The vibe on the ground at the rally
The rally got plenty attention; a lot of it even before today. Politicians weighed in, and so did social activists, humanitarian organizations, the B.N.T.U., anti-gay protesters, gender-policy dissenters and even the mighty Roman Catholic Church. But today, all attention was directed on center stage, so Mike Rudon took to the outskirts to get the vibe on the ground. Here’s that story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
It is a first of its kind initiative, and while it met with criticism, derision, rejection and even condemnation, it certainly got participation….very positive participation. His party blasted the rally on Wednesday, basically saying it was an expensive but meaningless affair…but former PUP leader John Briceño was up front and center today, and not afraid to speak his mind.
John Briceño, Orange Walk Area Representative
“Today, I’m here to support the women, and I must add also my wife is here as a speaker, and I have to come here to show her the support and that I am proud of her and I am proud of all the women, of the work that they have done for this great country, Belize.”
“So will you get in trouble for being out here today?”
“I don’t think so. I think the party is understanding…our party is an inclusive party…our party believes that yes, the party may take a certain position but at the end of the day we are individuals and we believe that if we believe strongly about something that we should be able to stand up and speak in favour of what you truly believe in.”
The twenty-thousand strong rally has been promoted as a movement to empower women….at time for their voices to be heard, and a time for politics to be put aside. So while politicians were on hand, politics was put on the backbench.
Lisel Alamilla, U.D.P. Minister
“I think this is an event that we should celebrate as women. It is an opportunity to demonstrate that as women we can come together and really focus on the challenges that we face and I think this is what this is about. Those who choose to view it differently…that is totally their prerogative.”
“How is this, and I’m just going by the main criticism…how are women being empowered by being here?”
“Well the idea of this really is to bring women together and to start to plant the seeds and to create the awareness that as women we need to unite and go back to our communities so that we can mobilize the women at all levels of our society to action…”
Herman Longsworth, U.D.P. Minister
“I am quite comfortable with my masculinity and I am never threatened by women. And I believe that the time has come for us to embrace the principle of women as equals to men…I really believe that.”
There has been, like we said, criticism of the event…much of it from the church and from politicians. Today those who attended had responses for both those sectors.
Reverend David Goff, Former President, Methodist Church
“I know there have been those who have come out strongly…there have been those dissenting voices. In some respects it’s unfortunate that has turned out to be so, but I guess we have to respect the views of others…to each his own. Yet I think everybody should know at the same time that those voices do not represent the whole church and that there are other persons in the church and other church leaders who see things differently and so who feel that such a move as this is important, so it’s good to be a part of this twenty-thousand strong women’s rally.”
“I know that there has been a lot of criticism. I will not disrespect anybody who has criticized. I simply want to say that if they can do better, then come out and do so.”
And for some, it wasn’t only about empowerment…it was about using the forum to send a message about critical concerns affecting women and children. Patty Arceo’s nephew was killed early this morning, his body riddled with bullets. She says the grief she feels at his cruel murder is what inspired her attendance here and her message today.
Patty Arceo, P.U.P. Political Officer
“Left, right and center our young men are being killed. Our young people, children are suffering from all of this…families are suffering. But what are we going to do about all of this…just say oh my, oh no, it’s your nephew, it’s your son, it’s your daughter. NO. It is time to stand up and I take the platform today to call on the relevant authorities to start doing your work today. Don’t wait until elections are coming. Do your work today.”
A powerful message, fitting for what was a very powerful showing of woman-power today….Mike Rudon for News Five.
Empowerment rally short on numbers, but big on energy
Led by Kim Simplis Barrow, the Special Envoy for Women and Children, the planned women’s empowerment rally took place this morning in Belize City travelling from Memorial Park to the Marion Jones Stadium. It is a precursor to World’s Women’s Day celebrated on March eighth and according to Simpliss Barrow, the start of a one year calendar of activities. All seemed to have been going well until two days ago when the Roman Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventists announced they were not supporting the event dubbed as twenty-thousand strong. While the numbers fell short, the energy was at an all time high among participants who included women from all walks of life. We have full coverage of the event and we start with Isani Cayetano.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
An ambitious effort to mobilize twenty thousand women from all corners of the country, to participate in a first-of-its kind empowerment rally, came to fruition in Belize City today, sans the tangible number of attendees. The gathering began this morning with a procession from Memorial Park, the result of a mammoth undertaking to bus as many people into the Old Capital by eight o’clock.
Kim Simplis Barrow
Kim Simplis-Barrow, Special Envoy for Women & Children
“It’s overwhelming and I am very happy to see so many women out here today. It’s such a surreal experience to know that all this came together with just one thought.”
The throng, a sea of orange t-shirts worn by women and children, for the most part, made its way from Marine Parade onto Newtown Barracks, before culminating at the Marion Jones Sporting Complex. The outcome, despite a lack of support from some members of the religious community, has galvanized women from all walks of life.
Reverend Mary Martin, Supporter
“The empowerment of twenty thousand Belizean women is a step in the right direction. It’s a step. Women, various types of women, all types of women are welcome here; no political agenda, no religious agenda, just women who want to make a positive impact in our world.”
While there may not be political or religious motivation, the idea is for women to be equally represented in all areas of Belizean society.
