BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Jan. 31, 2019– Yesterday, the Belize City Council held a first-of-its-kind domestic violence conference that was open to the public. The conference was in the form of a forum, and the panel included leading social and political figures like Carolyn Trench-Sandiford, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, and human rights activist and senior counsel, Lisa Shoman.
The event was organized by councilor Dr. Candice Pitts, and when we spoke to her, she told us that she was very interested to hear what the experts from various official offices would have to say about domestic violence, since it is a deeply felt issue that affects people from all ethnicities, demographics, and economic backgrounds.
Dr. Pitts said she was excited and willing to work with people such as the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis-Barrow, to combat not only domestic violence but also gender-based violence.
Lisa Shoman, and many others at the conference, said that they hoped that the next step after the conference would be a move to action. Shoman mentioned that she had very specific recommendations to tackle domestic violence laid out in her “Manifesto for Linda,” Linda being a young Belizean woman who was reportedly shot in Belize City by her husband before he turned the gun on himself.
In the manifesto, she commits to taking the lead in advocating for change for women’s rights, among other things.
Shoman told us that she wanted the audience present at the forum to take away the idea that domestic violence is everyone’s problem and that it affects the foundation of Belizean society. She said that a society which has violence present in the home, has violence at all levels, and that Belize will never fully tackle crime if there is domestic violence in the home, since children model what they see.
Shoman called for a culture shift, saying that change begins with every individual.
Special Envoy, Kim Simplis-Barrow, commended CitCo for holding the forum, and said that it is important to spread the message that domestic and gender-based violence is not acceptable. She too hoped for more action to be taken, and mentioned that her office is working with the police department to tackle the issue, and especially to focus on ending victim-blaming that occurs when females report physical, verbal, or sexual assault.
There were a total of 12 panelists at the forum and they addressed different issues related to domestic violence. Carolyn Trench-Sandiford started off the forum by first giving the law’s definition of domestic violence, which includes, “physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or financial abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, de facto spouse, or any other person who is a member of the household of the applicant or respondent.”
She explained that “when domestic violence is combined with other forms of abuse originating in policies that are practiced within our society and state… it truly becomes incomprehensible to even conceive that a pathway to navigate out of it exists because it becomes difficult to grasp the complexity of the issue considering the multiple years of abuse.”
While it is difficult to find a solution to a problem so complex, one survivor of domestic abuse bravely shared her story on stage. Felicia Gentle, Deputy Commanding Officer in charge of the Family Violence Unit, recalled the abuse she endured for 4 years at the hand of the man she loved.
Gentle spoke in detail about what she had gone through, even retelling an incident where she was handcuffed with her own pair of handcuffs by the man. She spoke about the moment when she realized that enough was enough, and how she found the courage to finally leave the relationship.
Gentle told the audience that one of the most important things is to love yourself, and that she had to learn to love and respect herself by leaving someone who would treat her in such a manner.
Many women in Belize are currently still in the situation in which Gentle had found herself, and many others have died at the hands of their abusers. Not only women, but many children, and some men too, are struggling with violence in their own homes. This forum is only one way to start the conversation on domestic violence.