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#529283 03/09/18 12:32 PM
Joined: Oct 1999
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Friday March 16, parade starts 8am at the Memorial Park to The Marion Jones Sporting Complex for the Rally at 9am-2pm.

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Live video from the rally....

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20,000 Strong Returns to Marion Jones

Twenty-thousand Strong? Not quite - but they descended on Belize City nevertheless with their call for gender parity. This year, the women rallied for change with "Nurturing the Next Generation - hashtag press for progress" theme. Women make up over fifty percent of Belize's population but are still largely disadvantaged when compared to men. Putting the plight of women at the center of the conversation, even more recently, the sexual attacks and violence meted out on women and young girls bring into sharp focus the need for change. Since 2014, and every two years since then, the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis Barrow and partner agencies host the biggest women's empowerment rally. Many schools and local organizations were out in full support at today's event. News Five's Andrea Polanco tells us more about today's staging of the third Twenty-thousand Strong Women's Empowerment Rally:

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The 20,000 Strong Women's Empowerment Rally kicked off from the Memorial Park with a parade - led by students and marching bands, backed up by representatives of organizations and businesses. It's the third staging of the rally - and the symbolic orange t-shirts were on full display as they made their way along the Marine Parade and onto the Newtown Barracks and then into the Marion Jones Sporting Complex. It wasn't quite the twenty thousand and may be quite way off from there - but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in spirit. Kim Simplis Barrow says today is about the message.

Kim Simplis Barrow, Special Envoy for Women & Children

"From the numbers we were getting, it is definitely more than we had the last time. The fortunate thing is that we were able to get if not all the schools, most of the schools to participate this year. So, it will be a much bigger parade. But, you know, it is not about the numbers, it is what we walk away with. Each woman out there will walk away with something and hopefully if we can change the minds and the mindset of our people in some way or the other, then we have accomplished something."

This third staging of the 20,000 Strong Women's Empowerment Rally brought women together to "press for progress."

Kim Simplis Barrow

"Press for Progress means a lot and it is not just one directional. It means press for progress in all different directions - to end violence, increase equality for women in partnership. It is just so profound - the message is so profound and so timely especially at this time when we are experiencing so much violence in our country. And especially against our children. It is very concerning and so we definitely want to continue pressing for progress. There is so much more that we can do."

Women from all over the country are here to press for progress, including Viannie Montero of the Atlantic International Bank and Minister Tracy Panton.

Viannie Montero, Marketing Manager, Atlantic International Bank

"We felt it necessary to be out here because our organization is eighty percent women. Women are out there. We are working hard and we are making a difference. So, we felt it was necessary for us to be out here and support."

Tracy Panton, Minister of State, Trade & Commerce

"I think it is important not only to advocate for women's issues but also to celebrate women. We do a lot for our Belizean society and it is important to get a time to reflect, come together and celebrate all we have done and look forward to resolving those issues that still affect us today."

While women led the charge today -men and boys were out to lend their voice to the empowerment gathering. And they are here not just to make up numbers.

Pedro Reyes, Principal, Kings College

"The message we got from the organizers was clear - that there is a need for everyone to hear the message from the young people, especially from the schools as well in regards to the violence in regards to women and children, in particular, in the country. I believe we, men, have a big responsibility to share, particularly in schools for both males and females to know that we all contribute to having a peaceful and loving society. �Since we are a small school, we have our counselor who touch base regularly with our students and teachers. We have small class sizes. We have time, space, the environment to touch base with them one on one and encourage them to make a difference in their homes, their communities and in the school."

Kim Simplis Barrow

"We certainly need to get them in the conversation and that is one of the reasons why we included them in the agenda this year. We recognize that we have to move forward together and we can't leave our men on the sidelines, either. So, there will be a lot more engagement with our men and they will be speaking today as well on all the issues that are affecting them and how they can lead the way to gender parity."

Channel 5

March For Empowerment Ropes In Students

In 2014, the Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children organized the first every 20,000 Strong Women's Empowerment Rally. The message was clear then: women from all over coming together to celebrate their value and collective strength.

