It is my pleasure to welcome you at this Ministerial Roundtable Breakfast co-hosted by the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, and United Nations Development Fund for Women, on the topic of “Economic Opportunities for the Empowerment of Women in Africa and LDCs: Access to Credit, Land, and Markets”. This pertinent topic not only reflects the theme of the current session of ECOSOC but is also in line with two of the UN Secretary-General’s strategic priorities for 2010, namely, empowerment of women and giving special attention to the least developed and landlocked countries of sub-Saharan Africa and other regions facing particular challenges in meeting the MDGs.
With only five years left until the MDG target date of 2015 and in the run-up to the General Assembly High-Level Plenary Meeting on MDGs to be convened in September 2010, it is indeed most timely to highlight the remarkable potential that the accelerated implementation of commitments made towards women’s empowerment could have on poverty reduction, sustainable economic development and consequently, the achievement of all the eight MDGs in the Least Developed Countries and Africa.
The vital role played by women to ensure the sustenance and in some cases the survival of their families and communities is well known. Women in Africa and LDCs contribute significantly to wealth creation and distribution, employment generation, and poverty reduction through their entrepreneurship in various sectors of the economy, their role in food production, their engagement in formal and informal trade, and especially their unpaid work in the care economy. When women own and manage resources, the result is better allocation of scarce resources, reduced poverty and greater productivity. In recognition of women’s entrepreneurship as an unexploited source of economic growth, New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the framework for socioeconomic renewal of Africa, targets the promotion of women’s economic empowerment and their enhanced role in development efforts. The African Union has declared an African Women’s Decade for 2010 to 2020. Also, at the national level, many African countries are mainstreaming gender into their poverty reduction strategies and national development programmes. Twenty African countries have legislation in place to ensure equal access to capital and trade opportunities. Thus, a number of encouraging policy commitments exist in this area.
However, major gaps and severe challenges still remain. And, the global economic crisis has further pushed up unemployment in developing countries mostly in the informal economy where majority are women. The message emanating from the 15 year regional reviews of the Beijing Platform for Action in Africa and Asia and the 10 year review of the Brussels Programme of Action is clear - gaps remain between legislation and implementation. Despite international agreements and commitments, not much has been implemented to achieve more equitable access to land and property, ownership, control and management, credit and markets, which is very crucial for Africa and the Least Developed Countries to develop in a sustainable way. African women have not enjoyed sufficiently meaningful gains from the sustained growth of their economies over the past decade. “The African Women’s Report” prepared by ECA last year highlighted persisting gender imbalances in terms of access to economic opportunities and productive resources (such as land and credit, technology and support services) in Africa, with women accessing just slightly more than half compared to men in most of the countries surveyed. Likewise, women informal cross border traders in Africa are facing numerous challenges, ranging from weak trade-related institutions, lack of services and resources in support of their activities, and lack of information on the opportunities provided by regional trading protocols and agreements, and harassment at border crossings.
By considering all that is required to close the gaps and challenges just enumerated, we need to move from commitment to action. There are many good and promising practices that we have learnt over the years that we can build on such as, legislative changes, implementation of supportive land and credit policies, improved access to markets through investment into feeder roads, mainstreaming gender targets into national budget allocation, capacity building on entrepreneurship, increased participation of women in decision-making, and efforts to improve data collection. The multiple global crises including the financial, economic, and food insecurity, compounded by the impact of climate change that affects the African and Least Developed Countries heighten the need to secure the land rights of women, and improve their access to credit and markets so that they can be fully empowered to produce food, distribute it, and generate income. When women are empowered, as I have already mentioned before, they will contribute substantially to improvement in the quality of life of their families, generate employment, create wealth and build resilience to the impact of the multiple crises.
It is my hope that this roundtable will provide us an excellent opportunity to learn from each other, to identify success stories that can be replicated and scaled up. That is the value added of the United Nations. Let us ensure that these good practices will translate into specific action and measurable progress by United Nations system, member states and other stakeholders in support of the women in Africa and Least Developed Countries.
Some of you may be aware that OHRLLS is currently undertaking preparations for the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, which will take place in Turkey in 2011. Key to this meeting is a review of the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries. The outcome of this session will produce critical input into the development of the new plan of action for Least Developed countries that can foster empowerment of women to access land, credit, markets and other productive resources. I therefore eagerly look forward to the outcomes of this breakfast meeting.
I thank you for your kind attention.