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Evaluation report

2001 BZE: Examination of Discriminatory Behaviors and Practices within the Education System



Author: Jones, S.; Women's Department

Executive summary

Background

The Women's Department, through funding provided by UNICEF, has conducted a survey examining gender-related issues in the education system, especially issues that impact greatly on the lives of women. While a number of issues were identified, this report deals with two major areas that may have serious implications for women's social and economic development. These two issues involve school policies regarding teenage pregnancy for primary and secondary school students, as well as the unwritten policies that seek to release unmarried pregnant teachers from the classroom, hence affecting their continuous employment during and after pregnancy. The resulting report focuses on discriminatory attitudes and practices identified within the church-state partnership.

Purpose / Objective

Specific objectives of the study include:
- To identify gender-related issues in the education system
- To identify school policies regarding teenage pregnancy for female primary and secondary school students
- To identify policies relating to unmarried female employees and their continuous employment during and after pregnancy

Methodology

The first part of the study examined issues impacting unmarried pregnant teachers and other employees. In order to collect the relevant information, interviews were conducted with general managers of primary schools, representing all denominations. Similarly, local managers and principals (primary and secondary schools) representing various denominations countrywide were also interviewed. During this phase, discussions were also held with the Belize National Teachers Union, the Ministry of Education, and Labour Department with the intention of developing an understanding of the ministries' perceived role in this matter, as well as obtaining an understanding of the labor laws. In order to develop an understanding of the school's administrative policy and its effect on female employees, interviews were also conducted with ten teachers who, in one form or the other, have been affected by the policy. A focus group was also conducted with teachers at the University of Belize, Faculty of Education, providing them with a forum to openly discuss any concerns they have regarding the issue.

The second part of the study looked at the expulsion of teenagers from high school due to pregnancy. During this phase, interviews were conducted with high school principals in order to develop an understanding of high schools' policies toward young expectant mothers and high school teachers. Interviews were also held with women who were expelled from school due to pregnancy. The purpose of these interviews was to develop an understanding of their present situation while examining the opportunities that were available for continuing their education. A discussion was also held with the principal of St. Catherine's Academy, a catholic institution that has a policy that facilitates and allows teenagers to complete their education during and after pregnancy. The purpose of this discussion was to examine the experience of the school, and to have an insight into the changes that have occurred since the policy was implemented in the 1970s. Truancy rates resulting from pregnancy before and after the implementation of the policy were also examined.

Key Findings and Conclusions

The education system has always responded negatively to unwed mothers who are part of the system. While there have been various changes in the system to accommodate modern day realities, little has been done to effect change in this area. This is largely due to the Constitution of Belize and the Education Act, which provide little protection for teachers. With the help, however, of various United Nations Conferences and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and most recently the Post Beijing Conference, discriminatory issues that were once ignored are being brought to the forefront. Today, issues affecting the overall development of women have become a priority for the Women's Department. For example, the Women's Agenda (1998) is the national policy of the present government to address and reduce discrimination against women.

The principles and beliefs of the various churches are translated into the general administration of primary and secondary schools. Based on these principles and beliefs, schools develop a Code of Ethics that are given to their teachers upon employment. While some schools have a standard Code of Ethics, for others it is either outdated or non-existent. For a majority of schools, the Code of Ethics is viewed as a condition of employment.

The issue of pregnancy outside of the institution of marriage and cohabitation are deemed immoral. While no written policy exists regarding these issues, teachers are aware that the issue is disguised within the school's code of ethics and of the seriousness of its implications.

With the exception of the Anglican management, the unofficial policy of schools regarding the pregnancy of unwed teachers by management is non-tolerance. An unwed teacher who becomes pregnant is put on disciplinary action, which can include: (1) releasing the teacher from her duties and (2) taking a leave of absence ranging from three months to six months without pay. Prior to disciplinary action, teachers are counseled into marriage. If marriage does not take place, management will settle for the second option. Most teachers are asked to leave before the pregnancy is visible and are told that they will return to the classroom after giving birth. Most teachers, however, who have been put on disciplinary action found out that returning to their jobs after maternity leave is difficult. After the disciplinary period is completed, oftentimes the teacher finds herself going back and forth to the manager inquiring about her status. Most often, no decisions have been made and after months without a job and a child to support, the frustrated teacher seeks employment with another management. At the same time, the former management willingly gives a transfer indicating that the preference was not to rehire the teacher.

Since no written policy is available, the matter is not addressed in a systematic manner. The extent to which disciplinary action is enforced at management level can be characterized as unfair and inconsistent.

