“Gender parity is the greatest human rights’ challenge of our time”, declared António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, during the inauguration of the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62), celebrated each year in New York. It gathers the leading voices in women empowerment advocacy from different sectors, all over the world. Among them, Laura Fernández Lord joined the event as the representative of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF). In one of her interventions, she confirmed that, “1 in every 3 female entrepreneurs served by the Foundation in Latin America live in rural areas and 4 out of 5 are vulnerable.”
This year, rural women and girls are the central theme of the CSW62, with a special focus on the opportunities offered by new technologies to achieve the ultimate goal of the United Nations 2030 Agenda: leaving no one behind. “Women in rural areas need innovative technology and connectivity. They need access to credit, among others”, assured Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director for UN Women, during the event’s opening.
According to a report by the United Nations Foundation, the financial sector’s role in contributing to gender equality is key because through digital inclusion, it can break down barriers imposed to women when accessing the financial system. These barriers include the lack of products customized to fit women’s needs, difficulty to access the few adequate products that do exist and the social norms that hinder female economic participation.
“To reach them, we design specific financial products and services that meet their needs like Agromujer in Dominican Republic, which includes mentoring and financial education”, added the BBVAMF representative.
One priority is to apply innovation to reach more people, and serve them better. “For our microfinance officers, it could take hours to reach a rural client. They travel with a tablet or a mobile phone so they could perform transactions during their visits to clients’ home-enterprises. This allows the clients to be familiarized with technology and in time, to close the digital divide”, concluded Laura Fernández Lord.
More than half of the 2 million clients served by the Foundation are women; women who, hailing from 5 different Latin-American countries, decide to undertake a business so they could progress. Their assets, sales and loans are about 20 to 30% less than those of their male counterparts, but they prosper more rapidly: they represent 80% of the BBVAMF’s entrepreneurs who have abandoned poverty since 2015. These women greatly demonstrate how with very little resources to start with, one can achieve progress.