By Evelyn Usman
Access bank Plc has disclosed that it had facilitated a loan of N100 million naira to Nigerian women between January and March 2022, under its ‘W’ Initiative – a flagship women empowerment programme created eight years ago.
It also revealed that under the ‘W’ initiative, N100 billion had so far been given to women as loan within eight years, with a view to providing them with banking solutions tailored to meet their diverse careers and lifestyle requirements.
Group Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer, Access bank, Herbert Wigwe, who made the disclosure at an event organized by the bank to mark the International Women’s day, at the Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Thursday, said the ‘W’ initiative was also extended to women in the grassroots.
He explained that “ It is for the professional women, it’s for the business woman, for the female Youth Service Corp members, university women, all the way down to the grassroots.
“We have a programme that helps complete their family. A lot of time there’s a stigma on those who may not have had a child even though the problem might sometimes be from the man. We know that through specific processes like the IVF , you can have children. So, we support people at subsidized rates to do all of this, on female health issues. We give them loans so that they can get better. Today we have several children who were born through the support Access Bank gave to female customers”
The event according to him, was organized to celebrate women and the bank’s female staff, as well as to encourage the system to kick against sexism, in order to get a balanced world
“ It is a standard for us at Access Bank to have women occupy managerial positions. My chairperson is a woman, the one before her was also a woman. The ratio is about 50-50 . In the senior staff, more than 40 percent of them are women”.
Earlier in his opening remark, the bank’s CEO, in what could be described as an ode to women , reechoed Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate , Malala Yousafzai ‘s statement made about ten years ago, that “we cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
He said: “ Today I repeat her words because now, perhaps more than ever, the world needs everyone on board to address the many serious problems facing humanity. This means men and women pulling in the same direction, solving problems, creating solutions, moving forward.
“We cannot expect to achieve this progress if half of us are held back. While half the population is still forced to spend precious time pushing through the obstacles and shackles of prejudice, bias, and inequality, we are not utilising their talents the way we should be.
“Why are half the population focused on fighting these battles of gender equality when they could be doing great work for their country, their city, their town or their family? What a waste of time, energy and raw talent!
“This week, Access Bank is saying, “imagine a world where we don’t have to imagine gender equality. If only I could wave a magic wand right here, and remove all the obstacles that our women deal with daily! What a productive world that would be!
He explained that that the occasion was a time to recognize women and to be thankful for their dedication, hard work and resilience, noting that for decades women have had to struggle to be heard and exert themselves twice as hard for opportunities that men took for granted.
According to Wigwe, “ As the world marks the International Women’s Day, it is a celebration of Women everywhere. We salute those women who have dedicated their lives to birthing and raising healthy children. We salute those mothers who have endured poverty, sickness, physical pain and suffering, or abusive relationships, to be the rock for their children.
“We salute women leaders who have had the strength to do whatever was necessary to make it to the front line and inspire others to implement change.
“We salute women who had a dream of owning their own business and somehow managed to fight the fights necessary to get it off the ground and make it successful.
“We salute women who have stood firm and spoken out against unfair actions, cruel words, and outdated attitudes. We salute women who have fought their way into power to ensure women have a voice in their country. We salute women who have had the courage to ignore biases and have achieved anyway. We salute all women around the world today who continue to fight for the freedoms and opportunities deserved by women everywhere”.
Also speaking with journalists, Head, Access Bank “W” initiative, Abiodun Olubitan, explained that the loans were structured to help women build a bigger and more sustainable society.
She said: “ There are different structures to them(loans). We have females that are in business and we have a specific product for them which is the W-power loan. The W-Power loan is available for women to support the working capital, to support their business expansion, and also to get fixed assets in place for their business.
“ On that W-power loan, we have a hybrid version of it which we make available for them to soften their logistics problem, Which is to buy a vehicle, to move their goods around or to make deliveries, or to support their school business, depending on what type of business they do. These are different types of loans that we give out.
“Part of it is also – the Maternity Health Service Support, MHSS loans. That loan is available for women to fulfill their family dreams. We know the challenges that women face, the bias, the discrimination of not being able to complete their family of having a child easily, and probably need to go through IVF procedures which costs a lot, So that facility is available for them to be able to finance that.
“ Counting till date, I can tell you that two weeks ago we had a set of twins through the MHSS, and till date, we have up to 78 – 80 children through the MHSS program.
The loan, according to Olubitan, was highly discounted, as it attracts 15 percent interest rate , when compared to the 22 percent to 24 percent interest rate to their male counterparts.
She informed that: “ We are targeting to do about 100 billion naira this year because we are taking it further to have more inclusive women in businesses. The definition of women owned or led businesses are expanding. A woman can have a business which she manages together with her husband, based on that , there’s a lot to achieve in the business, so far the woman is actually driving the business”.
She further explained that the bank decided to chose a day outside the slated March 8,2022, for the international women’s day to celebrate women, so as to enable other partners to celebrate women , as well to continue with the drive for W-power initiative, which she said was aimed among other things, to celebrating them and make inspire and empower them.
“It also a platform to make them see those things that we do. A lot of the women here have heard about it but don’t know some of the offerings that are available. This conference is going to showcase that every woman feels good and continues to break the bias”, Olubitan stated.