“UBAD’s politics were more unpredictable than PAC’s – one former activist claimed that ‘nothing was thought out’ – but did employ a provocative gender analysis of PUP rule, party politics, and civil society that had strong elements of homophobia and antifeminism.”
– pg. 258, FROM COLONY TO NATION: Women Activists and the Gendering of Politics in Belize, 1912-1982, by Anne S. Macpherson, University of Nebraska Press, 2007
The family of Galento X Neal asked me to say a few words at his funeral services, held on Friday afternoon at the masjid of the Islamic Mission of Belize. I spoke briefly on three subjects – gender, religion, and racism, with respect to my late, great, beloved brother’s life.
In this column I will consider the matter of gender. Time brings increased insight to a man, and I had come to realize how important Galento’s sisters were for him – especially his oldest sister, the one we called “Rofel.”
In Belize City, which was an African-based culture when I was growing up, it seemed to me that women were the powerhouses, but they ran things in a discreet manner. Men were allowed to puff up their chests and “show themselves” in different ways, but the real power belonged to Belizean ladies.
In the Western, Christian world today, the issue of women’s power is a really big deal. There is money which has been coming into Belize from the Christian West for decades now which has as its purpose the support of various initiatives to increase the visible power of women here. The most visible of the areas of power is, arguably, the field of politics, so there has been a subsidized push to attract more women political candidates and place more women in the Belize House of Representatives and the Senate.
Where the philosophical arguments between the Christian West and the Muslim East are concerned, the Christian West claims that women are repressed in Islamic societies, whereas they are liberated in the Christian West. These arguments are very heated ones, and I will not address them today.
What I will say is that I have watched researchers come to Belize to study the UBAD phenomenon of 1969 to 1974, and I have seen their principal concern being how many women were or were not in the organization’s leadership executive. As you read above, Anne S. Macpherson outright accused our organization of “antifeminism.” The truth is, there was never any gender issue in UBAD, but the researchers try to create one, because in the modern world, gender is a major issue for the Western foundations which fund research. In the Belizean society in which I grew up, gender was not an issue: men were men, and women were women. And, children were children, but this is another area where the Christian West is attacking Belize’s traditional values.
In the streets of Belize City during the UBAD era, Galento X Neal was a quintessential he-man. He was a role model for Belizean boys. I knew, though, that he held his oldest sister in the greatest of respect. Rofel was a primary school principal, and Galento always spoke of “Teach” with reverence. I can see now, as clear as day, that he would never have done anything publicly of which she disapproved. With their parents having passed, Rofel was and is the head of the Neal family. It had to be the case that Rofel gave her blessing to UBAD. The feminist researchers from abroad will never know how important that blessing was.
What the feminist researchers may find out is that Galento’s dear younger sister, Junie, did a lot of the cooking for UBAD events, and they may even find out, if they search hard enough, that Galento’s youngest sister, Glennis, supported all UBAD initiatives. They will never know that Rofel called the shots.
On a bit of a tangential note, let me say that in the masjid the women are separated from the men for jumah prayers. In Islam there is a recognition, it seems to me, of the remarkable power women have over men, and I believe that is what the separation is about – insuring a distraction-free environment for us men. I’m just saying.
In the Christian West, liberation for women includes our ladies being allowed to wear garments which deliberately enhance their sexuality and excite men. I have, in fact, been told by liberated sisters that they have the right, if they so wish, to walk naked down the street, and that if they did so the males must be able to restrain themselves. My question would be, why would there be the desire or the need to provoke us?
In closing, please allow me to be controversial. I do not think gender is the issue in Belize: the issue has always been socio-economics, and this is so because we Belizeans are the historical victims of slavery and colonialism. In our post-independence reality, we Belizeans became the victims of what used to be called neocolonialism, what we now understand to be neoliberalism. This is where our focus should be, how to liberate ourselves from the economics of inferiority which we inherited from the imperialist West.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.