Graca Machel urges courage to change economic plight of women

Graca Machel

As the founder of New Faces, New Voices, Graca Machel has reiterated what we have always known: women need to form strong networks if they want to be able to influence change amongst policy makers.

She was addressing the 3rd African Women’s Economic Empowerment Summit in Lussaka. She highlighted the lack of solidarity amongst some women’s groups which prevents them from speaking as one voice and talked about a shared commitment.

Welcome to the 3rd African Women’s Economic Summit. We are hosting this event today as a result of a pledge Zambia made at the last Summit in 2012. The pledge came as a pleasant surprise to us all and it was the first time that a National Government pledged to host one of our Summits. We are deeply grateful to the generosity and hospitality of the people of Zambia, in particular I would like to thank her Excellency the First Lady of Zambia, Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata for co-hosting this event as well as our strategic partners, the Ministry of Gender and Children, the Bank of Zambia and sponsors. My deep thanks also go to our strategic partners Dr Donald Kaberuka and his team at the African Development Bank.

In 2009, a gauntlet was thrown at a group of women working in banking and finance. They were challenged to use their knowledge and expertise in finance and business to influence the direction of Africa’s economic development. This was at the backdrop of the 2008 global economic crisis which shifted the shape of our global economy. The uncertainty was a space for us to rethink the place of women in the corridors of power and policy. With change comes opportunities and New Faces, New Voices was born in this period, informed by a vision of creating a movement of women with power to influence economies in Africa and beyond.

Today, I am encouraged and humbled that the conversations of 2009 sprung us to action, as women we embraced the challenge, and set out to give it form. My dream then and now, is simple. Women ought to take center stage and be at the driving seat of the continent’s economic advancement. I see women, not just a few but in mass numbers, confidently occupying their place at the tables where crucial plans and decisions about the present and future of this continent are made. They are not seated there as observers, they are the decision makers.

The first Women’s Economic Summit took place in 2010. We gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, leading women in finance and business from across the continent. We spoke of creating country chapters that will effectively weave a thread of prosperity, connecting successful business women to the ones with medium-sized business and with those who are small and have the desire to advance. The chapters would craft and apply innovative ideas that will enable women across social strata to access both knowledge and finance and advance their businesses. In the months following the first Summit, 15 country chapters were created in different parts of the continent.

No resources were given to the leaders of the chapters. In spite of this, they have taken it upon themselves to shift the narrative of African women – from the portrayal of African women as mere spectators in the economy, to one of African women as central and indispensable shapers of economies on the continent. It is, indeed, time we boldly show we are not accessories in this game, we are thinkers, we are influencers, and leaders of Africa’s destiny.

I say this with confidence when I reflect on what has been achieved in the past four years since we launched the African 1st Women’s Economic Summit (the 2nd was in Lagos Nigeria in 2012). It is women like Theopista Sekitto Ntale or Theo, who leads our chapter in Uganda, who affirm that our path is the right one. With years of experience in banking, Theo understood very well the nature of the barriers preventing women from accessing finance, particularly women in rural areas. The work she leads on behalf of the Uganda chapter and in collaboration with the Uganda National Entrepreneurship Institute provides business and financial literacy training. Through a scheme called FINISAVE, more than 125 000 (one hundred and twenty five thousand) women entrepreneurs in the Lwengo District in Uganda have accessed the knowledge of how to become bankable. These are women who previously had never seen the inside of the bank and they can now walk into a bank with a clear knowledge of the banking services, products, and their rights as consumers. In total, 250 000 (two hundred and fifty thousand) women and men, in the 465 villages that make up the District, benefitted from this initiative. Over 400 villages have formed investment and savings associations with substantial amounts set aside for projects that will benefit the villages. This training has been achieved in less than a year.

What Theo has achieved within a short space of time is evidence of the remarkable work we can do when we consciously set our minds to unleash a wave of economic advancement among women, by identifying practical ways to promote access to financial services. The program in Uganda and in other chapters prove to us that:

  • Inspired initiatives can reach thousands of lives and segments of society that were not reached before.
  • We can positively impact and improve the quality of lives in our villages, communities, and rest of society when we have access to the right knowledge and support.
  • Scaling up is now a reality. The program in Uganda has the potential of being replicated elsewhere. It offers us insights that we can all learn from about achieving economic justice where we live.

There are more examples of how women are weaving a thread of prosperity and you will find them in New Faces New Voices brochure, in the Summit’s information pack.

In the last four years we have also prioritized research on women and access to financial services. The studies conducted in Mozambique and Zambia provide us with insights that are now being used to inform policies and design of products in the respective countries. The Zambia study was made possible with the support of the Bank of Zambia, the Financial Sector Deepening Zambia, GIZ, and Making Finance Work for Africa. The success of these studies have led to more funders approaching us to replicate similar studies in other countries.

In a short time, I believe we have succeeded in showing that research and innovative approaches to women’s access to finance gives us muscle to negotiate new terrain for women as we engage with regulators, policy makers, banks and financial institutions, and decision makers.

We, of course, cannot negotiate and drive a new reality for women without the support of men and the institutions they lead. The African Development Bank, under the leadership of Dr Kaberuka, has been a cornerstone of support. Trust from the Bank right at the beginning, when New Faces New Voices was just a vision, has given us the self-belief to work hard and dream big. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the commitment and confidence you have shown to the women of this continent. We are know there are more men out there like yourself. And that there are more institutions who understand the imperative of having women at the centre of development and who will support partnerships for Africa’s development.

At each summit, important pledges are made to improve women’s economic opportunities and leadership prospects by companies, institutions and individuals who drive change. We have followed up on all pledges and many have resulted in real gains for women. One of the examples is the African Development Bank which has lived up to its pledge to increasing the number of women in senior decision making positions at the bank and in top management. Absa Bank, part of the Barclays Group Africa also pledged to increase loans to women by 10% in 2010 and 2012. The results were a 23% increase in loans extended to women since 2010 and a 10% increase in women’s deposit accounts.

What does all this evidence tell us? I think it is an affirmation that we can achieve more when we are not afraid to dream big and when we have the courage to make ambitious goals. It is a sign that we can and are ready to create waves that can have rippling effects across nations if we as women commit and take responsibility for the destiny of our lives. New Faces, New Voices continues to aim big and we have spread our voices beyond Africa, participating in international forums such as the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion and the Global Banking Alliance for Women.

Our shared commitment and our ambitious goals are opening new avenues for women across the continent. They are enabling us to unleash a movement with the power to change the destiny of this continent. Our movement proves our actions and initiatives for change are scalable and replicable across the continent. New Faces New Voices is the most established network of the Graca Machel Trust and we have a much bigger dream, call it a programme, of Multiplying Faces and Amplifying Voices by promoting women for Africa’s development in other sectors as well.

I urge you to go forward with courage, the signs are all here, while we still face many challenges, undoubtedly the tide is turning. Each one of us is needed to give it impetus and build a continent that offers women the opportunity to fully express their creative powers for the benefit of our economies, politics, and societies.

As the Summit deliberations unfold today and tomorrow, let’s look forward to thought provoking engagements and ideas about sustainable solutions. May we leave here invigorated and inspired. – Graca Machel

Source: Graca Machel Trust

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