Microcredit Services Not Enough to Improve Lot of Poor Rural Women, Despite Empowering Millions, Commission Told as General Discussion Continues

28 February 2012

Microcredit Services Not Enough to Improve Lot of Poor Rural Women, Despite Empowering Millions, Commission Told as General Discussion Continues

28 February 2012
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-sixth Session

4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)

Microcredit Services Not Enough to Improve Lot of Poor Rural Women, Despite

Empowering Millions, Commission Told as General Discussion Continues


The use of microcredit had financially empowered millions of impoverished women in rural areas around the world, but had not been enough to improve their economic lot, a senior official of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) told the Commission on the Status of Women today as it held a panel discussion on “Economic Empowerment of Rural Women”.

“To enable rural women to get a stronger foothold on the pathway out of poverty, they need a broader range of financial services, along with other kinds of support,” said Cheryl Morden, Director of IFAD’s North America Liaison Office.  She added that the so-called “microcredit revolution” had brought about innovation by taking the demand side of women’s needs into account and recognizing women as customers, decision makers and managers, rather than mere recipients and beneficiaries.  By 2010, some 113 million of the world’s poorest women had taken out microcredit loans as a way to acquire the inputs, tools and goods needed to start or expand a small shop.

But rural women also needed regular coaching, business planning advice, social support, and the promotion of health and nutrition to enable them to make the most of expanded financial services, she said.  Access to such basic financial services as credit, savings facilities and insurance could help them start or grow a business, hire employees or invest in the income-generating activities of their friends or families.  Among many other benefits, it could also help rural women expand production or cope better with seasonal fluctuations or emergencies.  “More resources in women’s hands leads to greater household investments in food, health and education,” she said.

Anna Kaisa Karttunen, an agriculture and rural development specialist from Finland, agreed, and pointed out that rural women also needed better access to education, information, land, credit and other productive resources in order to unlock their potential.  Already, improved access to information and communications technology services, especially mobile phones, had made a real difference in their economic opportunities, she noted.  In addition, rural women must be involved in creating and implementing comprehensive and gender-sensitive rural development policies and programmes.

That strategy had produced good results in Finland, she said, citing the positive contribution of the Women’s Working Group for Rural Development in shaping her country’s rural development policy, and the merits of rural women’s active participation in local action groups that fostered more gender-sensitive local development.  Moreover, rural women’s organizations had created a platform for sharing information and helping to raise the self-esteem and voice of women, while rural female entrepreneurs had established cooperatives to support networking and collective action to market products and services.

Echoing several speakers, Shanaz Wazir Ali, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on social sectors, said that, in a historic move in 2010, her country’s Government had taken the unprecedented step of awarding more than 600,000 square acres of State land in Sindh Province to previously landless peasants known as the Haris, including more than 600 women.

Jemimah Njuki, team leader of the Poverty, Gender and Impact Programme at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, stressed the importance of improving theproductivity of subsistence farming and enhancing the role of women in it through new technologies, engaging women as extension-service providers so as to reach other women farmers, and using innovative input supply systems such as voucher schemes and agro-dealer networks.  “It’s much more effective to have women reaching other women,” she said.

Malika Abdelali-Martini, socio-economist and gender research specialist with the Social, Economic and Policy Research Programme of Syria’s International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, said that addressing the concerns of rural women was long overdue.  She cited key recommendations contained in the report of the Expert Group Meeting on enabling the economic empowerment of rural women, such as the creation of national laws and policies that would guarantee women’s right to land, and the revision of customary laws that restricted their access to land.

In the afternoon, the Commission continued its general discussion on the session’s priority theme — the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, sustainable development and current challenges.

Ana Marie Hernando ( Philippines), Commission Vice-Chair, moderated this morning’s panel discussion.  Also taking part were representatives of Italy, Pakistan, Israel, Portugal, Panama, Switzerland, India, Republic of Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran, Sweden, South Africa, Malaysia, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Jordan, Brazil, United States, Gambia, Mozambique, Canada, Nicaragua, Philippines and the European Union.

Several civil society organizations, including Cisneros, the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, Voices of African Mothers and Public Services International, also made statements during the panel.

Speaking during this afternoon’s general discussion were Government ministers from China, Nigeria, Italy, Austria, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Philippines, Netherlands, Brazil, Guyana, South Africa, Liberia, Mexico, Samoa, Tunisia, Ghana, Republic of Korea, United Republic of Tanzania, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Honduras, Portugal, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Ethiopia, as well as the representative of Jamaica (on behalf of the Caribbean Community).

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 29 February, to continue its general discussion.


The fifty-sixth session of the Commission on the Status of Women continued this morning with a panel discussion on “Economic Empowerment of Rural Women”.  This afternoon, the Commission was expected to continue its general debate on the session’s priority theme — the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, sustainable development and current challenges.  (For more information, see Press Release WOM/1889 of 24 February.)

Panel Discussion

ANA MARIE HERNANDO (Philippines), Commission Vice-Chair, moderated the discussion on “Economic Empowerment of Rural Women”, which also featured the following expert panellists:  Malika Abdelali-Martini, socio-economist and gender research specialist with the Social, Economic and Policy Research Programme of Syria’s International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas; Shanaz Wazir Ali, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on social sectors; Anna Kaisa Karttunen, agriculture and rural development specialist from Finland; and Jemimah Njuki, team leader of the Poverty, Gender and Impact Programme at the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ms. HERNANDO called attention to documents that were particularly relevant to the discussion, including the report of the Secretary-General on the priority theme (document E/CN.6/2012/3) and the report of the Expert Group Meeting on “Enabling Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment” (document EGM/RW/2011/REPORT).  Among the questions that the panellists should consider were:  how the international community could ensure that women and girls had full access to productive resources; how it could help reduce the unpaid work burden of rural women; how rural women could be supported in their efforts to increase their productivity while diversifying production and sources of income; what should be done to develop markets that ensured the availability of affordable food in rural communities; and how to guarantee that rural development and agriculture financing adequately supported rural women’s value chains.

