Meeting the 20,000 Mark to kick off Activities for Women Empowerment Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 13 March 2014 00:00

March 6th, 2014 will go down in Belize’s history as the day when the women of the nation rallied together and started a true march towards equality. The 20,000 Strong Women Empowerment Rally attracted women and young girls from across the length and breadth of the jewel. Though the symbolic goal of 20,000 participants was not realized, the thousands of women who marched and withstood the blistering dry season heat left it impossible for anyone to question if the movement was “Strong”.

According to organizers and participants of the rally, there are plenty of issues that need to be addressed. Those include the high level of unemployment among women, poverty, abuse and low representation at the decision making level. According to the most recent Labour Force Survey from the Statistical Institute of Belize, the unemployment rate among women is more than two times higher (21.5 percent) than men (9.6 percent). Women are also far more likely to be underemployed and poor. There has been an increase in the number of women at the public sector decision making level with Prime Minister Barrow’s appointment of two Ministers and three of his seven Senators being females. However, there has been no such improvement in the private sector, especially in financial services.

In an effort to shed light on these injustices and also to generate greater appreciation for the contribution of women in society, the organizers of the 20,000 Strong rally hosted the event on a week day and challenged all Belizeans to “Imagine a Belize without Women”. As buses fileded 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 sun was hot but everyone made it to the stadium in good shape. Women from all parts of the country were at the stadium waiting to get the rally started.

Entertainers such as Denise Castillo, Melonie Gillett and Elle Marie delivered inspirational performances between speeches from some of Belize’s greatest champions. Marie Sharp was first to address the huge crowd. She spoke about her decision to start a business and the effort it took to get the company where it is today. Sharp spoke of how she started from her own kitchen and now has a company that exports to all parts of the world. She challenged the women in attendance to push forward towards their goals and whatever they do to do it to the best of their ability. Sharp said she could not turn down the opportunity to participate in such an event and hoped that her story motivates others to put their best foot forward in whatever endeavor they choose. She asked that Government, private sector and civil society do more to help women in need because we must accept that “some people truly need a hand up”. Other speakers included former Ministers of Government and Members of the House of Representatives Faith Babb and Patty Arceo. Babb of the United Democratic Party and Arceo of the People’s United Party made it clear that women empowerment is not a red or blue issue. Sandra Bedran gave a motivating address. Community activists such as Janelle Chanona and Rosanna Briceno challenged women to push for the change they want to see because united they can achieve anything. The most emotional moment was when one young lady spoke of her difficult childhood. She was neglected by her mother and sexually abused by a man in the home. Her cries to mom fell on deaf ears and she felt like nobody cared. The young woman reached out to social services for assistance and was provided shelter and care. Though her life was not easy even then, she learnt that when you think nobody cares there are always people willing to help. Her message to other young women in her shoes is to never give up hope but know that when you reach out for help there will be someone to reach back.

Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis-Barrow, delivered the main address. She made it clear that there was one agenda behind the rally and that was to encourage unity among the women of Belize and a call for equality and partnership at all levels of society. The rally is the launch of a series of activities that will take place over the course of a year. Such activities include various training workshops for women, a travelling exhibition promoting the contributions of women in Belize’s history, forums and other special events.

The year 2015 will make it 20 years since the first world conference on women was held in Beijing, China. Many activists believe that world leaders are dragging their feet on meeting goals set for the upliftment of women around the world.