Women perform a great proportion of the world’s work - not least in the agricultural sector - though they reap fewer rewards from it. They make up a disproportionate part of the poor and have less access to education and productive resources than men. Yet, expanding women’s and girls’ economic opportunities is smart economics. Increased women’s labor force participation and earnings are associated with reduced poverty and faster growth.
Despite women’s significant contribution to the agricultural sector, lack of access to financial services remains a serious constraint to women’s empowerment in rural Africa, with women having access to less than 10% of available credit to smallholder agriculture in Sub Saharan Africa. Designing appropriate financial products for women to be able to save, borrow and insure is essential to strengthen women’s role as producers and widen the economic opportunities available to them.
In order to discuss how to promote women’s economic empowerment through a combination of women-focused complementary financial and non-financial services, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), the Austrian Development Cooperation and the Luxembourg Development Cooperation organized today a side event on “Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment through Financial Inclusion and Agricultural Development” within the Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries, taking place in Istanbul from 9 to 13 May, 2011. The event provided a forum to address key issues concerning the important role of women’s access to financial services as a key factor of successful development strategies and the new perspectives on how to improve women’s access to appropriate and demand-driven financial services in combination with key non-financial services.
Panelists agreed that increasing women’s access to financial services has wide-ranging benefits, not only for women’s well-being, but also for the welfare of the family and the health of the lager economy: women are more likely to use credit and savings to keep children in school and look after other basic family needs; they are also more likely to start businesses that can help entire families escape poverty. Ensuring that women have access to productive and entrepreneurship services as well as to paid-job market and social protection systems is an economic imperative; it also empowers women to make informed decisions on critical aspects of their lives.
“Enhancing women’s access to social protection measures not only empowers women but can also help combat rising inequalities and persistent poverty in many countries,” said Ms. Michelle Bachelet Under-Secretary-General, Executive Director UN Women. “Such measures can include employment guarantees and basic income security, child benefits, and access to essential public services. Financial services—such as credit, savings, insurance and remittance transfers—are critical for women’s economic empowerment and serve women’s investment in technologies that enhance the productivity and profitability of their businesses”
Panelists also stressed that in parallel with promoting women’s access to financial services, there is the need to urgently address women’s time poverty. A top priority for women’s economic empowerment is relieving women from their heavy burden of unpaid work. It would release their time and energy for productive activities, such as education and training, employment and entrepreneurship.