From left ro right, MICHAELA WALSH, Founder of Women's World Banking and first woman manager of Merrill Lynch International, RUPA MANEL SILVA, Founder of the Women's Bank of Sri Lanka and 2007 Laureate of the WWSF Prize for Women's Creativity in Rural Life, JUAN SOMAVIA (center), Director-General of the ILO, EVELYN OPUTU, Managing Director of the Nigerian Bank of Industry and former Executive Director of First National Bank and AGNES JONGERIUS, President of the Trade Union Confederation of the Netherlands and Vice President of the ITUC. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
In his opening statement, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said: "We at the ILO will continue to strive for gender equality and respect for the rights of individuals in the world of work. We are committed to working with governments, employers and workers towards the goal of promoting decent work for women and men alike...On this International Women's Day, we reaffirm that by championing women's rights and investing in decent work, we are empowering societies and advancing the cause of economic and social development for all". Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
International Women's Day 2008 - Smart women, right decisions: a recipe for decent work. The event was attended by a large number of representatives from the United Nations and specialized agencies, NGOs, the diplomatic missions, other partner organizations, and by the Swiss authorities and the Geneva community. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
MICHAELA WALSH still remembers how some businessmen would laugh at her when she talked about offering micro loans to people as a way of alleviating poverty. "I had bankers tell me that it wouldn't be relevant in the banking world, that it would never be profitable business", recalls Ms Walsh, who started out her career as an intern in Merrill Lynch in the United States before becoming the first woman manager of the company.
Ms. Walsh stuck to her idea and in 1976 was one of the founding members of Women's World Banking (WWB), New York, an initiative which provides small loans and other financial services to poor women entrepreneurs around the world.
"This was long before anybody started talking about microfinance", says Ms Walsh. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
Ms. Walsh: Today, WWB and its network of members provide support, advice, training and information to about 9 million poor entrepreneurs around the world, 70 per cent of them women. Not only that, microfinance is increasingly being provided by sustainable institutions. The Women's World Banking is good example of how investing in decent work for women is not just right, but smart - the theme of this year's International Women's Day. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
AGNES JONGERIUS, President of the Trade Union Confederation of the Netherlands and Vice President of the ITUC. "We are especially concerned with the position, worldwide, of women in the labour market, and with the question in what way the Decent Work Agenda can improve this position". "A worldwide survey into the wage gap between women and men was commissioned by the ITUC. The results show that between women and men, there is an average wage gap of 16.5 per cent. From this outcome "I would say: the world does not appreciate the work women do. The world does not appreciate the work that highly-educated women do, and most of all, it doesn't appreciate the work that older women, with a respectable service record, do. They might as well stop working". Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
"My mother was forced to give up her job the day she got married. That's what the law was in those days", says Agnes JONGERIUS. "But she and many other women like her had laid the way for my generation of women to move ahead...and work with passion and pleasure to aspire for and achieve what we believe in". "There is work to be done. Women constitute more than half of the world population. But this world is a man's world...We have the facts, we know what goes wrong and we know how to make changes. What we need now is the political will. I commit myself to this cause. You can and may count on me". Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
EVELYN OPUTU, Managing Director of the Nigerian Bank of Industry and former Executive Director of First National Bank. "I was lucky. In a society where girls did not traditionally follow the path of education but went the way of getting married, my father thought differently. He treated his daughters like sons and he gave us the best education possible, without putting pressure so that those who wanted to continue in the traditional manner could do so". Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
Since Ms Oputu's assumption of office in late December 2005, BOI
has embarked on a number of initiatives designed to facilitate the
attainment of the Millennium Development Goals in Nigeria. Accordingly, the bank's investment portfolio is being expanded mainly in favour of Small and Medium Enterprises in view of their higher multiplier effects per unit of investments. A Department has also been established to address the requirements of women entrepreneurs. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
RUPA MANEL SILVA, Founder of the Women's Bank of Sri Lanka was one of five siblings born to a rural family who dreamed of sending all of their children to university. But the death of her father sent the family into deep economic crisis. "My mother considered giving us marriage as a means of easing her burdens... I married in 1978 and went to live in Colombo. I was 19 at the time", she recalls.
"When a woman has no other opportunity to engage in some social activity other than contacts with the people around her, she is invariably confined to the kitchen", adds Ms Silva, who despite these constraints started collaborating with the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) to carry out development projects where she lived. Due to her leadership skills, she was soon encouraged to set up a small women's banking team, a type of organization that already existed in Sri Lanka. And the rest followed. Photo:ILO/Crozet M.
Employment can take many forms, but as Ms Silva likes to stress, "if women are treated fairly and with respect, and are given the chance to take decisions and be responsible for their actions, then decent work becomes a reality". Photo:ILO/Crozet M.