Ms. MARTINI said that addressing rural women’s concerns was “long overdue”, and that the recent multi-partner Expert Group Meeting had identified a wide range of issues and challenges relating to their empowerment.  Key considerations included:  the impact of economic policy choices on gender equality; the impact of the financial and food crises on gender equality; and rural women in agriculture and non-farm work.

The Expert Group had found that value chain development needed to uphold the principles of dignified “decent work” and should guarantee rights at work, she said.  Women producers and entrepreneurs would benefit from improved access to financial services, while policy and legal barriers, as well as cultural “norms” that restrained access should be removed.  Further key issues identified by the Expert Group related to rural women’s access to and control over land, which was a source of economic development, security, status and recognition; access to research and technology; effective national and local institutions; and creating an enabling legal and policy environment.

She said that, among the recommendations issued in response to those key issues, the Expert Group called for new rural development frameworks to take into account the risks and opportunities for rural women and men, and for Governments, in promoting inclusive economic growth strategies.  In the area of economic policies, growth and equality, it called for economic policies fully to prioritize decent work and employment generation, increase investments in infrastructure, and introduce tax systems and other wealth-redistribution measures to benefit poor segments of society, including rural women.

In the area of equal access to and control over land and other rural productive resources, the Expert Group recommended that national laws and policies guarantee women’s right to land; that laws and policies on land be implemented and understood by the target communities; and that changes in customary laws restricting women’s access to land be revised, among other things.  As for the provision of and entitlement to services, the Expert Group issued a number of recommendations, including that necessary space and infrastructure for women’s access to information, education and training be provided, and that mechanisms to empower organizations representing rural producers and women be created.  The Expert Group had also issued recommendations in the areas of leadership, decision-making and voice; monitoring and evaluation; resources; and the United Nations system itself, she added.

Ms. ALI noted that poor rural women everywhere were adversely affected by the remoteness of where they lived and by Government macroeconomic reform and stabilization programmes intended to blunt the impact of the global economic crisis.  The 2007 and 2011 food and fuel crises had exacerbated their lot, while in Pakistan, devastating floods and the war against terrorism had also seriously impeded women’s livelihoods.  Pakistan was the world’s sixth most populous nation, and 68 per cent of its women lived in rural areas, she said, adding that most had poor access to health, education and financial services.  With only about half of all mothers living in rural areas consuming the minimum daily caloric allowance, elevated malnutrition rates impeded productivity and caused high maternal and infant mortality rates.  Some 12.3 million Pakistani women participated in the formal labour market, mainly in skilled agriculture and the fisheries industry, while a larger percentage worked in the informal economy, she said, adding that 7.68 million women took part in unpaid family work.

Describing land ownership as a critical factor in empowering women economically in Pakistan and elsewhere, she said the Government’s previous attempts at land reform had failed to allot land titles to women as a right.  Through a major initiative in 2010, however, the Government had taken the unprecedented step of awarding more than 600,000 square acres of State land in Sindh Province to previously landless peasants known as the Haris, including more than 600 women.  In addition, the Benazir income support programme, the Government’s flagship safety net plan, was working to mitigate the impact of the global economic crisis at the household level by issuing, among other things, cash grants, health insurance and emergency relief for those affected by natural disasters.  Through that programme, national identity cards had been issued to more than 10 million women with no previous identification status, she said, adding that another 2 million cards would be handed out in the coming months.

Women could be key agents of change if given access to financial services, she said, noting that 5.4 million Pakistani households currently had access to such services.  Under the Benazir programme, women accounted for 55 per cent of all financial borrowers and 60 per cent of all microfinance borrowers.  Pakistan had extraordinary institutions that worked with rural women, particularly in terms of economic policy.  But globally, more empirical data on women was needed, as were structures and mechanisms for protecting women when they demanded their rights.  Moreover, it was important to close the gap in women’s access to training, education and services, while enabling them to help shape programmes and legislation affecting their lives.

Ms. KARTTUNEN said information was sorely lacking on the value and extent of rural women’s unpaid work and asset ownership, despite its vital importance to household and community well-being.  Moreover, existing sex-disaggregated data often failed to indicate whether it pertained to all rural women or only to women in agricultural households.  Studies in sub-Saharan Africa showed that, on average, 45 per cent of rural household income was derived from non-agricultural sources, such as businesses, wage employment and remittances, he said, adding that the figure was 45 per cent for Latin America.  As distance to markets strongly influenced job opportunities, it was important to recognize the difference between such opportunities for women in remote rural areas, those in rural heartland areas and those in rural areas close to urban centres.  Women’s unemployment in Finland was highest in remote, sparsely populated rural areas, she said, noting that, on the contrary, job opportunities were good in rural municipalities close to urban areas.

To unlock rural women’s potential, it was necessary to recognize and address their double workload, particularly their unpaid one, she said.  Equally vital was ensuring women’s access to education, information, land, credits, and other productive resources, and promoting women’s organizations and collective action.  Access to information and communications technology services, especially mobile phones, had already made a real difference in rural women’s economic opportunities.  Moreover, Governments must ensure that laws guaranteed the equal right of women to control assets and receive services, and provide improved social services in rural areas.  Sound labour legislation, codes of conduct and ethical standards would create the basis for decent work, she said, adding that rural women, in particular, would benefit from awareness-raising and education on labour conditions and employment rights.

