|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE ON OBSERVANCE OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
Saying she took “great courage” from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s input during this morning’s celebration of International Women’s Day, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, South Africa’s Minister for Public Service and Administration, underlined today the need to translate commitments into action and to mobilize civil society and the private sector.
The commemoration, held under the theme “Investing in Women and Girls”, included remarks by the Secretary-General and the Minister, as well as a high-level panel discussion moderated by Rhonda Schaffler, anchor of the Bloomberg network’s Open Exchange programme.
Speaking at a Headquarters press conference following the event, Ms. Fraser-Moleketi said the issue of financing gender equality was linked to the feminization of poverty, the commitment to eradicate poverty and meeting the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the third one -- promoting gender equality and empowering women.
In introductory remarks, Rachel N. Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, recalled that the Secretary-General, in emphasizing the importance of investing in women so as to move towards gender equality, had offered five strategies: using public resources to reduce the gender gap; scaling up the share of gender allocations in official development assistance; creating a transparent, stable and predictable investment climate to promote women’s employment and productivity; financing infrastructure projects that would assist women, such as roads, sanitation and water supplies; and increasing the mainstream financial services available to women.
A third participant in the press conference, Inez Murray, Vice-President of Women’s World Banking, said the network of microfinance providers had provided loans averaging $491 to 11 million people around the world, 73 per cent of whom were women. The network’s success was illustrated by a 34 per cent growth rate, while challenges facing it included the fact that many people had not yet been reached. New technologies, such as “cell phone banking” and agency models could be of use. Other issues included offering people safe places in which to save, housing finance and insurance. In addition, “financial literacy” could help women and men manage debt and cash flow, to save and to invest.
Asked whether the proposed single United Nations gender entity faced resistance from Member States, Ms. Mayanja said the General Assembly had started considering the proposal last year but discussions had not advanced beyond one formal meeting. The current Assembly President had appointed facilitators to guide the process along, and it was back on track. The proposal was one of those made by the High-level Panel on Coherence in Development and she was not aware of any resistance by Member States, though they had asked about its mandate, structure and effect on gender mainstreaming.
In answer to another question, she stressed that the Secretary-General was “very much” committed to gender parity within the Organization but he had started with a great deficit. While having made his commitment clear to staff and having held meetings on the issue, it was not a matter that could be solved overnight. Everyone must contribute, including Member States. The Secretary-General had appointed and confirmed numerous women at the level of Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General, including the Under-Secretary-General for Management and the first female to head a peacekeeping mission, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia. A list of women appointments from the D-1 level and up would be made available.
Asked about vendors who displayed “appalling soft-core pornography” magazines in the lobby of the Headquarters building, she said that issue had been raised some six months ago, but it had legal contractual implications that could not be resolved immediately. Vendors had been made aware of the issue and some of the magazines had been removed.
Responding to questions, Ms. Murray said Women’s World Banking had not worked in the developed world, where people suffered from predatory lending and high priced loans. However, it was active in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in some former Soviet republics. The lending crisis had not had an impact on microfinancing, since that field was not impacted by economic cycles and disasters. People in Indonesia continued to repay their loans, even after the 2006 floods, and repayment rates stood at 99 per cent. It was very sound business and investors could, therefore, hedge their investments by putting money into microfinancing.
It was true that the network had difficulty in reaching rural women, she said in answer to another question. For instance, 90 per cent of Ugandans lived in rural areas, while microfinance institutions were concentrated in towns and cities. Given the high cost of running microfinance operations in rural areas, cell phone banking was one innovation that could address that by having local stores act as agents. Money could be put on a cell phone’s SIM card and transfers could be made from that phone. That system was already being successfully used for remittances and it could also be used for saving.
As for women using cell phones, she said the growth and penetration of the cell phone industry was extraordinary and cell phones were getting cheaper. In some cases women were borrowing money to buy a village’s first cell phone, which villagers then used to call overseas and receive remittances. Vodaphone was cooperating in Kenya with a system which functioned like a virtual bank through which one could actually save. The challenge was to have enough agents on the ground to turn that money into cash. Cell phones were also a powerful tool for democracy and for promoting financial literacy. The challenge in that case was the platform as a SIM card lacked sufficient memory for some programmes.
Minister Fraser-Moleketi added that wireless communications had been used in developing countries and the more rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Cell phone technology had been used by clinics to remind people to take their tuberculosis medication and it had been tested in South Africa in relation to HIV/AIDS treatments. One programme allowed fishermen along the West African coast to check fish prices before entering a harbour. Those were all innovative ways to provide access, she concluded.
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