Domestic violence in Belize:
A pressing issue for women and men to resolve
The reported incidence of domestic violence in Belize, as indicated through the most recent statistics (2012) from the Epidemiological Unit of the Ministry of Health, continue to show troubling trends. Persistently, Belizean men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of violence suffered by women. Of the total number of reported cases countrywide, 88% are inflicted by men on women. The remaining 12% of reported cases are women abusing men.
According to these statistical indicators, 70% of those who suffer from domestic violence are employed while 30% are unemployed; 74% of victims are either married or in common law unions. More than 80% of the violence inflicted utilizes physical (body) force, including slapping, punching, kicking, pushing, hair pulling and others.
A comparison of reported incidence of domestic violence by ethnicities nationwide reveals that highest incidence, 60% cases, falls among the Mestizos, the highest numbers being in the Corozal, Orange Walk and Cayo Districts respectively. Of the total number of domestic violence cases countrywide, 22% are reported to be committed by Creoles, predominantly in the Belize District. Within the Belize District itself, the second highest reported incidence of violence is among the Mestizos. The lowest reported cases of domestic violence nationwide are from White/Caucasians and Asians, representing 1% and 0% of all cases respectively, followed by Garifuna and East Indians, both representing 2% of all cases.
Districts with the lowest reported cases of domestic violence are the Stann Creek showing 5% of all cases and Toledo District, 2%. Of the cases in the Stann Creek District, 25% are committed by Garifuna, 25% by Maya and 20% by Creoles. In the Toledo District, 85% of all reported cases are among the Mayas, 5% each by East Indians, Mestizo and Creoles, and none reported among the Garifuna. The highest frequency of main aggressors of child abuse cases (boy and girls alike) is reported among mothers.
Even as domestic violence continue to undermine the wellbeing of Belizean society, national strategies to address this tends to be superficial and have been dominated by women to the vast exclusion of the main perpetrators – men. Clearly, the exclusive single gender approaches have not yielded effective results. Therein lies a major problem.
Approaching society’s problem without addressing interrelationships among issues has been a recipe for further exclusion, divisiveness and overall failure. Violence is both a women’s and men’s issue that affects all of society. The strengths and weaknesses of men affect women, just as the strengths and weaknesses of women affect men. The nurturing of a more harmonious and loving society must integrally engage men and women as allies, partners, advocates, role models and change agents. Furthermore, as Socrates counseled, “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new”. This requires a new mindset and fresh approaches to address the problem at the roots.
While this article is not meant to delve into the complexities of violence, it is important to understand the root causes. Just as forest fire, bush fire and house fire, are all fires burning in different ways, domestic violence is only one expression of violence that permeates our society and can be dealt with holistically. The source of violence lies within the mind, born from experiences and deeply ingrained perceptions of one’s power in relation to another.
In the broader society, social structures that flow from a certain dominant cultural value system, have nurtured male dominance over women. It is that mindset which has also resulted in such startling recent UN and WHO global statistics on women: – 603 million live in areas where domestic violence is not considered a crime; 2.6 billion live in countries where marital rape is legal; 140 million have suffered female genital mutilation; 35% of the world’s women will experience physical and sexual violence.
At the individual level, violence is rooted in many psychological factors including the lack of love, painful experiences of apathy, neglect, lack of kindness and childhood violence experiences. Too often people fail to see that life as it is experienced in the present is really the result of an accumulation of all past actions and habit patterns of the mind. It is the law of cause and effect. Each action or series of actions will produce a certain result.
The abuse of children by parents, for example, could be the seeds of later abuse which these children, when they become adults, inflict on others if no positive interventions are made for change. Lack of love and neglect by a father (and mother) could cause a daughter to recklessly seek, with various men, the love she missed at home. Neglect or abuse of a son by the mother (or father), may breed deep unresolved anger that he could later lash out at his wife. Adult behavior tends to be rooted in experiences during the formative years of childhood. If the experience is rooted in pain, the person spreads pain; if his or her experiences were rooted in love the person spreads love.
There is an important dimension that is often missed in the discourse of gender relationships but which is also critical to nurturing harmony in our society. Extensive studies in neuroscience show that the brains and hormones of men and women are distinctly different. As such, their responses to life situations are different. Because of their neurological differences, men tend to get more physically expressive when they get angry while women tend to be more verbally expressive.
In their book, Leadership and the Sexes, co-authors Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis explain that a woman’s brain is often better able to verbalize her anger while an angry man will have trouble hearing anything because his anger is stuck in a different structure of his brain. When the male brain becomes angry, the swelling of the amygdala in the limbic system often leads to a near closure of many of his verbal circuits and the man gets into a “flight or fight” mode. Males are driven by testosterone, an aggression hormone which is 20 times more in their blood streams and brains than that of women. When men are stressed, they tend to secrete more testosterone, which makes them react aggressively. When a woman becomes angry, her brain becomes flooded with thoughts, which makes her want to talk more. This combination could fuel more stress and conflict. Hence the physical abuse by men.
For men, a primary mistake in angry conflicts is not returning to resolve the issues of the conflict even later, after the fury is gone. Following an argument men will often think that the conflict has been resolved because it is finished inside them. They often are not aware of how hurt the woman feels. The primary mistake that women can make is fuelling the man’s stress and anger through negative verbal interventions. If someone is angry, there is no need to add to the anger; rather one should try as much as possible to ease the burden with compassion.
An unknown author quite aptly describes that, “Anger is a reaction to frustrations and fears that arise when love has gotten stuck. As time goes along, and the love remains blocked, the anger finally explodes. Often by the time the explosion occurs, the actual catalyst has nothing to do with the real anger. It was just the storm that finally broke open the dam. Anger is simply stuck energy, stuck love. And some part of you is crying out to get back to love. The key is to diffuse anger with love.”
Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh counsels that, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
To the perpetrators of violence, know that you can release all binding influence and pain of the past and turn yourself around. Seek help. Atone for your wrongs. Meditate. Find peace within yourself. Spiritual leader Emmet Fox reminds that, “It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble, how hopeless the outlook, how muddled the tangle, how great the mistake–a sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all. . . if only you could love enough, you would be the happiest and most powerful being in the world.”
One love, you all. Now go hug your dear ones. Yes, go and spread the love.