Under the patronage and with the presence of His Excellency Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and with the participation of His Excellency Governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) Mr. Azzam Shawwa, the Palestine International Banking Conference 2017 inaugurated Monday morning in Jericho. Titled “Women Banking,” the conference was held by PMA in cooperation with the Association of Banks in Palestine (ABP), the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Palestinian Credit Guarantee Foundation. In attendance of the conference were His Excellency Governor of Jericho Majed Al-Fatyani, representatives of the banking system in Palestine on the regional and general managers’ level, representatives of Microfinance Institutions, heads of the Chambers of Commerce, economic experts, academicians from Palestinian universities and representatives of international institutions.
Speaking on behalf of His Excellency President Mahmoud Abbas, H. E. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah expressed his gratitude for the distinguished local and international experts for their valuable contribution to furthering women empowerment, facilitating women’s access to funding sources, accelerating growth and reducing poverty and unemployment.
Hamdallah stated that the National Strategy of Financial Inclusion would contribute to the implementation of the policies aimed to encourage women to be active economically. He added that he is looking forward to an effective role by financial and banking institutions in improving women’s conditions, closing the gender gap in funding, establishing policies and facilities that would be more responsive to women’s needs and developing nontraditional services that would place women and female entrepreneurs in their proper place in terms of development efforts. He hoped that technology would be used and adapted to ensure access to comprehensive and integrated financial services.
Hamdallah concluded his speech by commending the PMA and its Governor Mr. Azzam Shawwa for their efforts to hold this well-organized and well-attended banking conference. He also commended participants for their invaluable expertise and knowledge. He expressed his hopes that enhancing women’s participation would contribute to pushing the Palestinian people away from poverty and unemployment and achieving prosperity and progress.
In his opening speech, H.E. PMA Governor Azzam Shawwa welcomed H.E. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and thanked him for inaugurating the conference. He also thanked the organizing partners for their persistent efforts and support in developing the Palestinian banking sector with the purpose of boosting the levels of financial stability and economic growth.
Governor Shawwa stressed the crucial importance of the conference theme, noting that the topic was selected in light of the findings of the field study related to the development of the National Strategy on Financial Inclusion in Palestine. The preliminary results of the study suggested a significant gap of nearly 20 percent in financial awareness levels between men and women. Therefore, financial policymakers are required to address this phenomenon, explore its reasons and devise remedies.
Governor Shawwa added that statistics issued by the World Bank in 2014 indicated that the percentage of women who had accounts at financial institutions in Arab countries was about 13 percent of the adult population. The percentage of such women in Palestine, he added, was 15.4 percent compared to 42.1 percent among men. Shawwa considered these indicators a clear signal of the declining levels of banking awareness levels, as well as the use of banking products, by women compared to men.
Governor Shawwa said that he expected the national financial inclusion strategy would be formally launched during 2018, noting that the strategy includes an action plan and a specific timetable and sets clear objectives for the promotion of the potential of women from all backgrounds, whether housewives, university students, employees or entrepreneurs. He also highlighted the credit institutions’ central role in terms of strengthening their relationship with women in rural areas. The number of women who have received loans from credit institutions approximated 35,000, exceeding the number of women who borrowed from banks. Besides, the credit portfolio granted to women borrowers reached about 14 percent in contrast to men. This percentage clearly demonstrates that chances of women’s access to credit are still low and insufficient.
Despite the discouraging image reflected by the indicators and statistics in Palestine, similar to Arab countries, Shawwa expressed his optimism that the coming years would witness significant progress in terms of women banking.
In turn, the Chairman of the Association of Banks in Palestine Mr. Mohammad Barghouthi, who represented the banking sector, delivered a speech highlighting banks’ achievements in terms the efforts exerted to enhance women’s status and increase their share of the business world. He pointed out that banks in Palestine have been for quite some time oriented towards financial inclusion.
