Ambassador Encourages Women’s Economic Empowerment

  • Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare and other principal secretaries present here
  •  Governor, Reserve Bank of Malawi, Dr Dalitso Kabambe
  •  UN Women Country Representative, Ms Clara Anyangwe
  •  Chief Executive Officer – Bankers Association of Malawi, Mrs Violet Santhe and all commercial banks officials
  •  Chief Executive Officer – Malawi Network of Micro Finance Institutions, Mr Duncan Phulusa and all microfinance officials
  •  Ladies and gentlemen

 I am delighted to be with you today.  The topic you have come together to discuss couldn’t be more important to me, to Malawi, and frankly to the world economy.

 In many societies around the world, including here in Malawi, women continue to suffer from child marriage, domestic violence, unequal access to education, lack of title to land, and customs that construe women as weaker, incapable of the most important work and decisions.

 All of this in spite of the fact that women are the primary caregivers for children and the elderly, perform a majority of the work in the fields, maintain homes, and often, in addition, run small businesses.

Allow me to share some statistics from Malawi:

  •  Women hold only 11 percent of ministerial positions and women make up just nine percent of local councils and six percent of traditional leaders. (The United States doesn’t even do this well!)
  • In Malawi, 93 percent of women’s labor is unpaid. Women have a more difficult time gaining access to financial services and credit.
  • More than half of 18 year old girls are pregnant or mothers which significantly curtails their lifelong opportunities.
  • According to the UNDP’s 2016 African Human Development Report, only three percent of Malawian women are registered owners of commercial land, despite the fact that they constitute 70 percent of the agricultural workforce.

As Ivanka Trump said at the Global Women Entrepreneur’s Conference in India, we must “learn from each other and find new ways to lift barriers in our society so that women are free to innovate, empowered to succeed, and able to leave our children a brighter future.”

So what must we all do?

The Government and Reserve Bank of Malawi can stick to your commendable macro-economic discipline, which has lowered inflation rates and stabilized the kwacha, because when government over spending and borrowing squeeze credit markets, women entrepreneurs are often the first potential borrowers crowded out.

Malawi’s Financial Sector Development Strategy 2 launched on June 13 has financial inclusion as one of its six key pillars. I hope that resolutions from this meeting will help Government efforts to reduce the level of financial exclusion.

Implementation of the government’s comprehensive Adolescent Girls and Young Women Strategy (which if you can get it launched will be the second in the world!) will improve women’s education, health, and opportunities.

I hope that commercial banks will emerge from this meeting with a new understanding of the untapped potential in lending to women, particularly those in the agriculture sector, the engine of Malawi’s economy; that banks will analyse what percentage of your clients are women and their repayment rates compared to men.

I urge Malawian and international banks alike to develop policies and programs targeting women and increasing their access to banking services. It’s not just the right thing to do, it will make you money!

And for the entrepreneurs here today, I hope that you are taking measures to mentor the next generation of women entrepreneurs.

We must seize every opportunity to bring Malawi’s women fully into the civic and economic life of this country.  Mutu umodzi siusenze denga. (A roof isn’t held up with one pole)

 For our part, the United States recommits to include women’s empowerment components in every project that we support here in Malawi. To name but a few examples:

  • we will build dozens of new secondary schools this year
  • we have helped elevate women to leadership roles in Beach Village Committees, which are key to protecting fisheries in Malawi’s lakes.
  • we supported the development of the Farmers Union of Malawi’s Gender Strategy.

 Women’s empowerment is in the DNA of our programs.

And we will work with you to promote women’s access to finance, so that they are able to achieve their full potential as business leaders and farmers.

Financial capital, whether to buy land, equipment, livestock, or farm inputs, is the life blood of any business enterprise.  Just like a child with inadequate nutrition, businesses without sufficient financial capital are stunted or wither and die.  We must find a way to ensure that women have adequate access to the affordable capital they need.

None of us can rest until every woman in Malawi has a clear path to realize their full potential as family members, community leaders, business leaders, and political leaders.

Again, we need to do this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because when women prosper, their families prosper, their communities prosper, and Malawi will prosper.

Zikomo kwambiri!