
Beka Lamb is a Belizean Classic that is centered on pre-independent Belize. The author, Zee Edgell, illustrates an accurate picture of the social and political fabric of that era. Dr. Candice Pitts, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Belize, made a profound analysis on the Beka Lamb classic and the role women have played in Belizean struggle for independence and shows that although they played an essential role it’s overshadowed. She compares the different characters and expounds on how they “fit” or “fight” the patriarchal society. The protagonist, Beka, is portrayed as an activist against this mentality. Dr. Pitts also used the National Anthem and Flag to demonstrate that only men are honored and women are marginalized.
After reading the insightful publication, we asked her a few questions to better understand her perspective as an educator and on the publication.
C Pitts. “Belize-A Nation (Still) in the Making”: Erasures and Marginalization in the Framing of the “Land of the Free”, Wasafari 31:3, 19 Aug 2016
Beka Lamb is set in pre-independent Belize and captures the socio-cultural conflicts, party politics and nationalist impulses that marked Belize’s nationalism during the 1950s and ’60s. One of the underlying assumptions of the novel is that the colonial infrastructure of Belize informs the formation of the nation-state and, in turn, informs the ways the nation-state views gender. The novel’s exploration of these issues from the perspective of the eponymous character Beka Lamb and her friend Toycie situates the narrative in larger discourses on Caribbean nation-forging and Caribbean womanist and feminist discourses.
This essay adds to the body of existing literature on Beka Lamb by revealing the ways in which Edgell, through Beka, helps to reconceptualise the Belizean nation and attempts to re/locate women from the margins to the center of nationalist discourses. It also adds to the body of existing literature by filling gaps in an understanding of Belize nationalism, by emphasizing the de facto contributions of female activists. I examine what the nation looks like, who gets to define it and the ways in which it paradoxically relies on the contributions of women, yet subordinates and marginalizes them. In the final analysis, I contend that Zee Edgell’s representation of Beka’s activism suggests that Belizean women have always contributed to and participated in Belize’s nationalism. The novel indicates that Belize cannot declare full independence until Belizean women can uncompromisingly experience, manifest and reflect its autonomy.
Recently, your research “About Belize a Nation (still) in the Making” was published, how significant is this achievement for you as a member of the University of Belize? Dr. Pitts ascertains that her research “has assisted me in my attempts to bring attention to socio-cultural and political issues of relevance that members of our national university should approach and address in meaningful ways.”
When asked what led her to analyze Beka Lamb from this point of view Dr. Pitts stated “My scholarly approach to Beka Lamb stemmed from the many injustices and inequalities I perceive women have had to endure in our Belizean society. I saw the characters through the eyes of my great grandmother, grandmother, mother, aunts, cousins, friends, and other female members of our society. The levels of violence some of these women have had to face are not just physical and emotional, but they are also systematic and epistemic. Until we acknowledge that our socio-cultural views of women are inherently flawed, and until we can seriously address the positionality of women in our nation, our development and progress will continue to be tantalizing slow.”
Beka aspired to be a politician, we asked Dr. Pitts how ready are we as a society for a female Prime Minister? She stated, “I believe that whether we are ready or not, a woman will eventually become the Prime Minister of Belize, and hopefully in the not too distant future. The Belizean reality reveals that women have been leaders of whole families. If they can lead families, they can lead a nation.”
As an educator Dr. Pitts feels that her objective is to have her students understand that they can read about themselves and can write about a better world as they imagine it should be. She takes pleasure in helping her students, through the texts they read, to discern and understand who they are, especially in relation to larger, global communities. One of her favorite quotations is from William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage/ And all the men and women merely players.” She believes that the quotation leaves us as a people, a society, a world to ponder, “what role do you play?”
Dr. Pitts feels that her experiences at the University of Belize have been both rewarding and challenging. She explains her experiences by saying, “I take great pride in being a member of our national University, as it affords me the opportunity to contribute to and become instrumental in the process of nation building here in Belize. We may concur that being an educator is one of the most effective ways to contribute to national development.” She points out some of the challenges she observed explaining that “A part of those challenges is the endeavor to strike an important balance between the intense teaching load, the commitment to research and publication, and the need to be of service internal and external to the university. Invariably, a faculty member falls short of striking that balance.” She made a very good observation that students’ have difficulty with communication and expressing themselves in the English language both orally and in writing.
When asked if she was currently engaged in other researches Dr. Pitts shared that she is currently working on three publications: a book on the evolution of print media in Belize and two scholarly essays on nation building in the works of Jamaica Kincaid and Margaret Cezaire-Thompson, respectively.
She also shared her view on which women should be prominent in our history books Dr. Pitts advises that “Women have always played participatory roles in our national development; however, our country’s historical records have failed to document women’s national contributions comprehensively and accurately.
We need to give a better account of women, such as Annie Flowers, who were at the forefront of the anti-colonial and early nationalist struggles in Belize.
Our country needs to afford more political considerations to Cleopatra White and Gwendolyn Lizarraga.
Particularly, we need to elucidate Jane Ellen Price-Usher’s contributions to our national development. She was President of the United Women’s Group in the mid-1970s, she was instrumental in the Credit Union movement in Belize, and she had an intense commitment to peel open the access to wealth accumulation and transformation out of poverty for the greatest chunk of the excluded masses.
We also need to highlight the roles of current women politicians, such as Dolores Balderamos who is one of the better Ministers of Human Development in the post-independence era and who has presided over some groundbreaking legislations, such as the legislation on equal rights for spouses of common-law unions.
Zenaida Moya is also a current female politician for whom we must provide better accountability in or social and political consciousness. She was prominent on the Social Security and Credit Union Boards; she was a trailblazing trade unionist, the first female Mayor of Belize City who served for two consecutive terms, and a woman who fearlessly and publicly challenged and continues to challenge male dominance and hegemony.”
In her publication she mentions that there have been attempts to “set the record straight” on the role of women in history so we enquired on how her suggestions of how UB can contributing to setting the record straight. She recommends that UB can help by investing more in research. “We need more scholars with available resources to do research on women and to document and publish their findings. We need fora on campus that would highlight the participatory roles of women in our society and nation. In short, we need to celebrate and honor women more. UB can also join the cause to amend the National iconographies.”