This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
The Working Women's Forum (WWF) started in 1978 in Madras, India, as an intermediary for official lending institutions, helping women through bank bureaucracy and guaranteeing their loans. It has a credit programme that lends to individual women in poor communities, but through community-based groups. Loans are small, but a beneficiary takes a new loan on completion of payment of the previous one. The WWF's experience has been that the priorities of the women change as their economic situation improves with each successive loan. WWF now has its own credit cooperative society for women because the banks were not flexible enough its women clients. Even with the credit cooperative, the WWF has had to fight against conventional procedures and requirements -- for example, making groups rather than individuals responsible for loans was against existing government rules governing savings cooperatives.
The World Women's Bank provides a loan guarantee programme, which serves as a stimulus for economic and industrial growth within local communities. It acts as guarantor in assisting women entrepreneurs set up in the small business sector and provides technical and managerial assistance.
UNIFEM offers access to credit by women entrepreneur groups and has a special credit adviser responsible for the design of multi-million dollar projects. UNIFEM has been able to help thousands of low-income women entrepreneurs obtain credit by working through NGOs in poor communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, when the vast majority of these women would not qualify for loans through formal banking channels. For instance, in Tanzania, UNIFEM provided a low-income women entrepreneur basic business training and a loan. She was able to buy a pair of donkeys and a cart, and then successfully established herself in the transportation business. UNIFEM and ACCION International provided standby letters of credit to banks in Bolivia and Colombia to leverage secondary lines of credit totalling more than 1.8 million dollars for small loans to women entrepreneurs. This enabled 3,123 women in Colombia and 1,890 women in Bolivia to draw short term loans of up to 450 dollars each to start small businesses. In 1993, there were no reported losses by the banks in either country. UNIFEM efforts led to the launching of an International Coalition on Women and Credit (ICOWAC) in October 1993, in order to have a unified voice to best serve womens' interest for financial services, most immediately at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in August-September 1995. Objectives include among others: expanding the range of alternative financial institutions and models for delivering credit to poor women; and to advocate for women's access to finance. The Coalition represents over 200 organizations worldwide which serve the credit needs of more than 3 million women entrepreneurs.
Regular UNDP programming includes projects in the sector of credit in which the participation of women is encouraged.
4. There are now many successful credit schemes from which experience can be drawn. What is needed is the recognition of the special problems of women in acquiring finance her needs and the political will to do something about it. Also the involvement of women in relevant policy-making, decision-making and the provision of training and information.