Women’s Access to Finance and Markets and Call to Action


Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the High-Level Meeting on Investment and Partnerships, Global Business Partnership Forum Event, Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Istanbul, 9 May 2011.

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Your Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be able to participate in these discussions and highlight some concrete ways that private sector partnerships can contribute to sustainable development in the LDCs. Today I would like to focus my brief remarks on women's economic empowerment — in particular, women's entrepreneurship and access to finance and markets.

Women agricultural producers, particularly in low-income countries, provide up to 70 percent of agricultural labour and produce more than 90 percent of domestic food consumption, but generally do so on land that is less productive, and yields are small. They lack access to agricultural inputs and extension services, and few opportunities to market their products.

Yet, as food shortages and price increases again threaten to bring hardship in many places, the potential of women to contribute to food security is high on the agenda of governments and business leaders alike. They agree and understand well that improving women agricultural workers' access to land and productive resources is vital to sustained development.

Overall, women are more likely than men to have vulnerable jobs in the informal sector, which are generally precarious, poorly paid and not covered by labour legislation and social protection. Their limited access to education and training and financial services relegates them to jobs and livelihoods in low-pay and low-profit sectors, with limited prospects to move up the value chain.

The private sector can play a critical role — they can revisit their full value chain to identify where women are located, and what kind of support they might need to be able to add value to their products and directly reap the benefits in moving up the value chain.

We must go beyond microfinance, and design strategies and initiatives that increase women's access to a diverse set of financial services, including savings instruments, remittance transfers, credit and insurance. This is particularly important for women-owned small- and medium-size enterprises, as they transition from microfinance to mainstream commercial banks.

UN Women together with the UN Global Compact launched the Women's Empowerment Principles to bring stakeholders together to do all of these things. The Principles offer a seven-step blueprint to empower women in the workplace and the community. They represent a practical collaboration with the private sector, in line with the growing business case research that empowering women is a strategy for a healthier bottom line.

Implementing the Principles can make a measurable difference in the lives of women and men.

  • Increasing the numbers of women in productive employment and ending gender discrimination makes a real difference.
  • Ensuring that women and men are paid equally for work of equal value and offered flexible work options makes a real difference.
  • Adopting inclusive, pro-poor business models and empowering women entrepreneurs in the value chain makes a real difference.
  • Ensuring that the workplace is safe and that sexual harassment or gender-based violence is not tolerated makes an enormous difference.

I call on all business leaders to demonstrate your commitment to policies and practices that empower women by signing the CEO Statement of Support for the Women's Empowerment Principles, and to act swiftly and effectively to advance women's economic empowerment. It is not only the right thing to do; it is a strategy for growth and development.

Thank you.