Mr. Barghouthi stressed that economic independence, taking initiative and the ability to make financial and administrative decisions, considered among the most important pillars of women’s empowerment given the enforced laws and legislation protecting women’s gains and enhancing their role. He referred to a set of social, cultural and legal obstacles to the realization of our ambition on this level. Despite all of this, he added, banks were effectively assisting the society in terms of providing the requirements of women’s empowerment. This was reflected by the creation and provision of specialized credit schemes that would keep pace with women’s needs, the creation of favorable conditions for fair competition, the provision of equal employment opportunities away from gender-based discrimination, and the provision of financial and knowledge support for the institutions and bodies implementing development or training programs for the women’s sector.
IFC Resident Representative, Mr. Yousef Habash, noted that women’s status in Palestine was harsh. He explained that there were approximately 62,000 official and non-official establishments owned by women, half of which did not have access to funding. According to Habash, the total funding gap of these businesses estimated at US$323 million in addition to social impacts. This gap represented wasted opportunities for banks and financial institutions. That was because banks and financial institutions could diversify and develop their credit portfolios through increasing funding to women; banks could have access to that segment through adapting their operations, procedures and services. Most importantly, banks could do capacity building to their staff so that they would have access to and serve this segment just like other economic segments. Banks should provide training programs on the financial and banking culture and build women’s abilities on financial and banking products.
Habash added that the IFC was committed to generating opportunities for women in the business sector, stressing that enhancing women’s accessibility to banking services constituted an essential part of IFC’s efforts to create markets that would have a sustainable development impact.
In his address, Deputy Head of the German Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority, Bernd Kuebart, commended the conference that addressed an extremely important theme on the local and global levels. He expressed his confidence that this conference would contribute to promoting the banking and financial empowerment of Palestinian women through the papers submitted by participants, findings and recommendations.
The conference featured videos that highlighted the extent to which Palestinian women have benefited from the banking services provided by banks and credit institutions. It also featured a presentation by the Director of the PMA’s Market Conduct Department, Ali Faroun, on the current situation of Palestinian women in financial inclusion.
The conference included three sessions, the first one moderated by Mr. Mounir Kleibo, Representative of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in the Palestinian Territories. It tackled raising banking awareness and capacity building of women.
The second session moderated by Ms. Sammar Essmat, the Regional Gender Focal Point and Private Sector Development Specialist for the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The session addressed ways to facilitate women's access to banking products and services. Meanwhile, the third session, moderated by Mr. Vivek Chand, a leading banking expert in the Middle East and North Africa discussed the role of banks in empowering women to obtain banking services by sharing local, regional and international experiences.
A number of banking leaders, experts and businesswomen participated in these sessions including, Dr. Grace Khoury, Ali Faroun, Du'aa Wadi, Inas Marjieh, Suhad Abdul Latif, Mona Al-Ghalayini, Joseph Nisnas, Sami Al-Saidi, Hanna Sahar, Janet Hakman, Reem Aboushi, Mustafa Abu Salah, Raya Sbitany, Nadia Al Said and Kayellen Alveraz.
Ms. Irene Saadeh, Director of Public Relations and Communications at the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA), was the MC during the conference, which received significant attention from the economic and media circles. A large number of Palestinian banks and institutions, among others, attended it.
In conclusion, the conference provided several recommendations and an action plan presented by Mr. Ali Faroun, Director of the Market Conduct Department, which would contribute to the empowerment of women in banking.
The recommendations included joint efforts to create a favorable environment as a requirement for women's empowerment in banking and finance (public sector, private sector, women's forums and associations and local and international organizations). Working with related stakeholders in enhancing financial and banking awareness campaigns. Developing specialized programs to build the capacities of businesswomen and entrepreneurs. Launching incentives packages aimed at service providers to motivate them to target women, developing banking services and products, as well as channels and innovative banking services targeted at women, and building the capacity of banking services providers to provide products and channels that meets the needs of the target group, and finally finding loan guarantee programs for women.