Above violence and discrimination

The Testimony of Stephen Daniel Diaz 30-year-old Belizean social entrepreneur.

Above violence and discrimination The Testimony of Stephen Daniel Diaz 30-year-old Belizean social entrepreneur. Stephen started feeling the need of becoming an empowered Belizean as he describes himself, back in the time when in his childhood community. He is from a community where as a teenager he observed many of his friends fall victim to harmful situations. Those experiences inspired him to use his abilities to create change in the lives of other step by step.

« At the beginning, sometimes people came to me expressing their problems and concerns and I would direct them to resources and organizations that could help.”

Nowadays Stephen’s work is to aid people who faced the most discrimination from society. Groups such as sex workers, refugees, members of the young LBGT+ community but also victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. Throughout his position as a social entrepreneur in both government and non-governmental institutions, he shared his experiences.

Questions/answers

Can you describe the life of minorities in Belize at the moment?

Well each minority has their own struggle based on the different types of discrimination they face. The underlying issues for most populations are poverty and violence. Sex workers experience high rates of sexual assault and it is difficult for them to get justice. Sex work itself is not a criminal offence, however, being provided by an institution is illegal.

For some, it is even more difficult because of their migrant status. The laws which would affect refugees and immigrants are still being tabled, so many exist in abeyance and some are vulnerable to Human trafficking which includes sexual and labour exploitations.

Stephen at a women and girl economic empowerment project

In regard to our LGBT + populations, there have been advancements in legislation with progress. However much work needs to be done in communities where persons experience violence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

What led to the creation of the Equal Opportunity Bill? Could you elaborate on the “backlash” that this legislation has received?

The Equal Opportunity Bill has been in the making for over a long period of social observation of behaviours towards pockets of our communities made vulnerable by stigma and discrimination in the area of health to be specific immunocompromised people within the Belizean society.

There are religious oppositions who are predominantly from the international groups. They have been very vocal and effective in mobilising their supporters against the Equal Opportunity Bill which seeks to make rights at the forefront of protection of persons made vulnerable.

There were news reports on migrant caravans travelling through Central America. There has also been an elevated rate of Venezuelans migrating. Has this affected Belize in any way? Furthermore, do you think fellow Belizeans would have been accepting of so many migrants if given the chance?

We have rejected numerous streams of migrants passing through on the way to the United States. They were not allowed to pass through based in immigration regulations.

It is very competitive because of all our socio-economic problems. I do not think Belizeans would be receptive to immigrants who would need full housing and financial assistance because those are things not offered to many of our own citizens. We do, however, accept immigrants under certain conditions. An example would be Haitians after the massive earthquake in 2010. Our relationship with the Caribbean community is very strong and partnerships with various Latin American communities has been forged in the past for refugee communities across Belize.

Despite this, immigrants still enter the country. How do they gain citizenship?

They can file for asylum, refugee, or nationality which allows them to stay pending the request each process has a requirement. However, if you have not applied for any of the statuses mentioned you could be subjected to immigration offence and deportation at official entry points often Guatemala or Mexico, or repatriation to their country of origin if policies are properly implemented and followed.

Do government decisions sometimes make your job as a social entrepreneur harder?

Well, non-governmental organisations are able to offer assistance to anyone they choose. There is no restriction. The legal requirements and registration process are rigid and tends to create barriers for organizations trying to become fully incorporated. The oversight into operations can sometime create disruptions in how organizations make impact because of influences.

Belize Youth Empowerment For Change membership for youth advocacy (Belmopan City)

How would you describe the relationship among the different ethnic groups which exist in Belize?

Even though there is some prejudice amongst the different groups, it is not an extremely divisive issue here. People generally live in communities that are culturally diverse and have their own practices which usually are respected by everyone as long as it doesn’t concise with the law.

Returning to ethnic groups, does each have equal opportunities as it relates to social welfare etc.?

Well women and young girls have the lowest rates of employment in the country. The south of the country which has huge cultural diversity, also records the lowest rate of employment as well as low literacy rates in rural areas. There is also a group fighting for the rights of the indigenous people and the access to land. The government wanted to claim ancestral lands belonging to the native Mayans. So far, they have made some progress and stopped the government from building on their religious and respected land. There have also been indigenous populations from Guatemala, who have been escaping violence. They moved here and step up communities, however, based on the laws of the Organisation of American States, they were ruled illegal and required to move.

Last Word

It can be lonely being a strong voice in a sea of counteracting voices so support is very crucial. Support causes that help people without any ulterior motive. People need to be conscious of these situations happening in our countries and we need to aid others in any way we can. It is important to keep in mind, too, that in this line of work, maintaining good, strong relationships are vital.

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