Message from Hon. Anthony “Boots” Martinez, Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation
March 8th signifies a day of celebration of the achievements of women globally. The tradition of celebrating International Women’s Day represents decades of struggle for equality, justice, peace and development. Since the first observance of Women’s Day in Belize in the 1970s, this celebration has continued to be a very important commemoration for women in Belize. In fact, since 2010, Belize, through collaboration and partnership with state-led institutions, non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups, has observed International Women’s Day by organizing a month of activities in March focusing on issues affecting women and on celebrating their social, economic, cultural and political achievements.
The day serves as a rallying point for coordinated efforts to not only celebrate the achievements of women, but to reflect on the progress made in gender equality and equity, demanding women’s rights and participation in political and economic processes. It is a time to reflect on progress made and to refocus and re-strengthen our resolve to advance issues that affect women.
The theme for this year’s women’s month, “#PRESSFORPROGESS”, indicates that more than ever, there’s a strong call-to-action to press forward, to motivate and unite to strive for gender parity. Gender parity is an important achievement that strongly influences whether economies and societies advance and yet the most recent Global Gender Gap Report finds that at the current pace, it will take us 200 years to true equality between men and women. Some data even reveal that the gender gap is widening. Therefore, it is a crucial time to maintain the strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support.
Through collective efforts, women all around the world join in global movements to fight against the injustices, inequalities and illnesses that disproportionately affect girls and women. Issues such as sexual harassment, poverty, violence and discrimination continue to be barriers for women from all walks of life, often infringing on their basic human rights and hindering progress. Women issues are issues that affect society and we will not achieve gender parity if women act alone; the fight requires the collective efforts of both men and women, standing in unison against injustices. The National Gender Policy of Belize echoes the importance of collective effort and also recognizes that women’s progress has never come through women’s efforts alone.
The Government of Belize, through the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation is committed to achieving more equitable human development and continues to support structures, processes and systems to fight against the inequalities that impede the achievement of women’s equality and equity. Through the Women & Family Support Department and the National Women’s Commission, the main governmental bodies that respond to gender issues both on a policy and programmatic level, the Government of Belize continue to support the advancement of women and tackle wider gender issues. The Ministry continues to implement Gender Awareness Safe School Programs in the districts recognizing that gender issues affect both young women and young men, although generally in very different ways. The implementation of gender sensitive policies, plans and programs continues with progress being made through the enactment of The Domestic Violence Act of 2007, development of A National Gender-Based Violence Action Plan and sexual violence handbook, domestic violence protocols for police officers and other policies for multisectoral responses to gender issues. The Ministry is also continues building partnerships with other agencies to support women’s economic empowerment for women to achieve economic independence, setting a direct path towards poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and ultimately gender equality.
The Women’s Department has undergone structural changes to ensure that is more systems based and family-centered in the provision of coordinated social safety net services. The amalgamation of the Family Support Services Unit and the Women’s Department combined with the introduction of a “Wrap Around Services Program” in 2016 is a recognition that women need holistic support to press forward out of poverty or domestic violence.
It is during this time that we are able to celebrate these achievements and reflect on the advances our country has made in regards to the development and progress of women. But it is also important that we take stock of the gaps and work yet to be completed. Women’s participation and empowerment are fundamental to strengthening women’s rights and enabling them to have control over their lives and exert influence in society.
In commemoration of International Women’s Day, let us all renew our efforts to #pressforprogress and continue to take the necessary steps to narrow the growing gender gaps that create the disparities that hinders all of us from enjoying a just and prosperous society. International Women’s Day does not belong to any one group; It is a Day for all, regardless of our differences, to collectively celebrate and regroup on the shared responsibility to achieve gender parity! Happy International Women’s Day to all women in Belize!