Statement delivered by the Deputy Minister for Economic Development, Hon. Teresa Bellanova, at the Side Event on “Economic empowerment for rural women in the MENA region” —
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to this event organized by Italy and Tunisia in collaboration with UNIDO and UNWomen, which provides an extraordinary opportunity for us to jointly explore and discuss an issue that means a lot to my Country, such as the economic empowerment of rural women in the MENA region.
Italy, as many of you may know, has a long tradition of promoting women’s rights and gender equality. Through the hard work of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, we are committed to supporting women in numerous developing countries on a daily basis with programs and actions that are achieving very significant results, with a concrete positive impact.
Indeed, the Italian Government has been working in this sector for years, based on the belief that women and girls should not be seen merely as defenseless and passive beneficiaries of international aid provided by the more prosperous countries, but above all as agents for change, as actors in the sustainable development of their communities, capable of providing a decisive contribution to the resolution of crises. This is our approach, and we wish to continue supporting women’s empowerment all over the world in this manner.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed a significant increase in political instability and economic weakness, with a consequent rise of issues such as unemployment, migration, radicalization, conflicts and emergency situations, which radically changed the Mediterranean scenario. The decision to invest in women turns out to be all the more forward-thinking and wise today. It is necessary to invest in their creativity, in their special ability to convey development opportunities to their children, their families and their communities.
For this reason, gender mainstreaming is becoming a fundamental characteristic of most Italian development cooperation programs, in particular in the Mediterranean and Sub-Saharan Africa region.
Programs supporting women entrepreneurs have a strategic importance not only in order to strengthen the role of women in society, but also to promote long-term peace, stability and growth.
In this framework, the UNIDO initiative by the title “Promoting women’s economic empowerment for an inclusive and sustainable growth in the MENA region”, financed by the Italian Cooperation, is targeted to allowing the total fulfillment of women entrepreneurs in promoting economic growth in their country.
An important component of such initiative undoubtedly has been the involvement of women entrepreneurs’ organizations and local authorities in beneficiary countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Algeria. Indeed, I firmly believe that promoting the potential of women in the Mediterranean area requires the commitment of all stakeholders.
As became apparent after the implementation of this project, women entrepreneurs are faced with three main challenges: difficulties in accessing credit and markets, lack of training, lack of networks. Such challenges are further compounded by the cultural component, which up to this day still prevents women who wish to start a business from being taken seriously within their own countries.
It is fundamental, therefore, to work so as to change such perceptions and stereotypes. Awareness campaigns may turn out to be extremely beneficial in promoting positive role models for successful women’s entrepreneurship and accelerating a much-needed cultural shift.
In order to do that, we must strongly support the associations and cooperatives working on the field, as well the creation of networks, which can strongly encourage women to run the risks necessary in order to create and develop their own businesses, sharing skills and experiences.
The path towards gender equality and full empowerment of women is still long, but, also as a result of initiatives such as the above mentioned one, we are noticing encouraging signals in this direction. Women entrepreneurs can pave the way to peace and sustainable development in the MENA region: it is our duty to help them to do it.
As a representative of the Italian Government, I wish to mention in this occasion another initiative implemented in the Mediterranean region. In October 2017, Italy set up “Mediterranean Women Mediators Network”, one of the concrete initiatives implemented by the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry within the scope of its mandate within the Security Council as a non-permanent member. Recognizing the need to promote the involvement of women in the Mediterranean region, which is fundamental for global peace and stability, Women Mediators Network, a multi-year project, aims in the medium-long term to increase the number of women involved in the peace-building efforts, and to facilitate the appointment of mediators and special envoys at local and international level.
This network collaborates with other initiatives, such as the Network of Nordic Mediators, The FemWise-Africa Network of Mediators, led by the African Union, and the MedMed initiative on mediation, which Italy is also a part of. The Mediterranean Women Mediators Network is also included in the third Italian National Action Plan one women, peace and security for the 2016-2019 period.
In this respect, I am proud to remind you that the Italian Parliament – thanks in particular to a group of women parliamentarians, in this case as well – has allocated 2 million Euros to support the plan, which makes our country one of the very few countries which are beneficiaries of public funding for the implementation of thier own Action Plan. The plan also includes a number of initiatives aimed at increasing women’s involvement in the entire cycle of peace, protecting women and girls in conflict and post-conflict areas, enhancing cooperation with civil society, and strengthening strategic communication and defence.
As I have already highlighted, our goal is promoting the empowerment of women, making them protagonists in all of public, political and private life’s processes, in order to create fairer and more just societies, in which women can be free to express their full potential and contribute in an active and significant way to well-being of their Country.
Thank you for your attention, and good luck with your work to you all.