Statement of Judith Karl, UNCDF Executive Secretary, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2018

  • March 08, 2018

  • New York, USA

[...] smart investments in urban and rural infrastructure that target the specific needs of women and girls help remove the barriers to their participation in their local economies.

Judith Karl
Executive Secretary, UNCDF

Greetings on International Women’s Day, when the attention of the world focuses on the urgent need to achieve equal rights for women and girls.

At the United Nations Capital Development Fund, we work to ensure that finance works for women in the world’s 47 poorest countries. Economic agency for women means that they have options, control, and the ability to make the best choices for themselves, their families, and their communities. It means that women can maximize their roles as customers, decision-makers, household managers, business owners, and asset owners.

While progress is being made every year, there is still a long way to go to achieve full economic empowerment for women. Globally, more than one billion women are financially excluded, lacking access to the physical and financial assets they need to save money, start businesses, pay for health care and education, and manage their financial lives.

We also know that when women are financially included, it has a positive influence on children’s education rates, on household resilience, and on women’s health. We have seen that rural women who pool their savings and connect to formal financial services are better able to smooth consumption, ensure household food security, improve agricultural productivity, and create and grow productive enterprises.

We have seen this in Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh, where women who learned how to make purses in one of our job training programmes are coming back for loans to rent trucks to bring their purses to larger markets in Dhaka and even the Middle East.

We have seen women like Noga Sinava, a 48-year-old mother of two in the Solomon Islands, who got a small loan from the UNCDF/UNDP Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme. Noga used that loan and two subsequent ones to build three small businesses: drying copa for coconut oil, selling fuel for speed boats, and baking buns and ring cakes.

We have seen that smart investments in urban and rural infrastructure that target the specific needs of women and girls help remove the barriers to their participation in their local economies. Building roads, transportation infrastructure and markets with good lighting, proper drainage, and support for child care needs can ensure that women have the safety, security and flexibility they need to engage in trading, buying, selling, and investing.

We have seen that, for rural women who work in agriculture from Tanzania to Papua New Guinea, digitizing the value chain— so they are paid for their coconuts or coffee beans via electronic transfer via their cell phone rather than in cash— is a safer and more convenient way for them to accumulate savings and build their businesses.

That is why UNCDF focuses on working with women at risk of being left behind to realize their potential. We do this by addressing policy and regulatory bottlenecks preventing women’s access to financial services; supporting innovation in product design and delivery channels while working to boost women’s uptake of financial services; and incentivizing financial service providers to focus on under-banked and un-banked women, especially in rural areas. We also help local governments access and allocate resources for initiatives that empower women, and work to attract financing for urban and rural projects that are women-led and that promote gender equality.

As we commemorate this International Women’s Day, UNCDF salutes the women, the businesses and the governments, that design and adopt innovative new business models and solutions to make finance work for women’s economic empowerment. It is only with women’s full inclusion that we can achieve the ambitions of the international community’s 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.