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Gender equality 28 Sep 2020

Queen Letizia and BBVA's Group Executive Chairman recognize the women's efforts against the pandemic

Carlos Torres Vila participated in an event sponsored by the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, entitled ‘Unstoppable women: Challenges to and achievements of reinvention in times of crisis’. The event, chaired by Queen Letizia of Spain, shone the spotlight on the work of Latin American women entrepreneurs and technology’s key role in propping up their resilience against the economic impact of the pandemic. Development experts from organizations such as SEGIB (Ibero-American General Secretariat), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UN Women and representatives of technology companies such as Google also took part in the event.

The work of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation has become, if possible, more relevant today than ever, supporting the most vulnerable segments of the population in Latin America,” said BBVA’s Chairman, speaking at the live-streamed event. Carlos Torres Vila also recognized the efforts of these entrepreneurs – women entrepreneurs in particular – as an example to follow and an “inspiration for all.”  In this sense, Mrs. Letizia reaffirmed her commitment to women, as “drivers of change in their lives and therefore in their families and communities”, and underscored the “need to keep working, tirelessly, as they do, every one of us from the place we occupy to stay on track.”

Just like Ceneris Espitia – a woman entrepreneur supported by BBVAMF in Colombia – is doing. Ceneris managed to bring the internet to her community, in a rural area, despite the violence of the armed conflict ensuing in the region and the barriers making it harder to establish a connection. “It takes more than 45 minutes to get to the village, and the river’s water level to be low enough for me to be able to access the internet service on a daily basis, because the antenna is on the other side of the river” said Ceneris.

BBVA Group executive chairman Carlos Torres Vila during his presentation at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation event. - BBVA

She is one of the beneficiaries of the ‘Emprendimientos Productivos para la Paz’ (Productive Entrepreneurial Projects for Peace – Empropaz) program, sponsored by Bancamía – the Colombian branch of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation-, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and local NGOs. The deputy director of USAID in Colombia, Martha L. Aponte, spoke during the event about this initiative: “Thanks to our partnership with Bancamía, which started over ten years ago, we are offering financial education and seed capital in the most vulnerable areas of the country, and especially to women, who make up over 70 percent of Empropaz’s beneficiaries.”

Women, more exposed to the impact of COVID-19

The Ibero-American Secretary-General, Rebeca Grynspan, speaking about the situation of women in Latin America, emphasized that “this may neither be the first nor the last challenge we face as women, but it may be one of the most daunting.” During her speech, she noted that “after so many years of experience and hard work, we have learned that hope is not built on optimism alone, but mainly on activism. With conviction, with integrity and with relentless dedication.” Regional director of UN Women for the Americas and the Caribbean María-Noel Vaeza emphasized the importance of investing in women “as a fundamental ethical imperative” and of working towards building partnerships that promote their economic empowerment.

UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner called for the need to engage with the public and private sectors to design effective solutions against the economic and social gaps that, far from dwindling, will increase due to the pandemic. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) the number of people living in poverty in the region will rise by 45.4 million this year due to the pandemic, and for 2021, according to its own forecasts, progress in reducing poverty will suffer a major setback.

Queen Letizia listens to one of the event's panel discussions at the BBVA Microfinance event. - BBVA

Given these figures, Steiner underscored that “COVID-19 still has not changed the future, but has exposed our present weaknesses,” and that digitization can contribute to mitigating the economic impact, if the digital inclusion of women is strengthened. As he said, “in low- and middle-income countries, over 400 million women lack internet access.”

Technology in the face of the pandemic

New digital tools have emerged as key enablers of reinvention in the wake of the healthcare crisis. Managing director of Google Spain and Portugal Fuencisla Clemares noted that “it is pivotal to democratize internet access and train vulnerable people so that they have the same digital opportunities as anyone else.”

This is one of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation’s strategic priorities: digitization to help the more than 2.3 million low-income entrepreneurs it supports in Latin America – most of them women – get ahead in life. “Despite restrictions, we have been able to stay close to entrepreneurs mostly thanks to the digital transformation process that we started tackling, as a priority, years ago, and which has demonstrated its full potential and effectiveness during the hardest days of the lockdown in the five countries of our footprint,” said CEO of BBVAMF Javier M. Flores.

Jully Achiri, an advisor at the Foundation’s branch in Peru, explained how her work has changed during the last few months of social distancing: “The digital applications that we’ve been working with for quite a while now have proven essential to stay close to entrepreneurs despite the distance. Under normal circumstances, our day-to-day is 70 percent field work: we visit entrepreneurs at their businesses, at their homes … These trusting relationships we build are also important tools, which have allowed us to keep supporting and remain committed to their development.”

The event, held in blended mode due to health restrictions, shone the spotlight on the need to continue supporting low-income women in Latin America, so that they can enjoy the same opportunities as anybody else and reinvent themselves despite difficulties.

La reina Letizia durante su intervención en el evento de Fundación Microfinanzas BBVA - BBVA

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