Schools under the Management of the Anglican Church have taken a different approach to the issue of pregnancy for unwed teachers and other employees. Likewise, no policy exists regarding the issue, but unmarried teachers are advised to have only three children. While they are cautioned, there are teachers who have more than the three children specified, despite the unwritten policy. The management of the Anglican Schools provides counseling for their unwed teachers, advising them that it is in their best interest as single mothers that they do not have a large number of children. No cases have been identified in which a teacher was released or placed on disciplinary action. However, this was not always the policy for primary schools managed by the Anglican denomination.

Unfortunately, female teachers feel that similar action is not given to male teachers. As school administration argues, it is difficult to prove that a male teacher has fathered a child. Management claims that if a male teacher fathers a child outside the institution of marriage, similar action would be taken. No such case has been identified.

Throughout the years, female teachers who have been placed on disciplinary action by their management have turned to the union for help. Unfortunately, the union has had very little success in championing the cause of the young teachers. Very little has also been done by the union to address the issue in a meaningful and collective manner.

Presently, most of the high schools, with the exception of a few, allow third and fourth form students to continue their education after giving birth. While this is so, most schools expect the young mother to withdraw from school as soon as her pregnancy is visible. Others ask that the young woman withdraw as soon as she reports the pregnancy to school authorities. She is further asked to stay out of school for a year and apply for readmission after this period. According to school authorities, by this time, the girls will overcome the discomfort of having a baby, adjust to having a child, as well as overcome separation anxiety with their babies.

Re-admission into school is not automatic. Each school requires that, prior to their leaving, girls must discuss their pregnancy with school authorities, namely the principal who, in turn, meets with the parents or guardians in order to explain the conditions on which the student may return to school. One of the conditions for re-admission is for the parents/guardians to assume full responsibility for the newborn so the new mother can successfully complete her education. The young mother must also demonstrate and have the desire to continue her education, and completely assume the role of student after re-admission. It is expected that throughout her remaining high school years, no more pregnancies will occur. A second pregnancy will result in immediate expulsion.

Teenage pregnancy during the first and second years of school in almost all high schools in Belize City may result in expulsion. Only two high schools clearly stated that their policy allows for all girls to return to school regardless of their class status. Similarly, these girls must leave school once the pregnancy starts showing and return one year after giving birth. Of these two schools, only one provides parenting classes for young mothers.

For some high schools, especially in Belize City, a young man who fathers a child is also expected to leave school for some time. They require the young man to leave at the same time the expectant mother does; others ask that he become involved in some sort of community activity to introduce him to the issue of parenting. For instance, they are often asked to volunteer at day care centers at least once a week during a school semester.

Both primary and secondary schools have very strict policies regarding abortion. Almost all the schools have expressed in their policies (written or unwritten) that, if brought to the attention of school authorities, a young woman who has procured an abortion, encouraged or assisted with an abortion will be expelled immediately. Most of these policies are unwritten and quite vague when it comes to explaining what is meant by "encouraged or assisted."

The Constitution of Belize, the Education Act, and the Education Rules govern the employment of teachers and other staff in almost all schools in the country of Belize. This includes government-aided denominational schools. The same rules and regulations, but at different sections, govern the attendance and continuous enrolment of students in school. The act of dismissing a teacher for any of the foregoing reasons appears to strike at the heart of justice. In spite of the Constitution and the Education Act that work together to protect the managers and managing authorities of denominational schools, the dismissal of a teacher for any of the above reasons is definitely discriminatory -- a discriminatory act protected by the Constitution until a court of law or an Arbitration Panel decides otherwise.

Recommendations

It is important that teachers unite to address this issue on a national level. For this to happen, teachers must be aware of their rights. This is an issue that the Belize Teachers Union, with some assistance from the Civil Society, should address with teachers. It is proposed that ongoing training workshops be organized for teachers. These workshops will assist teachers in understanding their rights as a teacher, as well as the policy and procedures that govern the administration of schools. With the assistance of the Belize National Teachers Union, define the term "morality" and its implication for teachers.

Develop an advocacy program. Through such activity, discriminatory behavior and attitudes in the education system must be seen as an education and labor problem rather than a religious issue.

With the assistance of the Belize National Teachers Union, review School's Code of Ethics to ensure that the Code of Ethics do not infringe on the individual rights of a teacher. Also, mechanisms must be in place to ensure that the Code of Ethics are approved by the Chief Education Officer.



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Report information

Date:
2001

Region:
TACRO

Country:
Belize

Type:
Study

Theme:
Education - Girls

Partners:

PIDB:
1026

Follow Up:

Language:
English

Sequence Number:
2001/003

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