US envoy tasks Malawi financial institutions to empower women

US Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer has challenged commercial banks and other financial institutions in the country to provide favorable credit facilities and develop policies and programs targeting rural women in order to financially empower them.

Palmer appreciate services of FMB bank

She made the remarks Friday in Lilongwe during a Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference organized by Feed The Future Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity and UN Women.

The conference aimed at strengthening linkages between policy holders and financial service providers to increase rural women farmers and entrepreneurs access to sustainable credit loans.

This comes against the background that Malawi’s agricultural sector is underperforming partly because women, who form the backbone to agriculture and rural economy, face constraints to access productive resources such as formal financing.

She urged commercial banks to realize the untapped potential lending sector in women in the agricultural sector.

“Women have a very high repayment rate and are doing incredibly great work. We need to look creatively at mechanisms by which they can prove they are credit worth and make sure they get access to finances so that they can grow those businesses,” said Palmer speaking to journalists.

On the other hand, Palmer said financial literacy and education for women is very important.

“If you are not financially literate, you cannot sustain (yourself) in the market place, manage to bargain and understand not to be taken advantage of.

“So girls do need to stay in school, which is a basic step on the road to women’s economic empowerment,” said Palmer.

With high interest rates being one of the challenges women are facing, Palmer said inflation is the worst thing for the poor people but said it was pleasing to note that things are heading in the right direction with rates are going down.

This she attributed to the good work that the government of Malawi has done to stay within its budget.

She added that time has come for people to stop taking the agricultural sector as an ordinary workplace but rather as the engine for the growth of Malawi’s economy, and also look at new ways to stimulate the sector.

UN Women Country representative, Clara Anyangwe in her remarks said the initiative to fight for financial inclusion for women is important for Malawian women because financial resources are the first thing needed to grow businesses.

“This is why we thought of bringing macro and micro financial institutions together to have a conversation in terms of the products and services that they have to ensure that resource poor women are financially included,” said Anyangwe.

She acknowledged that commercial banks in the country ask for high collateral security, like land which most women do not have.

For example, only around 3 percent of women in Malawi are registered as land owners.

“This is why we have the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) here. The RBM needs to have another discussion with financial institutions in terms of ensuring that the services that are provided (by these financial institutions) to women are tailored to the needs of women,” said Anyangwe.

In his remarks, Macdonald Mwale who is director of economic affairs in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning said it is important to include women in financial issues.

He however, said there are a lot of things financial institutions are doing to financially incorporate women but there is need to raise awareness of these services.

“On our side as government, we are the policy maker. So our emphasis is to make policies that are conducive for all these financial players, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs to do their work of economically empowering the women,” he said.

Other stakeholders that attended the conference included Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, First Merchant Bank, NBS, ECO bank, FINCA among other various NGOs.

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