Clark: Investing in Women and Entrepreneurship

Mar 8, 2011

2011 Forum: Investing in Women and Entrepreneurship: Solutions to addressing MDG3
Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
United Nations, 8th March 2011, 2.45 – 3.30 pm

It is a pleasure to attend this forum on the importance of investing in women’s entrepreneurship for the achievement of MDG3.

With fewer than five years left until the 2015 deadline for the MDGs, UNDP’s message is that the goals can be met – but to achieve them investment in women and girls is vital. I have often described that as a breakthrough strategy for the MDGs in itself, because of the multiplier effects of the advancement of women across the goals.

For example:

  • Meeting a woman’s need for sexual and reproductive health services will increase her chances of finishing her education and breaking out of poverty. Those services need more investment.
  • Providing a woman with just one extra year of schooling means that her children in turn will be less likely to die in infancy or suffer from illness or hunger. Girls education needs more investment.
  • Enabling women to hold land title and to inherit lifts their status in their family and community, and gives them the economic base from which to transform their own and their children’s prospects. Women’s legal rights need to be strengthened.

Women’s economic empowerment is central to gender equality and to MDG achievement. Supporting women to start their own businesses, or expand existing ones, empowers them, reduces inequality, and stimulates economic growth.

Let me comment briefly on three aspects of supporting women’s economic empowerment in which UNDP is involved: providing access to financial services, improving legal rights, and reducing the time women spend on unpaid work.

To succeed as entrepreneurs, financial services need to be opened up to women.

In Africa, where women make up a majority of the agricultural labour force, it has been estimated that they receive less than ten per cent of all credit going to small farmers and only one per cent of the total credit for the agricultural sector.

UNDP supports a range of programmes to empower women through access to finance, some in partnership with the private sector. Some examples:

  • In Kenya, UNDP partnered with Equity Bank, UNIDO, ILO, and the Ministry of Finance to establish the Fanikisha Initiative. It enables women to access credit and provides entrepreneurial skills training;

  • In Timor-Leste, UNDP supported an initiative for vocational and enterprise development training, micro credit, and job placement services. It reached more than 10,000 people, 77 per cent of whom were women; and
  • In Nepal, a major UNDP microfinance programme helped create over eight thousand new entrepreneurs, of whom 68 per cent were women.
In many countries, legal hurdles stand in the way of women accessing financial services. For example, there are banks which require a male co-signatory when a woman seeks to open an account.

Closely linked to access to finance therefore is the need for strengthening the legal status and rights of women.

Women’s rights to own land and property and to inherit are often limited by social norms and customs, as well as by law. The result is not only the denial of opportunity to produce and earn income, but also the lack of collateral for accessing financial and credit services. 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 governments to strengthen women’s legal rights so that they are consistent with international norms and standards. Our initiative on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor seeks to expand poor people’s access to justice overall, so that they can use the law to advance their rights and interests.

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.

Another constraint on women’s entrepreneurship is the disproportionate burden of unpaid work which they carry. That limits their choices and the time they have to generate income. The HIV epidemic which brings with it higher family care loads has exacerbated this burden.

UNDP works in programme countries to establish the impact of unpaid work on development, what interventions can lessen the load women carry, and how unpaid work can be more equitably shared between men and women.

For example, in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal, we have worked with partners to provide diesel-powered generators in villages which, among other benefits, speeds up the time spent on domestic chores. During my visit to Burkina Faso last year, I witnessed first-hand how that helps to reduce the time women devote to domestic work - often by two to six hours every day. This leaves women more time for work which generates income and frees up time for girls to go to school.

In summary, efforts to promote women’s entrepreneurship must include tackling the many barriers women face, including their limited access to financial services; inferior legal rights and status; and the disproportionate burden of unpaid work.

Today’s forum is an excellent opportunity to share experiences and identify solutions, thereby helping us all to unleash the entrepreneurial talents of women in the developing world. 

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