Women's Empowerment in Africa: Access to Land, Credit, and Markets

Jul 2, 2010

Introductory remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, at the Ministerial Breakfast on Economic Opportunities for the Empowerment of Women in Africa and the Least Developed Countries: Access to Land, Credit, and Markets

United Nations, New York
2 July 2010

Check Against Delivery

Thank you for inviting me to take part in this ministerial discussion on issues related to women’s economic empowerment in Africa and the Least Developed Countries.

Women’s economic empowerment, accompanied by women’s political empowerment and access to equal legal rights and status, is a critical driver of progress on the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals.

In the lead up to the MDG +Ten Summit in September, UNDP has a clear message - the Goals can be met.

There is a range of tried and tested policies which ensure MDG progress. If they are backed by strong global partnerships, the world can achieve the MDGs. In that range of policies are many which support women’s economic empowerment.
Just over two weeks ago, UNDP released an International Assessment of what it will take to achieve the MDGs by 2015. That assessment also affirms how important it will be to invest in opportunities for women and girls, and to advance their economic, legal, and political empowerment.

The focus of our discussion today is on women’s economic empowerment through access to credit, land, and markets.

Land is the most important asset for many households in developing countries, and that is particularly so for poor households. Land ownership confers direct economic benefits as a source of production and income, and as collateral for financial and credit services – and this in return has multiplier effects across all the MDGs.

The right of women to own property, including land, is recognized under international human rights law. Yet, in many countries, women’s property rights are limited by social norms and customs, and at times by legislation. As a result, women do not enjoy equal opportunity and status in their families and communities. 

Therefore, ensuring that women do enjoy full legal rights to own property and to inherit is critical for economic empowerment.

UNDP works with programme countries to strengthen women’s legal rights, with a view to making them consistent with international norms and standards. In Liberia, Mozambique, and Uganda, for example, UNDP is supporting community land titling initiatives with special measures to protect the land claims of vulnerable populations and women. 

Where women cannot inherit land, they and their children may be evicted upon the death of their husbands and fathers. The HIV/Aids epidemic has contributed to an increase in such evictions, and further dis-empowers women.

Access to credit - and to financial services more generally – needs to accompany the right to own and to inherit property in order for women to have economic opportunity.

In Africa, women comprise a majority of those working in agriculture, but it is estimated that they receive under ten per cent of all the credit going to small farmers - and only one per cent of the total credit for the agricultural sector.

Issues of land ownership and access to credit for women are issues of equality and opportunity. Reforms in these areas help women move out of poverty and strengthen their position generally in their homes, communities, and countries.

It is important overall to unleash the tremendous potential women have as entrepreneurs, and to address the obstacles they face to establishing their businesses. Microcredit has a role to play - and women are known as very reliable borrowers who will repay their loans.

Improving women’s ability to be in the formal labour market is also critical to their economic empowerment.  Apart from the real benefits of earning income, decent work offers the prospect of dignity and self respect. It enables people to realize their potential and live fulfilling lives, reducing their susceptibility to poverty, hunger, and disease. 

Societies which narrow the gender gap in employment will also boost their economic development and their rate of poverty reduction.

Employment guarantee programmes can be geared to supporting women’s entry into the formal labour market, and are indentified in UNDP’s International Assessment as important for MDG progress. The world’s largest job creation scheme in India benefits 46 million households, and a mininum of thirty per cent of those employed must be women. The results have far exceeded that quota – around 51 per cent of those accessing the 100 days work a year are women.

A significant constraint on women being in paid work is the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work they carry. UNDP is working with partners to have this addressed in national policy making. Until that happens, women will continue to have limited choices and opportunities in the labour market.

In summary, efforts to support women’s economic empowerment in Africa, and across the LDCs, must help overcome the legal and other barriers which women face. Those barriers include lack of access to credit, land, and markets, and the many other forms of exclusion and discrimination which women often experience in their daily lives. Ultimately, these solutions need to be reflected in gender-responsive national development strategies, policies, and budgets.

Today’s meeting is a good opportunity for sharing experiences of what has worked, and what hasn’t, in overcoming these obstacles, and I look forward to hearing about the national experiences of all those present.

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