Calling for comprehensive and gender-sensitive rural development policies and programmes, and for the inclusion of rural women in their creation and implementation, she pointed to Finland’s success in that regard.  For example, the Finnish Rural Development Policy had benefitted greatly from the efforts of the Women’s Working Group for Rural Development, which had introduced women’s perspectives into that policy for the first time.  Rural women’s active participation in local action groups had led to more gender-sensitive local development, she said, adding that rural women’s organizations had created a platform for information sharing, helping to raise women’s self-esteem and voice, while rural female entrepreneurs had set up cooperatives to support networking and collective action to market products and services.

Ms. NJUKI focused her presentation on the multiple pathways to food security, among them, increasing production and productivity, ensuring that women controlled incomes and purchasing power, and increasing women’s assets and access to productive resources.  Ways to develop and promote innovative approaches to improving the productivity of subsistence farming included programmes that should target men and women with agricultural interventions, such as new technology; working with women as extension service providers to reach other women farmers; engaging whole families in agricultural production; and using innovative input supply systems such as voucher schemes and agro-dealer networks.  “It’s much more effective to have women reaching other women,” she stressed.

Examining ways to expand women’s economic opportunities, she urged the international community to analyse existing roles, constraints and opportunities for women in agricultural value chains, and ensure that they not only participated in them, but also benefitted from them.  Programmes should build the capacity of women to engage with markets on farms and beyond, she said, urging the development of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that would track benefits to men and women.  Support should be provided to women entrepreneurs, particularly by including both men and women in identifying enterprises, problems and solutions.  Additionally, there was also a need to ensure that female participation in commercialization persisted, that their wages increased, and that they were linked with input and capital-service providers at affordable rates.

As for ways to develop markets that would ensure the availability of affordable food in rural communities, she called for the development of infrastructure development that would promote local trade and entrepreneurship.  She also called for support for local businesses through innovative financing mechanisms and business development services, as well as the promotion of local food production.  Such foods should have high nutritional value and promote local marketing and sourcing systems, she said, adding that it should promote local business through fair trade.

Ms. MORDEN said that enabling rural women to produce and sell more and better goods and services — including food and other agricultural products — was a key to overcoming global poverty and achieving food and nutrition security for all.  “More resources in women’s hand leads to greater household investments in food, health and education,” she said, adding that, conversely, the lack of financing in support of women’s productive potential was what kept both women and men trapped in poverty.  Access to basic financial services such as credit, savings facilities and insurance, could help rural women start or grow a business, hire employees or invest in the income-generating activities of friends or families.  It could also help them expand production or cope better with seasonal fluctuations or emergencies, among many other benefits.

She said the so-called “microcredit revolution” had brought about innovation by taking into account the demand side of women’s needs and recognizing women as customers, decision-makers and managers, rather than mere recipients and beneficiaries, noting that the number of poorest women reached with micro-loans had increased from 10.3 million to 113.1 million between 1999 and 2010.  However, while microcredit schemes had been shown to lead to women’s empowerment and to increase household well-being, it had its limitations, she said.  “To enable rural women to get a stronger foothold on the pathway out of poverty, they need a broader range of financial services, along with other kinds of support.”

Savings facilities were needed to allow women to acquire the inputs, tools and goods needed to start or expand a small shop, she continued.  Perhaps most importantly, rural women needed a range of non-financial support services that would enable them to make the most of expanded financial services, including skills training and regular coaching, business planning advice, social support, promotion of health and nutrition, and encouraging positive attitudinal changes along the way.  With renewed global attention to agriculture, innovations and initiatives were under way to address the constraints found in rural areas, she said, stressing, however, that more must be done to ensure that rural women benefitted from those innovations.

During the ensuing discussion, some participants shed light on their respective nations’ land-reform programmes in favour of women and emphasized the need for gender-disaggregated data, particular concerning land titles.  One participant asked what criteria the Government of Pakistan had used to assign land to previously landless peasants.  Some participants asked Ms. Morden to elaborate on the results of rural microcredit schemes aimed at guaranteeing food security in rural areas, and to give specific examples of how resources and training had been mobilized and applied to empower rural women economically.  One participant asked about the existence of credit programmes for farmers’ wives.

The representative of Zimbabwe, referring to the concept of women’s rights as opposed to that of gender equality, noted that women’s economic empowerment was a way to realize and ensure women’s rights.  However, other rights overshadowed women’s economic rights, she said, asking the panellists to present ways to highlight and promote the latter specifically.  Pointing out that women continued to be on the periphery of the national and global economic agenda, she asked Ms. Morden to offer ways to mainstream their needs.

Ms. MORDEN, responding to a question about support provided for the creation of rotating loan fund groups, cited several examples to demonstrate the success and popularity of those programmes, including in Mozambique and other countries.  “The demand is just tremendous,” she said, stressing that functional literacy was one core element of the loan schemes.

Ms. NJUKI, addressing the same question, said rural women farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa were reached through a pilot programme that tried to get small entrepreneurs to penetrate remote and marginalized areas.  In response to the delegate from Zimbabwe, she said women’s rights frequently focused on health and related areas, but economic empowerment was a prerequisite for all other rights.  It was time to integrate gender equality into national plans, financial policies and many other agendas, in order to arrive at holistic solutions to the challenges facing rural women, she said.

Ms. ALI, responding to another delegate, said that land distribution schemes, at the first level of planning and distribution, gave priority to the poorest rural women.  Distributed land must be cultivatable, and women must have access in order to enhance production efficiently, she said, adding that the loan scheme programmes were funded by the national Government, as well as provincial ones.

Turning to questions relating to microcredit and microfinance services, she said such systems levied low interest rates, making repayment more viable.  It was essential to make financial education available to those who received microcredit, and other, complementary financial services were provided, she said, adding that crop and health insurance opportunities should also be given priority.

Ms. ABDELALI-MARTINI said education could not be dissociated from economic empowerment, to which social barriers were among the biggest obstacles.  Even when women were granted financial credits, it was not possible to ensure that they were really in control of them.

