Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ambassador Sanders' Remarks on Women Empowerment

Ambassador Robin Reneé Sanders

Women and Access to Business Capital – Mitigating the Gender Gap in Nigeria's Emerging Market
National Centre for Women Development, Abuja
February 7, 2008

All Protocols Observed.

It is an honor for me to be with you here today, not only because we are only a month away from Women’s History Month, but also because February is Black History Month, a month that heralds not only the achievement of women in general, but the achievements of women of color in particular. I must also say it is wonderful to be in this center again as I was here when the center was first built in partnership with U.S. Government resources. So we have come full circle with this partnership program today between our two great countries.

Empowerment, Education, and Equality – women are making extraordinary contributions in these three areas … improving the welfare of their countries as political, social and economic leaders…and as vital voices for change. In my own country, women hold such leadership positions as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary of State, and heads of major corporations and small businesses alike.

I am proud to be the first woman to serve as the United States Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, where key members of my team are also women -- all working on the three E’s I just mentioned. These three things –empowerment, education and equality – are the foundation of what we are as women, what we want as women, and what we still need to achieve for women and young girls now and in the future.

I know and have seen in Nigeria that women in Nigeria are no different. I am proud to share the dais today with some of Nigeria's outstanding women leaders at all levels of government, business, and social sector levels. And I applaud your support of today's program. But we know that, although much has been accomplished, much remains to be done.

Investing in People is one of the central pillars of our framework for partnership with Nigeria. We understand the tremendous political, economic and social benefits that will result from the further empowerment, equality, and education of Nigerian women and young girls. I would like to take a moment to share with you a few examples of our work in these areas.

Political participation is the cornerstone of democracy, for women as well as men. The U.S. Government has supported, with technical assistance women candidates and aspirants of all political parties through training and networking. We have worked with political parties at the state and federal government levels to promote positive gender policies that encourage qualified women to seek and win elective office. US Government assistance has helped women participate fully in electoral reform issues to advocate for greater participation in the political process.

In the 2007 polls, for example, the U.S. Government helped increase the number of women in various elected positions by assisting with capacity building such as developing gender-specific policies, constituency outreach programs, and having their nomination fees waived. I know you feel as I do that more key frameworks need to be put in place such as a convention like the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which would be a significant step towards further unleashing the political, economic and social potential of the Nigerian women.

As you know, the economic empowerment of women is equally crucial to development. In Nigeria this is even more evident. While major corporations make headlines, it is a country's micro, small and medium sized enterprises that power rapid economic development and serve as the engine of growth – both in the formal and informal sectors – to address the most basic needs of women and the households they lead. The income they earn is vital to their households, providing food, healthcare, and education for their children. Women often, however, lack sufficient access to credit and other business resources necessary to invest in their enterprises and ensure sustained growth for their families and their communities.

Here too my government is providing support through a wide variety of activities, and again, let me share a few examples. We promote agricultural productivity for women farmers through assistance to the Women Farmers Advancement Network – a non-governmental, non-profit organization based in Kano and working across northern Nigeria. We provide technical assistance to microfinance institution partners in Edo and Bauchi States to provide credit and business development support to women in micro and small businesses. Women are also the primary beneficiaries of our Development Credit Authority program, which partners with local banks to ensure access to finance by providing loan guaranties for micro enterprise and agricultural activities.

And there are new ways on the horizon, such as gender budgeting, to help with empowerment. The U.S. is actively supporting gender budgeting, which is recognized as an important socio-economic tool for ensuring equity in the development process by addressing gender issues in public expenditures, and policy commitments.

Development is nothing without compassion. That is why I am especially proud of our support under the U.S. President's PEPFAR program that empowers women living with HIV/AIDS. We have a $15 billion HIV/AIDS program called PEPFAR helping women and orphans.

Women carry a disproportionate care-giving burden when family and community members become sick with AIDS or die from this disease. These burdens often fall on girls and young women, preventing them from obtaining an education and losing the potential for economic empowerment.
Our program addresses these issues and change lives for the better and forever as they ensure that women are able to lead productive lives, support their families and in the end decrease the number of children left orphaned in the society.

We must continue to work together so that the empowerment of women becomes the order of the day. I look forward to building upon the already firm foundation of partnership between our two great nations to advance these issues and provide more equality for women to participate fully in Nigeria's political, business and social sectors. I salute you as women today, I salute you as leaders today, and I salute the friendship and partnership between the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the people of the United States of America.
Thank you.