Janelle Chanona, Guest Speaker
“This event is only one catalyst for the change we want to see. The Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children, in collaboration with its partners, is commencing a year-long campaign which features a series of events and opportunities to build more awareness about the need to have women’s participation and leadership in every level of society.”
It is a sentiment shared by all in attendance. While women have assumed leadership roles in the household, there is still a great need for participation at the highest level of decision-making, particularly where it concerns the wellbeing of the Belizean people.
Myrna Manzanares, Supporter
“As far as I am concerned, women are always women and they have that thing within themselves that they always want to shine without putting anybody down. So when we have an opportunity like this to bring all the women together so that they could get together and realize [their strength], it’s like a chain reaction. They realize that, “you know what, this person and that person are thinking some of the same things and I can touch you and she can touch her, all the way down the line.” That is wonderful because it brings out what we have inside.”
…and what lies within, to hear Tara Hernandez tell it, is wealth untold.
Tara Hernandez, Supporter
“I’m from Stann Creek Ecumenical Junior College and I think this event is great to uplift our females today and I believe that everyone could be successful in life and everything comes with just doing what is possible and I think that anything can happen with God in our lives.”
Interestingly, the Roman Catholic Church did not give this event its blessings. The turnout by no means is paltry; however, hundreds more could have attended, including teachers from Corozal who were scheduled to attend the rally.
Sandra Reyes, Supporter
“We had a lot of teachers from the Catholic schools up to yesterday. This morning and late yesterday evening, most of them called and said that they won’t be able to make it again but they didn’t give a reason why they wouldn’t be able to make it again.”
“Do you believe that it may have something to do with the position that the Catholic Church has taken with regards to this event?”
“Well yes, I believe so but to my knowledge I believe they have it in the wrong context, you know. To me it doesn’t have anything to do with abortion and gays and whatever things like that but they put it into that context, so…”
The underlying philosophy, it would seem, is that since the movement is organized, in part, by those behind the Revised Gender Policy, which itself is controversial, it is being staunchly opposed by the church.
Reverend Mary Martin
“There are Roman Catholic women here and so a position is taken, politically, on certain issues but people still work individually in their area of consciousness. I will not say what the church should have done, I do believe that we stand for inclusion, we stand for dignity, we stand for love. I can say those things about the church.”
The resounding message of today’s show of solidarity to highlight women’s issues, despite the outcome, is not lost on the Special Envoy for Women and Children.
“We need to start building each other up instead of tearing each other down. That we have come so far but we have yet a long way to go.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
20,000 Strong Women Join Empowerment Rally in Belize City
The month of March in Belize is celebrated annually as National Women’s Month and as a result, the Special Envoy Office, in collaboration with the National Women’s Commission, staged the 20,000 Strong National Women’s Empowerment Rally on Thursday, March 6, 2014, from 10:00A.M. to 3:00P.M. at the Marion Jones Stadium in Belize City.
In a press release sent out by the Roman Catholic Church in Belize, they acknowledged and stated that they celebrate the women of Belize during and beyond the month of March however, they did not endorse the 20,000 Women’s rally because to the Catholic Church the invitation did not speak to the complementarity role between men and women as taught by Christ through the Church.
The release continued by stating that the National Women’s Commission promotes values that contradict Christian and moral teachings regarding respect for all human life, family, marriage and human sexuality as ordered by God . “The Roman Catholic Church strongly believes that the well being of women cannot be enhanced by advocacy that promotes abortion and so-called pseudo rights of men and women and same sex relationships,” stated the release.
20,000 Strong Empowerment Rally inspires change
The women of San Pedro and Caye Caulker joined the rousing ranks of energetic marchers attending the Women’s Empowerment Rally and March in Belize City on Thursday, March 6th. Dressed in the power color of the day, bright tangerine and orange, small groups of friends from the cayes were joined by female students and teachers from San Pedro High School and Ocean Academy. They were a proud contingent sporting bright signs which carried the slogan, “R E S P E C T is the CAYE!” Busloads of women from all the districts of Belize emptied along Princess Margaret Drive, filling the area with energy and enthusiasm. The island groups were supported by sponsorships from Caye Caulker Water Taxi, San Pedro Red Cross, Manuel Heredia Jr., and Gecko Graphics. The event was organized by Belize’s Special Envoy for Women and Children and the National Women’s Commission (NWC).
Under a searing sun, thousands of women settled into what shade was provided, or stood on the wide field of the 20000 Strong Women's Rally-22Marion Jones Stadium as poignant and empowering speeches commenced. Addressing the crowd as “sisters, mothers, daughters, tias and abuelas”, women from all walks of life took to the stage to rally the thousands. International business icon Marie Sharp encouraged women to follow creative and original ideas, take risks, and not to give up in the face of competition. A tearful 19-year-old Jennifer Lopez detailed her challenging life and road to empowerment; while growing up she received little support from her nuclear family and was threatened by sexual molestation at home. She struggled with much adversity before finding support services from a case worker at Family Services, enabling her to continue her education and nurture her young daughter. Musical artist Melonie Gillett led the thousands ladies in a strong sing-along rendition of Alicia Keyes’ “This Girl is on Fire” and singer Christelle Wilson rallied a danceable version of Chaka Kahn’s “I’m Every Woman.”