Ms. KARTTUNEN, discussing formal and informal education for women, said agricultural and business extension services were critically important, as were information and communication technology services.  She agreed with the delegate from India on the need for comprehensive rural development services.

During another round of questions, one participant asked how national policies could most efficiently be reformed to provide equal legal rights for women in rural areas and enable their participation in the green economy and sustainable development.  Another requested examples of successful rural partnerships that had benefitted women.  One delegate asked about the feasibility of creating a set of standardized indicators to reflect female ownership of assets and land, and about the kind of platforms that should be created in order to obtain harmonized indicators and enable all countries to collect sex-disaggregated data.  A participant also asked about reform programmes to eliminate the practice of polygamy.

The Moderator then asked panellists to respond by succinctly stating what specific concrete actions were essential to advancing the economic empowerment of women in rural areas.

Ms. MORDEN said it was necessary to develop much better knowledge networks and to scale them up to reach rural women.

Ms. NJUKI called for integrating and mainstreaming gender equality into all programmes, stressing that it was not enough to have a gender desk or unit.  Women’s economic empowerment must cut across economic programmes in all areas, she added.

Ms. ABDELALI-MARTINI stressed the need to improve education for women and girls in rural areas.  “If we can’t get girls to come to training centres, then we have to move them into rural areas,” she said.

Ms. ALI proposed the establishment of proactive gender-sensitive decision-making and policies at the national level, and promoting the ownership of land assets for women, with a focus on enabling them to become productive landowners with legislative protection.

Ms. KARTTUNEN stressed the need to raise awareness, saying that Governments must ensure an enabling environment in which women’s organizations could be active and have a voice.

In the afternoon, the Commission continued its general discussion.


RAYMOND WOLFE ( Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said its member States were taking steps to ensure that women realized their full potential as individuals while making meaningful contributions to society.  In the context of the ongoing global financial crisis, several rural CARICOM communities had experienced economic woes and rising unemployment in certain sectors, which had affected women disproportionately.  In July 2009, CARICOM Heads of State had adopted the Liliendaal Declaration, which underscored the need to maximize regional agricultural production to meet food security and nutrition needs, alleviate poverty alleviation and spur income and job creation.  To that end, the Heads of Government had been promoting the production and consumption of locally produced food, he said.  The “Eat what you grow” campaign focused on empowering rural women, including their role in using agriculture and small-scale farming to reduce poverty.

He said some CARICOM States had implemented national plans to empower rural women and appointed gender representatives or focal points to ensure that their perspectives were taken into account.  But more efforts were needed to provide access to better technology, information and education, as well as skills-enhancement programmes extending beyond agriculture.  The CARICOM Governments supported rural women’s networks, he said, recalling that the regional body had partnered with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in June 2010 to organize a workshop in Saint Lucia on capacity-building for Caribbean rural women producers.  He called for full implementation of all conventions and agreements related to women, with a particular focus on article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which safeguarded access, benefits and full participation of rural women in the context of national development.

MENG XIAOSI, Vice-Chairperson, National Working Committee on Women and Children, State Council of China, said the Government had consistently promoted gender equality as a basic national policy.  The final review of the 2001-2010 Programme for the Development of Chinese Women showed that 23 of the Programme’s 24 major targets had been achieved on schedule, he said, recalling for example, that the female poverty rate had fallen from 24.2 per cent in 2002 to 12 per cent in 2009.  In education, the gender difference in primary and middle school enrolment had been eliminated, he added.

The Government had also developed a new programme for women’s development in the next decade, with policy measures in health, education, economy, political participation, social security, the environment and law.  Such measures were aimed at ensuring responsible responses to emerging problems concerning women’s survival and development, with a special focus on extremely poor minority areas.  In recent years, the Government had adopted steps to advance rural women’s development, providing microcredit schemes and loans that had helped more than 1.2 million women and created jobs for 4 million.  The Government also provided health subsidies to rural women for in-hospital delivery, regular check-ups and treatment for cervical and breast cancer, he said.

HAJIA MAINA, Minister for Women’s Affairs and Social Development of Nigeria, said that the Government’s “Vision 20: 2020”, currently driving economic transformation at all levels, sought to redress the subordinate role of women in society.  It emphasized poverty reduction and self-sufficiency in food production.  A review of the national microfinance policy framework had been carried out in April 2011, she said, noting that one of the core objectives of the revised policy was to eliminate gender disparity by ensuring that access to financial services increased by 15 per cent annually — 5 per cent above the minimum requirement.  Nigeria’s administrative, policy and legal environments were constantly being strengthened to ensure effective responses to emerging challenges, she said, adding that other initiatives aimed to reduce child and maternal mortality, ensure the education of girls, provide social safety nets and address gender-based violence.

ELSA FORNERO, Minister for Labour, Social Policies and Equal Opportunities of Italy, associated herself with the European Union and said that her department had been designed to strengthen Government actions to promote equality, as it allowed for a more unified perspective on areas that were crucial to the empowerment of women.  Compared to other European countries, Italy clearly had a problem with the lack of women in the workforce, she said.  That was largely a result of a “troubling” lack of services and the prevalent role of women in caring for children and the elderly.  However, it was important to note that Italian women were more successful than men in high school and university, and more educated women were determined to play a more prominent role in every aspect of life, she said.  Even in the agricultural sector, women were no longer relegated to traditional tasks, but were frequently pioneers in innovative and emerging business activities, such as agro-tourism and organic farming.  In light of such changes, the Government was developing a national plan with a series of projects and actions at the regional level to bring about structural change.

GABRIELE HEINISCH-HOSEK, Federal Minister for Women and Civil Service of Austria, said the number of female-headed farms in her country had grown significantly in the past decade.  Austria had the highest percentage of women-led agricultural businesses in the European Union, but rural decision-making structures were often dominated exclusively by men.  The equal opportunities section of the Austrian Programme for the Development of Rural Areas aimed to address that gap, she said, adding that the most recent amendment to the Equal Treatment Act marked an important step towards greater salary transparency.  Companies over a certain size were now obligated to produce sex-disaggregated staff income reports.  That move had created a powerful instrument for action against wage discrimination based on sex, she said.

