, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 20 – Renowned advocate for women and children’s rights Graca Machel is challenging African governments to invest in women as they come up with revival plans to reshape and reform their financial systems after the global financial crunch.
Mrs Machel who was speaking during the final day of the first African Women’s Economic Summit on Saturday said the economic power held by women over the next decade would exceed the Gross Domestic Product of China and India combined further emphasising the need to increase women participation in economic plans.
She added that the empowerment of women was not just a developmental matter but an economic one adding that women were the next emerging market.
“We cannot and will not take up our rightful position at the world table unless and until we are able to forge the partnerships here at home that utilise more fully African women as valued partners in ensuring Africa’s future prosperity,” her speech read in part.
She further explained that institutions which were willing to engage women as the next business arena to venture in, would reap economic benefits in the future, “It is only with the full participation of women in economic activities that Africa can find truly sustainable solutions to its developmental challenges.”
Mrs Machel also argued that Africa could not afford to ignore women’s economic potential as they represented about half of the world’s population. She further said discounting women’s financial productivity would be tantamount to preventing half of humanity from reaching its full potential.
“To discriminate against women is economic folly. Investing in women differently makes sense not only because it is the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. Providing women with financial access to finance, designing financial products that respond to the needs of the poor and creating the policy environment in which financial institutions can flourish present core developmental challenges that we can and must overcome,” she said.
The wife to former South African President Nelson Mandela also said there was a strong correlation between the extent to which women were empowered and integrated into the mainstream economy and a country’s economic competitiveness.
“The question now is what are we going to do with the vast body of data that supports investing in women? The evidence is irrefutable; expanding women’s participation in the financial sector is not just about demonstrating a commitment to diversity. It has powerful measurable results,” she said.
She however noted that women’s presence at the highest levels of institutions that were presently restructuring the global financial systems was still absent. She explained that the reforms which were currently underway would fundamentally impact the profitability and business models for many banks.
“As a result we will feel the impact here in Africa and the poor and marginalised in our society will feel it even more. Where are the vital voices of women in this discourse?” she posed.
Mrs Machel also called for more leadership opportunities for women especially in financial institutions saying it was only when women were given the freedom and encouragement to become leaders in their own right that they would start to control their destinies.
“It is true that numerous institutions are grappling with the challenge of how to increase women’s involvement but those efforts are minimal in scale and impact.”
She further noted that according to the International Monetary Fund Africa was expected to grow by 4.8 percent- the highest rate of growth outside Asia and even higher than Brazil’s, Russia’s and Mexico’s.
“In fact on a per capita basis Africans are already richer than Indians and a dozen African states have higher gross national incomes per capita than China. The rapidly emerging African middle class could number as many as 300 million out of a total population of one billion over the next decade. The majority of these people will be women,” she said adding that Africa could achieve more if it harnessed and realised the untapped economic potential of Africa’s women.