Women power comes to Ethiopian banking
Capital Ethiopia, November 2009
By Muluken Yewondwossen
Prominent female Ethiopian professionals and entrepreneurs are to found a pioneering Women's Bank that will be fully controlled by women.
Last Friday, a founding meeting called by promoters of the new bank held talks about the gender-based bank with hundreds of women in the compound of the Belgian Embassy.
The organising committee is chaired by Meaza Ashenafi, one of the founders and former head of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), currently working with the UN.
Another organiser, Nigist Haile, executive director of the Centre for African Women's Economic Empowerment (CAWEE) said: "We discussed the idea several times before it came to fruition."
The Women's Bank has a vision to empower women economically by providing easier credit and to educate women about the workings of a banking system dominated by men.
"While the Women's Bank will aim at profit maximizing, it will deliver finance to women with suitable conditions," Nigist told the participants.
Banks require project documents of a specific nature to qualify for loans, explained Nigist, which are not necessarily accessible for women entrepreneurs. With this bank, one of the objectives is to advise and give information to women on how to prepare project documents that will be accepted by the financial institutions.
Currently, the country's financial sector is controlled by men, who dominate management positions at financial institutions. But the new Women's Bank will be controlled by women, who make up just over half of Ethiopia's population, although the bank will also be open to men.
The National Bank of Ethiopia has given a green light for the promoters who are now getting organised to open blocked accounts to go ahead with share sales. The organisers are also in the process of launching a share sale for Ethiopian women in and out of the country.
According to one of the promoters Capital talked to, some Ethiopian women who live out of the country have promised to participate in the new enterprise.
The promoters have not yet disclosed the amount of capital they intend to raise, or the minimum and maximum investment.
Participants at the event, which included major business owners, were fascinated by the idea of the promoters.
According to studies referred to at the meeting, Ethiopian women entrepreneurs have a lot of problems to secure finance from financial institutes due to a lack of information on banking procedures.
This kind of gender-based bank is familiar in developed countries, but not common in Africa. The culture of women being denied their rights has been broken down in many countries in the world and their economic contributions to their nation are growing. They have also begun to possess property and while their ownership of property is still low, they have the potential to play a greater role in the economy than men.
The Economic Empowerment of Women in the developing world is central to the work of Cherie Blair's Foundation.
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