Austria and Sweden were the only countries in Europe to have established a legal basis for income transparency, she continued.  In addition, job ads in Austria must now state the minimum wage and how much the employer would be prepared to pay.  Last January, the Government had introduced a “daddy’s month” in the public sector to allow the fathers of newborns to take time off and as a way to promote a greater childcare role for fathers.  Gender budgeting had been enshrined in the Austrian Constitution in January 2009, she said, adding that as of 2013, the Federal Budget Law would require each federal ministry to determine gender equality outcomes.  In 2010, Austria had adopted a revised national action plan to implement Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.

LYNNE FEATHERSTONE, Minister for Equalities of the United Kingdom, cited funding measures aimed at empowering rural women to start and maintain businesses.  In Scotland, the Government was working with women to increase their business skills as part of a wider rural programme.  The “Invest NI” programme in Northern Ireland promoted female entrepreneurship and supported new and established women-owned businesses, as well as women in management posts, by providing information, encouragement, ideas and business connections through networking.  The goals of the United Kingdom’s “We Will” commitments included helping 18 million women gain access to financial services, saving 250,000 newborn babies, enabling more than 10 million women to access modern family planning methods, and working in at least 15 countries to prevent violence against girls and women.  She said that a priority for her country in 2012 was supporting efforts by partner countries to achieve universal access to family planning in order to meet women’s needs, contributing to attainment of Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, and broader health and development goals.

FRANÇOISE HETTO-GAASCH, Minister for Equal Opportunities of Luxembourg, fully endorsing the European Union statement, said that equality between men and women was on the rise in her country, where their political, economic and social empowerment was regularly strengthened.  Indeed, the proportion of women’s participation in political mandates and labour markets was also growing, while the income gap was falling.  Economic decision makers were implementing voluntary programmes to increase the number of women in decision-making bodies and to ensure a gender mix for all high-responsibility positions.

“Women’s position in societies is in the process of changing,” she said, adding, however, that “it will only change if societies allow it the space to change”, she said.  Policies must create enabling environments for an equal sharing of family, political and societal responsibilities between men and women, she said.  For its part, Luxembourg was applying affirmative-action measures, in conjunction with gender mainstreaming, to implement the National Action Plan for the Equality of Women and Men 2009-2014, she said.  As one of the most active countries in international cooperation, Luxembourg understood that “the fight against poverty and for the equality of women and men are intrinsically linked”, she added.

CORAZON JULIANO SOLIMAN, Minister for the Special Secretariat of Policies for Women of the Philippines, associated herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  She said rural women played an important role in her country’s agricultural sector, but of the 10.4 million women in rural households, 7.9 million lacked access to health facilities and many were not educated.  Women were also not often employed formally, she added.  In response, the Government had enacted a national gender equality law, fashioned after the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, which contained a strong gender perspective; and the Convergence Approach, which identified the most marginalized.  Rural women identified through that system enjoyed increased access to markets and credit, among other resources.  A conditional cash-transfer programme was in place for many rural women, with requirements that they attend health facilities for check-ups, as well as training and education programmes.  In the area of international cooperation, the Government had developed a system for tracking official development assistance (ODA), she said.

MARJA VAN BIJSTERVELDT, Minister for Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands, associated herself with the European Union and expressed deep concern over increasingly critical attitudes towards the concept of gender, which placed in question the Beijing Platform for Action, 17 years after it was agreed.  The Netherlands would continue to work hard for the empowerment of all women, particularly vulnerable and rural women, in all spheres.  It would also continue to counter violence against women, with special attention to the rights of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and to strengthen sexual and reproductive health and rights.  Agreement in those areas should set the conditions for gender equality.  She called on the Commission to move forward with the Beijing agreements, taking inspiration from the enormous strength of women who picked themselves up and carried on after tragic setbacks around the world, and to give women the position they deserved as economic actors and agents of change.

ELEONORA MENICUCCI DE OLIVEIRA, Minister for Policies for Women, Brazil, said that for the first time in its history, her country had a woman President.  Her national development policies had eradicated poverty among 28 million people, including 4 million rural people, through measures geared towards rural development, food security and gender equality.  The Government was implementing affirmative-action policies, such as quotas.  It had increased the capacity of policymakers to advocate on behalf of women, and set up specific lines of credit for women’s empowerment organizations, she said.  Still, most rural women worked for sustenance instead of pay and had only limited access to land, agricultural inputs, productive resources, rural services and decision-making power.

Since 2003, Brazil had promoted rural development policies within the national policy plan for women, she said, adding that the country was investing in integral policies to create economic autonomy among rural women.  Since 2004, more than 830,000 previously undocumented women farmers had received official documents and social security benefits, she said.  Land-reform efforts guaranteed joint land titles, with a preference for women-headed households.  To prevent violence against rural women, the Government had adopted the Maria da Pena law, and initiated awareness-raising campaigns, with the participation of women from the rural areas, forests and traditional communities, she said, adding that the President’s “ Brazil without Poverty” programme provided conditional income transfers to women.

PRIYA MANICKCHAND, Minister for Education, Guyana, said her country’s national policies focused on eliminating gender-based violence, expanding economic opportunities for women, and increasing their participation in leadership and decision-making.  The country had made advances in empowering women in education, health, the environment and decision-making.  Women had served at the highest levels of Government, including as Head of State and head of the judiciary, and their representation in Parliament had increased to more than 30 per cent.

