Rt. Honorable Prime Minister
Honorable Minister of Commerce,
Ambassador of the European Union to Eswatini,
UN Resident Coordinator,
Minister of Tinkundla
Business Women Eswatini Chairperson,
Business Eswatini President
Representatives from the business communities,
Representatives of non-governmental organizations and civil society,
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All protocols observe.
It is an honor and a privilege to be here with you today to celebrate International Day of Rural Women and to witness the unveiling of a new economic collaboration between Business Eswatini and the Village Communities. I am thrilled to join you as we take one more step on the road to creating equality for women in the workplace and across society.
Today we celebrate and honor women and girls living in rural areas for the key role they play in contributing to their families, their communities, and the economy. Not only do women in these rural communities grow the food that nourishes families and children, but women are the drivers of income generation for many rural families, and their contributions to improve the well-being and livelihoods of whole communities.
There are so many reasons why it is critical to break down social norms and cultural expectations that hold women back. For example, we heard at the World AIDS Day event yesterday how important achieving gender equality is to defeating HIV/AIDS. Equality between women and men is a human rights issue and it is a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.
As Eswatini strives to emerge from the COVID crisis, women are playing a key role in the economic recovery of the Kingdom. Investment in a woman is an investment in success, not only for her but for her family and community.
I commend Business Eswatini and the Vukani Bomake initiative for taking the workplace closer to women’s homes, and for giving rural communities the tools to turn themselves into prosperous hubs of economic activity. Under Vukani Bomake, for example, women are able to remain in their home areas, while still earning a living, which means they are more likely to use their earnings closer to home. This supports economic growth outside of the urban areas and creates an economic life raft for rural communities. Additionally, being able to stay in their home areas means that women are better positioned to care for their families.
We all know that Eswatini is facing a serious fiscal crisis—particularly now following the economic shocks wrought by the pandemic and civil unrest. In this moment especially, we must not forget that an economy loses by not harnessing the power of women. COVID has had a disproportionate impact on women, who often hold jobs that are more vulnerable to economic shocks and who are already in a weaker social position to challenge abuse and human rights violations.
We all recognize the economic potential of women and the role they can play in economic recovery and growth, and we must encourage and empower women leaders to invest in their potential and meet that challenge.
To do that, we have to actively break down barriers to women’s equality. Developing tools and partnerships such as the one announce today will help women tackle challenges in business, and this is a start. But we can and should go further. Together, we must continue to counter negative gender stereotypes, chip away at social norms that block women from participating in the economy across a huge range of sectors, and learn how to mentor the next generation of Swati women business leaders who will follow in this charge. These are achievable goals, and I am encouraged to see so many people here ready to support them.
Part of this effort is the drive to create space for women to join in the economic engine that powers this country. The U.S. government is proud to support this effort. Last year we launched a $1 million project which will empower women to participate more meaningfully in the economy. The project, called Women’s Employment for Economic Recovery in the wake of COVID, is already helping Emaswati women access credit, address legal and cultural barriers to women’s economic participation, and develop male allies to bolster and sustain these efforts. Many of its efforts focus on rural women, for example by giving them simple accessible tools to gain access to credit and financial services.
This project represents the largest package of bilateral assistance offered to Eswatini—outside of public health—in more than a decade, and it will go a long way in countering the adverse effects of the pandemic in Eswatini, which have severely damaged the economic situation of marginalized groups, particularly women.
The Vukani Bomake project is another example of the creative problem solving and practical drive that women can bring to overcoming challenges. It is my hope that the collaboration announced today with the Village communities will build on that collaboration. These kinds of ventures can have tremendous impact and should be amplified. We hope all will proactively work to bring more women to the tables where development and recovery plans are being made. Doing so will lift everyone across Swati society.
It is also vitally important that rural – and urban – young people be provided a sound education and afforded economic opportunity. The current political situation is deeply concerning, and has several drivers – economic, political, human rights, cultural, and service-related. His Majesty King Mswati III has committed to dialogue, and we hope that preparations begin now on the framework, in full collaboration with civil society. Inclusive, peaceful, and constructive dialogue on issues of concern to emaSwati will help this country be a land of opportunity for all.
I am so grateful that Business Eswatini is honoring rural business women in leadership this month and that you invited me to speak with you today. I am encouraged and inspired by the work you are doing to empower women in business, and I applaud the establishment of this new partnership which will invest in rural women.