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Women economic empowerment key to gender equality

Much of the 20th century has been characterised by agitation for the promotion of equality and equity for women, who have for a long time played at the periphery of society. Great strides have been made, including voting rights for women in most countries and an increase in their numbers in decision-making organs. But women still continue to play second-fiddle to their male counterparts and many attempts to raise issues are seen as an attack on and an affront to men. The net result of this is an adversarial debate, with one side defending its turf from real and imagined attack, while the women come off looking defensive and unnecessarily confrontational. In the end, nobody wins.

Yet the truth of the matter is that a society that continues to lock out half of its population from accessing economic and social privileges cannot achieve its fully potential and therefore truly prosper. Rhetoric must be matched with attendant action. The right policies and actions must be put in place by those in positions of power in the public and private sectors to give women the hand up they need to stake their rightful place at the economic and political tables.

For the past 46 years, Barclays Kenya has walked the talk on this issue by implementing policies both within the organisation and the larger society to promote the gender agenda. We were the first bank in the country to promote a woman — Agatha Obare — to the position of branch supervisor in 1972 and another — Mary Okello — to branch manager in 1977. In 2014, we became the first listed company to achieve a 50:50 male to female representation at the board level.

Through the Women Network Forum and the Diversity and Inclusion Council, we are actively implementing programmes that have resulted in an increase in the number of women working for the bank, which currently stands at 48 per cent of the total employee population. This is in addition to increasing the number of women in leadership positions within the bank. We continue to make the necessary investments and policy decisions in order to ensure that we increase the female participation within the bank.

Within the larger society, we recognise the important role that economic empowerment plays in accelerating equality. By leveraging our core expertise as a bank, we are constantly seeking opportunities that enable us to promote access to more economic opportunities for women through our business and citizenship activities.

In July 2016, Barclays Kenya launched a partnership with the International Trade Centre to equip 10,000 local women entrepreneurs with new skills and connect them to international trade opportunities by 2020 through a programme called SheTradesKE.

SheTrades is a global ITC initiative aiming to connect one million women entrepreneurs to market by 2020. It is supported by a website and mobile application where women entrepreneurs can link and trade with buyers globally in order to correct the existing international trade imbalance, which favours men. According to a McKinsey report, advancing women’s equality could add $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025 — equivalent to adding a new United States and China. However, according to ITC data, women are only in charge of one in five export companies.

The Kenyan franchise is one of the most successful of all the SheTrades initiatives being undertaken by the ITC. Since inception, the programme has made significant achievements, including training about 2,000 women on various business issues. These include, but are not limited to, succession planning, financial management and getting your business investor-ready, among others. We have also exposed more than 50 women to international trade through our business club trips and our travel partners. The bank has also disbursed Sh340 million in loans to 191 women entrepreneurs.

As a bank, our shared growth philosophy recognises the intertwined nature of the needs of society and the bank’s interests and challenges us to answer to a higher purpose beyond the bottom line and SheTradesKE is a clear demonstration of this.

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