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French Version

Microcredit : "Focus on the women"

Summit lauds region's success stories

Like dozens of other Jordanian women from poverty-stricken backgrounds, Samira al-Ghaliz improved her lot by seeking a small loan seven years ago to set up her own business.

Hers was one of the success stories heard at the Middle East and Africa Region Microcredit Summit organized in Jordan this week by the Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND) and the Washington-based Microcredit Summit Campaign.

The conference's conclusions will be sent to the United Nations, which declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit in a bid to reach 100 million of the world's poorest families with credit to be used for self-employment.

In a narrow street of the male-dominated teeming market place of the Palestinian refugee camp of Wehdat in eastern Amman, Samira set up a stall, selling shoes as well as new and used clothes.

"I have two sons and seven daughters," the 50-year-old mother said proudly. "Thanks be to God, all my children are getting an education." In 1997 Samira decided to enter the job market to help feed her family, as her husband earns little more than minimum wages (around 80 dinars, $114) at a paper factory.

Like dozens before her she knocked at the doors of Microfund For Women, a Jordanian NGO, and obtained a first loan of 100 dinars.

Over the years she made a profit and gained the trust of her lenders who recently let her borrow another 2,000 dinars to carry on and expand her business.

Raqia Raja, a 43-year-old unmarried women, helps care for her ailing parents and a younger sister at the family home in Irbid, northern Jordan, where she packages and sells frozen vegetables, lentils and crushed wheat.

After finishing high-school she went on a two-year college course but had to quit her studies to care for her family.

"Our situation was very bad, but now we are doing well," said Raja, who started off her business with a $140 loan in 1997.

Microfund For Women manager Arije al-Amad said her NGO has handed $57 million worth of loans since 1994 to a total of around 40,000 individuals.

"Ninety-nine percent of our borrowers are women," Amad said as she visited with some of the women success stories.

Mohammad Yunis, who launched one of the world's largest micro credit programs in Bangladesh nearly three decades ago, said a good way of beating poverty was seeking out women and giving them a helping hand.

"Women do much better at changing the family situation," said Yunis, who started the Grameen Bank of the poor in Bangladesh.

"Women pay attention to children (more than men), so you can rest assured that the second generation in the family will do much better if you approach the family through the women," he added.

"Women want to build the future, women always represent the future," said Yunis, one of more than 600 experts attending the conference in Amman hosted by Jordan's Queen Rania al-Abdullah, a champion of women's rights.

Saudi Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz, a brother of King Fahd and head of AGFUND, told the opening session of the conference that the fight against poverty was essential to uproot the plague of terrorism facing the world.

Beirut,10 18 2004
Redaction
The Daily Star
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