Today - four years later - the messaging is not so clear - because many ask what an empowerment march can do when women and children are being killed in the street.

It's a tough question, but a fair one - and we asked it today. Jules Vasquez reports:

Jules Vasquez reporting
It was an orange wave crashing into the Caribbean blue on Marine Parade. Up close though, there was a lot less orange and a lot more white - as in school uniform white. Schools came from all over the country,

Some with their marching bands. It made for a nice vibe on the street - but, we wondered was their presence optional, or ornamental? Lead organizer Kim Barrow embraced it as a cross section of community support:

Kim Simplis Barrow - Special Envoy for Women and Children
"It's evident today with the amount of people, the amount of schools that came out today that we are united, that we are determined to combat what it is that's crimpling our country. The violence has got to stop and it is up to each one of us to make a difference. So today I am proud. I am standing with each woman and child, boy that is out here today."

Jules Vasquez, reporter
"A critic would say but it is indeed a lot of students but its only students and its mandatory involvement. I counted 5 hundred consensual like adults who you could say woke up and put on the orange shirt. It's mostly students and we know students are mandatory involvement. Is that an indication that there is less public appetite to engage in this 20,000-strong march?"

Kim Simplis Barrow - Special Envoy for Women and Children
"I don't know how to answer that. Whoever is out here is marching for a purpose, for a cause. If people want to come out that is great. If they don't then..."

But those who did come out in Orange, were really feeling it, marching and stepping with messages that had real time resonance.

And so, while the VIP's like the Prime Minister's wife and the Speaker of the House beside her had something to clap about - is it the sound of one hand clapping?

In the current climate - one wonders - is the message and the symbolism of today event relevant to the serious times we're living in:

Kim Simplis Barrow - Special Envoy for Women and Children
"People are losing hope - we all have to rise up and do. We can't just sit back and just expect a group, one small group of people to do. We all make a difference. We all have to report crimes. We know who the criminals are, report them. Go to the police, help the police out and again the police need to do their job. They need to gather evidence. They need to present a case to the DPP. The DPP needs to do her job. The judges need to do their job. It's not just one person. It's all of us, it's a community."

Inside the Marion Jones at the rally the focus was on a message from young girls.

Kim Simplis Barrow - Special Envoy for Women and Children
"It is no secret that women and girls have been deprived of basic human rights for thousands of years beyond and not being able to vote, get a loan, own a business, or take up leadership positions worldwide. Women have had to deal with issues such as limited access to education and health care, gender base violence, stigma and discrimination, sexual harassment and the list goes on."

And beyond the close listening, and the courteous ovation from the VIP section, we saw real women here - younger and older and, real feeling - sisterhood, you might say.

So no, it wasn't 20 thousand - not even close - but there were sparks of something true - and promise of something more:

Kim Simplis Barrow
"Today I say sisters if you want something go for it. If you are willing to put in the work, no dream is out of reach. You have limitless potential, freedom of choice and there is no one formula for how we as woman should live our lives."

The Rally was organized under the theme: "Nurturing the Next Generation" #PressforProgress.

The event was organized by Kim Barrow's Office, in partnership with the National Women's Commission, the Women's Department, UNICEF Belize, The US Embassy and the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation.

Channel 7

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20,000 Strong Womens Rally in Belize City Brings out Skeptics; Makes Me Cry

Yesterday, women and children from every district in Belize woke up before dawn to fly, drive, bus and walk to march for equality. To come together and show our country that we have a voice, that we are not passive, that we should not live fear - that we will not take discrimination, bullying, violence and abuse lying down. That the women of Belize deserve equal education and healthcare opportunities as men.

It was absolutely breathtaking and beautiful. I started crying too many times. Thank goodness for sunglasses.

And then I read the Belize news�questioning the size of the rally, wondering if the school children (who made up the majority of the 1000s of marchers) were "roped into" the rally and asking if "the message and the symbolism of today's event is relevant to the serious times we live in"? I can't even word how dismayed that makes me. Angry. And shocked. How dare they make those kids feel bad about it�attempt to make us feel like we all wasted our time?

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the San Pedro Scoop

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