Launch of the first Zimbabwe Women‘s Microfinance Bank - UN Resident Coordinator's Statement

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  • Your Excellency Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe,
  • Honourable K. Mohadi, Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe,
  • Honourable S. Nyoni, Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development,
  • Honourable M.  Chikukwa, Minister of Metropolitan Harare Province,
  • Honourable Ministers, Senior Government Officials and Members of Parliament present
  • Your Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Community,
  • Ms. Mandas Marikanda, Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank Limited Chief Executive Officer 
  • My colleagues from the United Nations System in Zimbabwe,
  • Representatives, from the Private Sector, Academia, Civil Society, and the Media
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, all protocols observed:

25 June 2018, Harare - Good morning. I am deeply honoured and privileged to be here at this important event. Thank you so much, Honourable Minister Noni for the kind invitation extended to the UN Family. 

Your Excellency and Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me congratulate the Government of Zimbabwe for this big milestone on the establishment of the first women’s bank. Makorokoto  Umhlope.

With only 27% of women having access to formal banking products and accounting only for 10% of total bank loans, a dedicated microfinance bank for women can significantly contribute to the empowerment of women.

We are proud to have been partnered in this important process along with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, the Ministry of Finance, and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

The opening of the Zimbabwe Women ‘s Microfinance Bank under the theme, Leaving No one Behind, resonates well with the global, regional and national development priorities, attuned to on-going global commitments towards sustainable development goals and achievement of gender equality.

I am sure this initiative would go a long way in facilitating women entrepreneurship, self-employment, creating job opportunities and breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. 

The launch of the bank will also greatly complement the global Spotlight initiative by the UN Secretary General and the European Union to end violence against women and girls. The multimillion dollar initiative includes Zimbabwe among other 22 countries in recognition of Zimbabwe’s strong commitment to end violence against women and girls in partnership with UN and development partners. The bank will go a long way, in this regard, as economic emancipation surely will contribute to women’s social and political emancipation.

Your Excellency, the President:

Empowerment of women is a human right and equality issue, consistent with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The values of gender equality are enshrined in Zimbabwe’s progressive Constitution. This is smart economics and a good business case too.  I also admire the people of Zimbabwe including Parliamentarians and Civil Society across the socio, economic and political divide, who have been pushing in solidarity for the establishment of a women ‘s bank.

The far-reaching ramifications of marginalizing women go far beyond women, with dire consequences to the present and long-term human development. In addition to other underlying factors, there is considerable evidence that gender inequality, plays a significant role in the slow growth performance in many developing countries.

According to the UNDP Africa Human Development Report 2016, Sub-Saharan Africa loses around $95 billion a year due to gender inequality, jeopardizing the continent's efforts for economic growth and development. The loss is equivalent to six per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2014 alone, the losses peaked at $105billion.

Some of the reasons cited in the Africa Human Development Report 2016 for this loss include deeply-rooted structural obstacles like unequal distribution of resources and political power, capped with social institutions that sustain inequality, which are holding back African women, and the continent. Africa will fail to meet their poverty reduction targets unless gender inequality that has proven to be costing billions of dollars is tackled.

We hope that the establishment of the women’s microfinance bank will help address inequalities in accessing labour market, accumulation of assets and access to basic services, among others.   

Your Excellency, the President:

According to the World Bank, globally, about 2 billion adults, majority of them women by far, remain unbanked — without an account at either a financial institution or through a mobile money provider.

Under these circumstances, offering specialized banking services specifically targeting women is becoming a viable option for empowering women. Well known Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, a pioneer in microfinance with a new concept targeting women, was established in 1983.

 In Africa, countries such as Ethiopia   and Rwanda, are investing more in women and youth empowerment strategies including special banks and services.  Ethiopia’s first Women‘s Bank, ENAT, was established in 2013 with most investments coming from women and run by women.  The W-initiative by Access Bank in Rwanda connects and empowers women in business across the continent. The Malaika Women’s Account is designed exclusively to suit the financial requirements and lifestyle of women. Zimbabwe is therefore on the right path. 

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We all know that the financial sector is a very sensitive industry to policy changes, both locally and globally, operating environment and regulatory norms.   This means the success and sustainability of the bank will be hinged upon, amongst others, continued observance of good corporate governance, accountability and transparency.  As we move onto the next development stage it is paramount to observe the standard banking practices and norms under a strong set of banking regulations to ensure their financial health.

Women Banks have the advantage of a well-behaved customer base. According to the World Women Banking, in Kenya income earning poor women with savings accounts invest 45% more per day in their businesses, and spent 10-20% more on food and about 30% more on personal items within six months of opening their accounts. In Nepal, in my own country, women with savings accounts tend to increase their monetary assets by 40% after just four months of opening the accounts and were buying more livestock. I can confidently attest that this Microfinance Bank could contribute immensely not only to women empowerment but also overall economic growth as we have seen in most Asian countries.

Economically empowered women have spill over effects on the economy at large. They tend to invest more in education and health of both the boys and the girls in the family building a firm foundation for women‘s equal participation in the labour market and various decision-making positions in the economy and politics.

A hybrid of lessons drawn from Africa and Asia in the Zimbabwe Women ‘s Microfinance Model, will help in the adaptation and modifications of financial products to the country context, targeting key economic sectors such as agriculture and mining.

The inclusive approach already adopted, targeting women at various entrepreneurial levels including at the very micro level, where most women, majority in the remote rural areas, are concentrated is very commendable.

Lack of collateral is a key constraint to accessing financial services by women. I am glad to see that the bank has put in place extraordinary measures to manage this hurdle. It is only through eliminating such barriers and reaching out to the furthest in remote areas that we can achieve our goal of LEAVING NO ONE BEHIND.   

The UN and its development partners are actively engaged in empowering women holistically through various programmes including sustainable livelihoods, resilience building, social services such as health, education, protection through cash transfer and eliminating violence and harmful practices.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that getting the formal financial institutions to reach out to women in a big way by eliminating barriers such as collateral requirements are critical. This might require changing inheritance laws, co-sharing risks with spouse and other innovative means.

Let’s work together, to make this happen. I wish the Zimbabwe Women ‘s Microfinance Bank a successful journey in its endeavor to empower women through enhanced financial inclusion.

Congratulations once again.

Mr Bishow Parajuli is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Zimbabwe