Hon. Anthony Martinez Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation
Since 1911, the world has been observing International Women’s Day. In Belize, this observance has provided an opportunity for a month-long acknowledgement and celebration of women’s contributions to our national development. This observance is also an opportunity to collectively focus on issues that women continue to face in Belize. Issues that often stem from gender inequality and inequity.
This year’s theme: BALANCE for BETTER; INNOVATE for CHANGE attempts to reinforce and amplify the importance of women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements on a country’s overall development. It challenges to us to think about the collective gains that can be realised if women and girls, who make up 50% of our population, are supported to meet their fullest potential. Albeit considered very ambitious, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is calling for transformative shifts, integrated approaches and new solutions, if we want to advance and achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
In calling for balance, this year’s theme is a challenge for everyone to defy personal attitudes and values which continue to limit men and women due to our social, cultural and even religious biases. If we are to remove barriers, whether structural or social, to ensure both men and women are allowed to occupy spaces that have either been “assigned” for the opposite sex, we must do it through innovative strategies that are unique and creative, but which will shape our future societies more positively. The work of gender equality and equity must stop being a woman’s issues, just the same as gender-based violence which continues to cost women their lives must become a man’s issue as well. Indeed, it must become everybody’s issue. As such, we must all make the effort to dispense with the “business as usual” attitudes. We must begin to look at congruencies in the work of various sectors within government, civil society and private sector while at the same time committing to taking the necessary steps for a more balanced approach. This approach will hopefully lead us to gender-responsive innovations that will ultimately achieve transformative gains for society.
I end with a quote from Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist who once said, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” Let us join together to continue the march towards gender equality, as it is in all our interest to achieve this goal. Gender equality, at its core, is about inclusion and ensuring a level playing field. Advancing gender equality is not only about advancing the cause of women and girls. It is about cultivating balance between the sexes that will ultimately lead to the more just and equitable society that we all seek.
Happy International Women’s Day to all Women in Belize!