Despite legislation to end domestic violence, however, challenges abounded, she said.  This year, the Government would bolster efforts to re-invigorate the “Stamp it Out” campaign against sexual violence and abuse, especially against women and girls.  The Government frequently organized capacity-building workshops to enhance female entrepreneurship, including a special trade fair held in 2011.  In June 2010, it had launched the innovative “Women of Worth” programme to provide single women with access to commercial loans to establish or expand businesses.  The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) had deemed the programme a regional model, she said.

LULU XINGWANA, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities of South Africa, said her country’s best practices had been recognized in the Secretary-General’s report on the current session’s priority theme.  They included promoting women’s access to processing facilities, as well to distribution and transport networks, which had proven successful in helping women tomato farmers sell their produce to retail supermarkets.  Another benefit was the engagement of men and boys in the advancement of gender equality.  In the context of South-South cooperation, she said South Africa had established an important platform of engagement for women, including rural women, with a number of other African countries, as well as with India, China and Brazil.

She said the national priority of empowering rural women had been undertaken through the mainstreaming of gender as part of the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme, which provided access to funding, training, technology transfer, building partnerships with the private sector and other stakeholders, and monitoring inequality in land redistribution.  South Africa had also done well in the area of political decision-making for women, she said, noting that there was 44 per cent female representation in Parliament and 43 per cent at the level of Cabinet ministers.  The Gender Equity Bill was set to reach Parliament this year, and a massive programme of infrastructure development had been approved, with a provision intended to benefit rural women in particular.

JULIA DUNCAN CASSELL, Minister for Gender and Development of Liberia, said rural women made up about 60 per cent of her country’s overall population.  They were an “integral and vital” force in the development process as the primary marketers and traders of agricultural goods.  Yet, despite their contributions to Liberian society, rural women continued to have limited or no access to education, health, employment, resources and markets.  In response to those challenges, the Government had established the Rural Women Programme in 2008 to ensure that they were given a chance to partake in and benefit from all national development efforts.  The programme also provided them with a structure through which they could raise their priorities and needs, as well as take the lead in implementing strategies in their own communities.  Highlighting some specifics of the plan, she said that thus far, the Government had provided supplies such as tools, boots and fertilizer to women farmers, funded the construction of storage facilities by some 150 women’s organizations, and established 15 village savings and loan associations.

MARIA DEL ROCIO GARCIA GAYTAN, President, National Institute for Women of Mexico, said her country had developed standards and institutions to reflect the political will of the executive and other authorities and Government bodies.  In terms of human rights law, Mexico had harmonized its internal normative frameworks with international standards in 2011, and enshrined human rights and fundamental freedoms in national policy.  Moreover, all international human rights instruments had been incorporated into domestic law.  Mexico’s 32 states had laws on ensuring that women had a life free from violence, as well as laws on equality between men and women and on human trafficking.  Legislation on the murder of women as a specific crime was under development, she said.

Funding for women’s affairs had increased significantly, she said.  Ensuring equality within the Government itself, 11 programmes were in place, secretariats had been established, and simplified administrative procedures were in place to ensure that making a complaint about sexual harassment was easier than it had been in the past.  A special legal office was in place to deal with cases of sexual violence, she said.  That remained one of the most serious problems that women faced in Mexico.  The country was also working on publicizing the rights of women and making more widely known the right to prosecute offences against them.  Turning to the priority theme, she said her country had allocated a large budget to indigenous and rural women, but some goals in that area had nonetheless not yet been reached.

TOLOFUAIVALELEI FALEMOE LEIATAUA, Minister for Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, said that in the past two years his country had put in place a national action plan for women covering strategic areas over the next five years.  It was complemented by plans for children, youth and persons with disabilities.  He also described efforts to strengthen women’s legal protection and amend the Constitution to require at least 10 per cent female representation in Parliament.  The health sector had better data on gender indicators, especially in relation to HIV/AIDS and sexual reproduction, he said.  Another focus was strengthening the voices of rural women, and positive results had been seen in many spheres.  Faced with such challenges as climate change and the financial crisis, an integrated multi-sector approach, strong leadership, genuine partnership, financial and technical assistance and systematic monitoring and evaluation would be critical, he said.

SIHEM BADI, Minister for Women and Family Affairs of Tunisia, said women around the world remained victims of all forms of inequality, abuse and discrimination.  They continued to be affected by poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, particularly in developing countries.  The international community had called on women to take an active role as fully fledged partners in conflict prevention, resolution and peace negotiations, she recalled.  Women’s rights were integral to human rights, and Tunisia had been consolidating gains in the area of women’s rights, she said, pointing to the Government’s decision to withdraw all reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and to ensure full gender parity on electoral lists.

On 14 January 2010, Tunisian women had joined the national movement for liberty and dignity, which had led to the fall of the former regime, she recalled.  Today, women were involved in consolidating the gains from the revolution and in building a better future for Tunisia, in which no one would be left behind.  She reiterated the commitment that the Government that had emerged from the 23 October elections had made to the role of women as active partners in the development process, in decision-making and in political life.  She also expressed solidarity with Syrian women in the occupied Syrian Golan and Palestinian women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, calling for urgent international action to aid them.

JULIANA AZUMAH-MENSAH, Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Ghana, associated herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, saying that her country regarded the development of the rural economy as the key to socio-economic and sustainable development, as reflected in its medium-term development framework, the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda.  To address the needs of rural women, the Government had introduced subsidies on farm inputs, as well as a block farm system, among other things.  With regard to gender-based violence, Ghana was developing inter- and intra-agency protocols, community response systems and training manuals for stakeholders, to guide implementation of the law on domestic violence, which mostly affected rural women.

With the support of civil society organizations, she said, Ghana had also implemented a number of interventions targeted at rural women, including the training of more than 100 paralegals in selected districts to act as “change agents” with regard to negative socio-cultural practices.  In spite of those achievements, however, rural women still faced many challenges, she said.  “The international community, the United Nations and other organizations must intensify efforts to prioritize funding for agricultural and rural development, and provide support for the implementation of policies and innovative partnerships with all stakeholders to promote gender equality and the empowerment of rural women,” she said.

