Each year on March 8th we join the global community in commemorating International Women’s Day: a day on which the world celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In Belize, we have designated the entire month of March as Women’s Month. March is the month of stock taking on gender issues, as we not only celebrate the many achievements of our Belizean women, but we also reflect on the progress made in gender equality and equity and renew our commitment to the continued advancement of women.
The theme for this year’s women’s month, “Empowering Women in a Changing World: Planet 50:50 by 2030”, focuses on the impact that rapid changes in technology and globalization is having and can have on the status of women. These changes present opportunities and threats to the advancement of women. Along with all the positives that can be gained from an ever shrinking and increasingly interconnected world, also comes global fiscal and trade policies, that lead to increased informality and instability of labour markets and negative environmental impact; all issues that are shown to disproportionately affect women. If we look at global statistics, women and girls make up more than half the world’s population and are often more deeply impacted than men and boys by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of healthcare, embedded societal practices, discrimination and global economic crises and changes. These global realties are reflected by our own local situation.
With the new global 2030 roadmap and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by UN member states, we must look at how women are affected by the proposed goals and how we accelerate the effective implementation of the SDGs, specifically taking into account SDG 5: Achieve gender equality. This particular goal speaks to the empowerment of all women and girls if we are to ensure a change to ensure a planet 50:50 by 2030. More importantly is the widespread consensus that progress in achieving any and all of the SDGs will be stalled if women’s empowerment and gender equality is not prioritized. How then do we as a country take action as partner in the global movement to ensure a planet 50:50 by 2030?
The Government of Belize has worked and continues to work in achieving gender equality and empowerment of women and girls and has made some progress towards promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. There is gender parity among males and females at primary and secondary school levels and in fact female participation in education has now begun to outstrip that of males, especially at the tertiary level. The proportion of women employed in the non-agricultural sector has seen a modest increase from 38.7 percent in 1995 to 41.7 per cent in 2007, signaling the opening up of labour markets to women.
The Labour Amendment Act No. 3 of 2011, provides for the equitable treatment of women in the labour force. As a champion for change, the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation continues to fight the embedded inequities that impede the achievement of equality and equity for women in Belize by building on past achievements and supporting ongoing national efforts. The Ministry continues to partner in advancing sensitization of gender based violence in schools through its safe school program; creating support mechanisms and resources for survivors of gender-based violence, ensuring a multi-sectoral and comprehensive response to gender based violence through the strengthening of the national Gender Based Violence Committee and the establishment of district gender based violence committees whose work is underpinned by a national action plan. Social safety nets for vulnerable women and children have been expanded; partnerships for the elimination of gender based discrimination at all levels of society have been cultivated; child protection and family support programs have been strengthened. The Ministry is also building partnerships with other agencies with the goal of supporting women’s economic empowerment and financial independence.
The commemoration of International Women’s Day and the celebration of Women’s Month give us good reasons to reflect on advances in women’s rights around the world and in Belize. However, “empowering women in a changing world” demands much more innovation and initiative. The challenge is to ensure that women and girls are poised to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the changes in today’s world. Hence the call for the empowerment of women to ensure that they are able to not only advocate for themselves, but can be advocates for those around them. All stakeholders, policy makers and community need to play an active role in these changing times that often limit or hinder women’s advancements.
As we celebrate this month, let us consider how we break down barriers and build bridges that support greater education, better health, and career advancement, representation in political and economic decision-making processes and stronger communities for our women. Most importantly, let us consider how we not only empower women and girls, but also engage men and boys, to collectively work together in accelerating gender equality and equity by 2030.