Thursday, March 1, 2012

Panel 1 – Economic Empowerment of Rural Women

I am more accustomed to reading news and post-conference reports than actually watching political events live. So watching the CSW panels has been a learning experience for me. It was interesting to see the format that the event took. The panelists from Algeria, Pakistan, Finland, Kenya, and IFAD (an international organization) each presented on the projects and efforts that their governments or organizations have undertaken and raised many of the concerns and issues of economic disparity for rural women.

Ms. Malika Abdelali-Martini, from Algeria and representing the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, had one of the most informative presentations, raising the main points and findings from the Expert Group Meeting on enabling women's economic empowerment. She pointed out the contrasting results of microfinance systems which, on one hand, give women access to credit and increase their decision-making abilities, but on the other hand, can lead to debt problems, conflict between spouses, and increases in domestic violence. She also discussed the importance of land, not only as an economic and productive resource, but as a source of access, security, status and recognition. She brought up a number of recommendations including investing in off-farm care services for children, elderly, and person's with disabilities to free up family dependencies on male incomes or female caretaking in those circumstances, establishing awareness education programs so women know their rights, and creating quota's for women's participation in work and government.

The panelist from Pakistan, Ms. Shanaz Wazir Ali from the Office of the Prime Minister also had some interesting comments to make. She spoke about the land program her government has put in place which grants cultivatable land to women who have not previously had access to credit or owned land. She also mentioned that Pakistan offers microfinancing loans at interest rates that are lower than traditional ones and stressed the importance of access to financial education, agricultural services, and crop and health insurance that should come along with these credit opportunities.

Country and NGO representatives had the opportunity to make comments and raise questions after all the panelists spoke at which point a women from an NGO in Trinidad and Tobago talked about her organization's work to establish a regular mango festival. This got communities working on producing and selling products and foods related to mangoes in an effort to boost the local economy. The representative from Swaziland also made a memorable comment when he brought up his government's effort to create a women-only bank. Many other informative and productive thoughts and recommendations were offered throughout the session, setting a positive tone and direction for the many panels to follow!

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