KIM KUM LAE, Minister for Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, said that in a little more than a year, UN Women had accomplished a great deal in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Yet sufficient and stable resources were required for the new entity to continue fulfilling its role in coordinating gender policy and to increase its field presence.  As a committed partner and Chair of the Executive Board of UN Women, the Republic of Korea would continue to support the entity’s work, she pledged.  Speaking more broadly, she said that, despite continued progress towards gender equality and empowerment, many women, including rural and indigenous women, remained vulnerable and living in poverty.  That was largely due to limited access to Government services and a prevailing culture of gender-based discrimination in rural area.  There was clearly a need to unlock the potential of rural women, who often had a deep understanding of local ecosystems and were most involved in agriculture, she said.  That would go a long way not only towards realizing gender equality, but also towards providing powerful aid in combating global ills such as food shortages, poverty and climate change.

SOFIA SIMBA, Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children of the United Republic of Tanzania, associated herself with the Group of 77, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  The Government had laid down the foundation for overcoming the challenges facing rural women, especially in the agricultural sector, she said, noting that it had established a programme for the mainland and for Zanzibar, which facilitated farmers’ purchase of Government farm inputs at reduced cost.  Under the same programme, the Government had increased access to credit and received other benefits.

Land laws had been revised, enabling women to own clan and family land on an equal footing with men.  The education of women and men on the importance of women owning land and other means of production was under way, she added.  Girls and boys were being sensitized and empowered to engage in development activities.  Nonetheless, major gaps remained between women in urban and rural areas, she said.  Infrastructure development was not adequately funded by international assistance, and, therefore, public-private partnerships were being created.  She called for stronger partnerships between the Government and development partners, with the aim of advancing women’s empowerment and poverty eradication.

ALEJANDRINA GERMAN, Minister for Women of the Dominican Republic, said her country continued to strengthen its commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action.  Noting that 33 per cent of the Dominican population lived in rural areas, she said that, on average, girls had more education than men in both primary and secondary levels.  It was difficult to assess the situation of women’s employment in rural areas, as so much of their work was unpaid or unrecognized — essentially, “invisible”.  The country had established a good legal framework to empower rural women and defend their rights, she said.  It had established the principle of a woman’s right to a life free of violence, and recognized equal pay for equal work, among other key concepts.  Reform of land laws was also under way, with a law allowing women to own land and access credit.  Highlighting the National Plan for Gender Equality of 2007-2017, she said the Government had established a rotating fund for agro-forestry services, prioritized gender equity and rural development, increased support for social empowerment, and made a large number of information technology centres available to help provide rural women with access to information communication technology.

JIKO LUVENI, Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation of Fiji, said Government policies aimed to promote gender equality in decision-making and to empower women.  The Government continued to support women in leadership posts, he said, noting that one of Fiji’s three high chiefs was a woman.  Women accounted for 225 of the country’s traditional clan chiefs, and as a result, women were guaranteed traditional inheritance rights, she said, adding that community-based leadership and empowerment training was needed in order to continue to bolster the role of female chiefs.

Some 300 women were members of hospital boards and village committees, which were a stepping stone to higher public office, she said.  In line with Fiji’s domestic violence decree and national policy of zero tolerance for violence against women, a total of 15 local communities had subscribed to that policy in 2011, she said, adding that the policy was supported by the Family Law Act and the Crimes Decree.  The Government was focusing on improving rural women’s access to productive resources, markets and financial institutions.  The Micro-Finance Unit and the National Centre for Small and Micro Enterprise Development was working to help develop women-run sustainable economic development projects.

AMIRA ELFADIL MOHAMED, Federal Minister for Social Welfare and Social Security of Sudan, said her country had made important strides towards peace and security.  It had recently held presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as a referendum on the future of South Sudan, which had ended the longest-running conflict in Africa.  The Darfur Authority had been created as an important step towards ending the conflict in Darfur.  Steps taken to create a market economy had led to women’s economic empowerment, and the Government guaranteed equal pay for equal work, she said.

Noting that the 2008 Election Law had significantly increased the number of female parliamentarians, she said the list of candidates for presidential elections in 2010 had included a woman.  The Government had incorporated six pillars of the Beijing Platform into the national policy on women, she said, adding that such efforts had helped greatly in reducing the rate of maternal mortality, closing the gender gap in primary education and increasing the number of female entrepreneurs.  However, women’s economic participation was still less than that of men, she said.  Eighty-seven per cent of the female labour force remained in the rural areas.  The Government had developed a rural labour programme and adopted a social aid programme for 500,000 of the nation’s poorest families, she said.

RAYMONDE GOUDOU COFFIE, Minister for Family, Women and Children of Côte d’Ivoire, said that, during the decade of crisis, women had been instrumental in keeping the country from falling into a food security and malnutrition crisis.  However, women still faced serious challenges and barriers to development.  Many women’s groups had been set up in network that had more than 12,000 members.  “Helping a woman is to help a nation,” she said, citing her Ministry’s main slogan.  She went on to describe outreach, education and skills-training courses under way in Côte d’Ivoire.  The number of women in decision-making positions was on the rise, which made clear that traditional biases against women were being abandoned, she said.  There was zero tolerance for female genital mutilation, she stressed.  A number of funds had been set up to support rural women specifically, and a partnership between the State and microfinance intuitions was in place.  “However, women are still poor, they are still used as weapons of war, and they are still absent from decision-making tables,” she emphasized.  Major community mobilization was needed to support full participation by and rights for women.

