For the first time the Women's Department today held a one day conference with Women's Group from across the country. Over one hundred women convened at the Belize Elementary School Auditorium for the event. Icilda Humes, Director at the Women's Department told us that the event is the first step for the department in revitalizing the women's movement in Belize.

Icilda Humes; Director, Women's Department

"This one day event is about strengthening women's groups; it is about building the capacity of some of the women's groups that the department has been working with over a period of years. We have groups representing each district, we have groups that have been in existence for many years, we have some of them that are considered to be emerging groups, we have some of them that focus on community activism and we have some that look at entrepreneurship opportunities and economic empowerment opportunities. We have a diverse group of women here today. We have groups that are from urban communities as well as rural communities."

Representatives from over fifty women's groups from across Belize are attending the conference which will be focusing on four main areas.

Icilda Humes

"The main area of focus for today's event is recruitment. We need to look at how these women's groups are sourcing members, building their membership and then we have to look at maintaining the membership. One you have gotten women to sign up to be a member of the group, how do you keep them? How do you keep the momentum? Then we looked at visioning, where is the group going? We have some groups that got together for an initial purpose and after they have me those needs or fulfilled those goals then a lot of times the membership starts to dwindle because there is no vision of where that group want to go, what direction they are heading. The visioning is a very important exercise that we will be doing today. And then we are going to be looking at fund raising. Where is the money? Where do these groups access resources and also once they access these resources how do they manage them."

Humes says that over the years there has been a decrease in active women's groups nationwide but hopes that the conference today will serve to change that.

Icilda Humes

"We have definitely seen over the years a decrease in the amount of women's groups that we have in the country. In years past there were so many especially in rural communities, now we are seeing just a few in some of the districts and we are encouraging other women's group that we have not engaged at the department or who have not engaged us to contact the women's department so that we can work with you and so that we can see what sort of technical assistance we can provide. Mainly we are seeing women's groups functioning in rural communities, there continues to be a challenge with urban centers having and maintaining women's groups and this is something that we are very concerned about. But we are hoping that today's event will give us some sort of direction in how we can continue to assist the existing groups, strengthen the emerging groups and look at ways of encouraging other communities to establish women's groups."

Aidra Rodriguez is Treasurer for the Productive Organization for Women in Action, a group in Dangriga that focuses on advocating against discrimination against HIV/AIDS infected persons within the communities.

Aidra Rodriguez

"This is our community and we want the best for our community. As community members we are responsible for what goes on in our community. As soon as Michelle calls us, because she is our coordinator, as soon as she sends out a text message that we need to be here so that we can go and do an outreach or we need to be there for an activity, we all come. We all drop what we have to do and we come. This is going to help us because when we were formed it is not like we were structured. Maybe here we can get assistance in structuring our group."

POWA has also recently won the Red Ribbon Award from UNAIDS for their work. The event is being held with funding from the United Nations Population's Fund.