‘Banks need to change to empower women’

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iol pic SS_Graca Machel1110 Reuters Gra�a Machel, the Mozambican wife of Nelson Mandela. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg -

Former first lady and Mozambican education minister Graça Machel’s advocacy work in women’s financial inclusion will not extend to a return to active mainstream politics.

She was speaking exclusively to Independent Newspapers on the edges of the African Development Bank’s Women’s Economic Summit in Lusaka, Zambia, on Friday.

Since the death of her husband Nelson Mandela, Machel has returned to public life.

On Friday she revealed research carried out by her foundation on the provision of capital to women entrepreneurs in Africa.

The Machel Trust - through its advocacy group, New Faces, New Voices - studied women’s agricultural co-operatives in the former first lady’s home country of Mozambique as well as Zambia, where the summit is taking place.

On Friday, however, Machel said banks and financiers needed to work faster to change in order to make women empowerment a reality.

“This movement is not about meeting or talking. It’s a culture of interrogating ourselves - are we doing what we are meant to be doing,” Machel said.

“The pledges by institutions are to look in and question the products they have. Are they adequate?”

Later on Saturday the summit will see financial institutions and businesses - including Barclays bank and Absa - pledging targets of loans to women.

“This is what Absa, Nigeria, Zambia are doing in terms of numbers. But we (as the trust) want to be part of restructuring of the financial sector. Bringing women’s needs to the centre of where decisions are made,” she said. “Pledges are helpful for measuring progress. We have to measure and change, and ask are we moving fast enough?”

But Machel - who has been outspoken in demanding that institutions pick up the pace of change - said it wasn’t enough that banks were offering women loans of R100 000.

Instead she wanted to see “big money”, she told journalists during a briefing with president of the African Development Bank, Dr Donald Kaberuka, who is a former Rwandan finance minister.

“One of the issues with New Faces, New Voices is we want to be professional.

“(But) governments, financial institutions never took the trouble to ask women what they need; and how?

“We want big money; money that’s affordable. Banks say R5 000, R50 000, R100 000 - it’s ok. But it’s not good enough.”

But Machel quashed speculation that her work was part of a mounting campaign to return to active politics in Mozambique.

“No! I won’t go back to government. Women entrepreneurs must lobby the public sector and state institutions. That is the link. But I won’t go into government.”

- Saturday Star


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