'Women are vital agents of change'

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Delivered by: 

Sir Suma Chakrabarti, EBRD President


London, UK


Trust Women conference

Participation of women is key to building democracy

Good morning

I am very pleased to welcome all of you to this joint EBRD and Women for Women International event.

This is the third year we have jointly organised a forum where representatives of International Financial Institutions, national governments, the UN, academia and, of course, Civil Society come together to discuss gender equality.

Let me begin by highlighting the new working relationship between the EBRD and the Cherie Blair Foundation which is a notable result from last year’s meeting.

Since October of last year, EBRD’s Small Business Support Team (SBS) has been partnering with the Cherie Blair Foundation to give women entrepreneurs the opportunity to gain additional business support and exposure to global networking through the Foundation’s mentoring programme.

To date, 25 SBS clients from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia are benefitting from peer-to-peer learning with mentors from across the globe. I am very pleased to announce that the cooperation with the foundation is due to be expanded to offer mentoring as an integral part of SBS Women-in-Business initiatives in other countries as well.

Both the EBRD and Women for Women International are deeply engaged in the gender impact of the rule of law and its application. Together, we are working to ensure that women have equal access to economic opportunities.

Equality of opportunity is a fundamental feature of a modern, well-functioning market economy and contributes to the efficient allocation of resources and inclusive growth.

The adopting of the Strategic Gender Initiative (SGI) this April reaffirmed EBRD’s commitment to promote gender and equal opportunities, with a focus on tackling inequalities, including access to employment and skills, access to services and access to finance.

Specifically, the EBRD is working on addressing barriers to women’s access to finance such as lack of collateral, inadequate access to advisory services, and relationships with commercial banks.

We face many challenges.

The key is identifying which legal barriers to women’s economic empowerment need to be removed. That knowledge will help us better deliver our projects and to ensure women are equally benefitting from them.

To better understand the gender impact of the application of legal frameworks on financial inclusion, the Bank has commissioned a study on “Legal barriers to women’s access to credit in Morocco and the Kyrgyz Republic”.

The study, which was prepared by the Law and Development Partnership, who are with us today, and which will be discussed by Michaela Bergman shortly, highlights the most relevant legal differentiations in access to credit in both countries.

One of the study’s main findings was the impact that unequal inheritance laws can have on women’s ability to accumulate capital and offer collateral for loans.

As you will hear shortly from Dr Augosto Lopez Claros, the latest Women, Business and the Law report, published last year by the World Bank, shows that legal frameworks in Eastern Europe and Central Asia do not actually impose many restrictions on women.

There are no restrictions on women signing a contract, opening a bank account, travelling abroad or managing and owning property. The region also performs well on access to justice and access to credit by having credit bureaus and registries with wider coverage.

Research by the EBRD’s Office of the Chief Economist clearly demonstrated that almost all of the countries where the EBRD works have fair labour policies which treat men and women equally.

Much has been achieved in terms of gender equality. But, unfortunately, these achievements are now at risk.

Yes, de jure, women in this region face little or no legal restrictions compared to their peers in other parts of the world. But, de facto, problems such as lack of access to affordable child care due to declining state funding, or lack of collateral and/or financial literacy are undermining women’s economic and financial inclusion.

As elsewhere in the world, in Eastern Europe and Central Asia women often receive less pay for the same work as men.

Gender pay gaps are persistent across the region: between 2004 and 2011 women on average earned 36 per cent less than men in Central Asia and around 33 per cent less in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

So, even if laws are overall perceived to be gender neutral, their application, particularly with respect to labour practices, is a matter of concern to us all.

Some of the countries with the starkest legal differences in the way men and women are treated are in the southern and eastern Mediterranean, what we at the EBRD call the SEMED region.

You won’t find these differences spelt out in their constitutions or labour codes. These generally treat women equally to men.

But they are there in legislation such as the Personal Status Code or Family Law.

The constitution considers women to be fully fledged citizens. But, in the real world, they are often unable to exercise their rights as citizens.

To give you an illustration of this, between 1998 and 2006, the percentage of young Egyptian women with a university degree rose from 6 to 12 per cent. Strikingly, the female labour force participation rate in this age group remained near-stagnant. And their unemployment rate actually increased from 19 per cent to 27.

Moreover, labour codes rarely protect women working in the informal sector. However, that is precisely the sector where many women in our countries of operations actually work.

The EBRD has embraced gender equality as central to the way we do business. We have worked with our clients to not only increase the numbers of women employed but to improve their career paths when recruited with clients as diverse as a Ferry company in Istanbul (IDO) and Petrom Oil and Gas company in Romania.

We are working with our partner banks in Turkey, such as Garanti, and YKB, to support women entrepreneurs both by supporting dedicated credit lines and providing training into them. We hope to continue to do this in the SEMED region.

We will continue to seek equal opportunities for both women and men with targeted gender action plans as part of our financing.

Without gender equality we cannot achieve what is at the very heart of the post-2015 development agenda, namely inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.

I will go further. It is our responsibility as part of the international community to coordinate our efforts to unlock the potential of gender equality to create a better future for everyone.

Thank you again for joining us today. I look forward to hearing more about the day’s proceedings and wish you engaging and fruitful discussions.


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