Women are far more likely to be unemployed and underemployed than men. The most recent Labour Force Survey shows that the unemployment rate among women decreased from 19.4 percent to 15. 1 percent from 2014 to 2015. Reason for optimism but this is still far higher than it is for men whose rate increased from 5.9 percent to 6.8 percent over that same period. The results show that women are also far more likely to be underemployed than men. Over 20,000 persons were underemployed, 9,373 males and 10,847 females. The underemployment rate for men is 10.8 percent. The underemployment rate for women is 21 percent. On average, males make $90 per month more than women.
Those are only some of the statistics that show women and men are operating on different playing fields. Therefore, the need for financial empowerment of women in Belize cannot be overstated and it has become the number one gender based campaign of the National Women’s Commission, the Women’s Department and the Special Envoy for Women and Children.
Women and young ladies from across the length and breadth of Belize assembled together on Friday, March 11, for the second national women empowerment rally, 20,000 Strong. While many observers think of the event as a symbolic movement, for participants the rally provides opportunities for networking and has already yielded concrete results. Several initiatives have been conceived from conversations that started at the first 20,000 Strong rally; therefore, Friday’s event was really just a briefing of the troops that ended with a resolution to march on.
This year, the national rally focused on empowering women through financial independence. The organizers of the rally hosted the event on a week day and challenged all Belizeans to “Imagine a Belize without Women”. As buses streamed into Belize City from across the country, Belize City women assembled at the Memorial Park around 8 a.m. From there they marched over to the Marion Jones Stadium led by marching bands. The parade went from the Memorial Park, along the Marine Parade Boulevard, unto Newton Barracks, into Princess Margaret Drive and concluded at the Marion Jones Stadium. The route was not an easy one. The walk was long and the women had to withstand the blistering dry season heat but everyone made it to the stadium in good shape. Other women from all parts of the country were already at the stadium waiting to get the rally started.
Women entrepreneurs were at the core of this year's 20,000 STRONG rally. The guest speakers for the event were Cecile Watson, Mapye Smith and Crystal Samos. Watson is a major advocate of entrepreneurship in Caribbean. Smith and Samos are successful entrepreneurs who share their stories of perseverance and success with the women in attendance. These speakers delivered powerful messages of empowerment and sisterhood.
Right in line with this theme, Special Envoy Kim Simplis-Barrow launched the “20-4-20 Women's Economic Development Program”. This program has been developed to provide support for women in business, almost like a business incubator. A Fund will be established by the Office of the Special Envoy for a program that will identify and assist women who are in need of financing to expand their business or are in the process of starting one. The strategy to finance the fund is based on a specific concept in which the Special envoy is asking 20,000 women and men to donate $2.00 each; 2,000 women and men donate $20.00 each; 200 women and men donate $200.00 each; 20 women and men donate $2000.00 each and 2 women and men contribute $20,000 each.
The Office of the Special Envoy will identify an experienced micro-financing institution that will work in collaboration with the Women’s Department, Women’s Issues Network of Belize, Bel-Traide and other community based organizations to select 20 women who will be partnered with 20 successful business women who can mentor them as they develop or expand their business. The initiative will involve the provision of funding via loans and /or grants to assist the women in their business journey. The number of beneficiaries will increase by 20 women every year.