MAIKIBI KADIATOU DANDOBI, Minister for Population, Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, associated herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group.  She said 90 per cent of women in her country were illiterate, and four out of five poor people were female.  They were “crushed under the weight of domestic work”, cultural traditions and the misinterpretation of religious precepts.  A maternal mortality ratio as high as Niger’s was “simply not acceptable”, she emphasized, before going on to describe other challenges, including gender-based violence, low school attendance by girls and a high drop-out rate.  Nonetheless, Niger was committed to the Beijing Platform, she said, adding that the 2011 Constitution prohibited discrimination against women.  The Government had introduced a quota mandating that 25 per cent of appointments and 10 per cent of elected positions be reserved for women.  It had adopted a national gender policy, she said, adding that education was free and mandatory up to the age of 16 years.  Social networks were in place to deal with the current food crisis, all of which demonstrated the Government’s commitment to the well-being of women.

MARIA ANTONIETA BOTTO DE FERNANDEZ, Minister for the National Institute of Women of Honduras, said her country’s Government was implementing major programmes to improve the lot of women.  The 2010-2022 national gender equality plan and the national food security plan had been designed to empower rural women, and female leaders were keeping those issues at the forefront of the national agenda.  The President, alongside the Council of Women Ministers of Central America and the Dominican Republic, was working towards those goals with the aim of identifying ways to develop rural areas through seed funding for rural businesses, and by giving women a greater level of independence and entrepreneurship.  While there were many barriers to women’s economic progress in rural areas, the Government was working with Mexico’s Institute of Women to give them greater and better access to services, she said, adding that the Government sought a multicultural approach to education and sought to boost women’s participation in elections.  Despite a multitude of programmes, however, many economic, social and cultural obstacles to their empowerment remained.  There was a need to find ways to make better use of organized ethnic and cultural groups to empower women, she said, emphasizing that, through empowerment, women would be better trained, more independent and better able to bring about social change.

TERESA MORAIS, Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Equality of Portugal, said gender equality was a fundamental principle of the Portuguese Constitution, and one of the Government’s key priorities was to ensure its broad promotion by administering appropriate public policies based on the Beijing Platform.  Progress towards achieving legal equality between men and women had been evident, she said.  Similar progress had also been logged on women’s political participation, but the same could not be said of economic decision-making, where their presence was clearly insufficient.  To address that situation, the Government had approved a resolution last week, requiring public sector companies to implement plans for achieving parity between men and women, she said, adding that the authorities would follow up in six months.  Other gender-targeted legislation included a national plan for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security, and another on the elimination of female genital mutilation.  Portugal considered all such measures to be fundamental tools for mainstreaming gender, and the relevant ministries had been tasked with ensuring and monitoring their implementation, she said.

LINDA AMALIA SARI, Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection of Indonesia, associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said the global economic crisis was deepening, or could potentially deepen, the impacts of poverty on poor households, including those headed by women.  An enabling environment was needed to broaden economic choices for the poor, thereby contributing to household and community self-sufficiency.  “Women certainly need to have access to those choices,” she said.  Providing productive avenues for both men and women to realize their full potential was a Government priority, as was tackling pockets of poverty, which were more prevalent in rural areas.

She said more women were gaining access to employment and enjoying economic independence as entrepreneurs through the Women’s Economic Productivity Enhancement Programme, the Independent and Progressive Indonesia Women Village Model, as well as cottage industries, she said, adding that microcredit, community-based support groups, training and capacity-building were just a few of the programmes dedicated to promoting the economic capacity of women, including those in rural areas.  Conditional transfer schemes had also helped women to strengthen their economic power, and programmes were in place in the areas of education, women’s health, violence against women and participation in political decision-making, she said.

OLIVIA MUCHENA, Minister for Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development of Zimbabwe, associated herself with the Group of 77, the African Group and SADC.  She said that, among other measures, the Government of Zimbabwe had instituted a mandatory affirmative-action programme that helped to increase the allocation of land to women.  Regarding access to agriculture inputs, she said the Government had made loans available to millions of vulnerable households during the 2011-2012 farming season.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Agricultural Extension comprised “front-line” extension workers, many of whom were women.  In addition, large percentages of those attending training programmes, including “master farmer” training programmes, were women.  As for economic empowerment, the Government had instituted a medium-term plan that set a priority on gender mainstreaming in economic activities, she said, noting, however, that implementation of that framework was constrained by a lack of adequate resources.  In addition, a general economic decline due to illegal economic sanctions had negatively impacted access to basic services, but a free public health fund had been established, she said, urging the Commission to support the lifting of the harmful economic measures imposed on her country.

BASSIMA HAKKAOUI, Minister for Solidarity, Women, Family and Social Development of Morocco, said her country’s Constitution prohibited all forms of discrimination, and the Government had adopted more than 70 programmes to support gender equality, including for both urban and rural women.  In recognition of the vital role that rural women played in sustainable development, the Government’s next five-year national development plan included strategies for rural development and for a “Green Morocco”, under which female farmers would generate more than 25 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).  The plan also focused on improving solidarity among farmers and expanding the knowledge base and experience of female farmers, she said, adding that the Government was working to foster greater income-generating activities for women.  The Arab Spring had increased public demand for social, political and economic rights, creating a new atmosphere for economic cooperation and for overcoming economic disparity in rural areas, she said.

ZENEBU TADESSE, Minister for Women, Children and Youth Affairs of Ethiopia, said the multiple challenges facing rural women, including poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity, had been exacerbated by the interrelated economic, energy and food crises, as well as climate change.  Since agriculture remained the mainstay of Ethiopia’s economy, the Government attached great importance to empowering rural women and strengthening their contribution to the country’s overall development.  A five-year development plan set out steps to ensure equal access to economic resources, including land, credit and agricultural extension programmes, she said.  The Food Security Programme aimed to address the needs of female-headed households, and the Energy Development Programme had taken effective steps to introduce new technology, such as energy-saving stoves.  Ethiopia was also engaged in a range of activities to improve access to family planning services, as well as their quality.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.