By Beverleigh Kanas Liu of the Global Women's Media Team
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UNITED NATIONS, New York (June 5) - US First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton has batted for microcredit, which provides soft loans for small businesses, to help uplift the lives of millions of people all over the world.

Clinton, speaking at the opening of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Women 2000, said that a micro-credit scheme that she had helped launch two years ago is now able to reach some 20 million people from the poorest communities worldwide.

The program, launched during the Microcredit Summit, aims to reach 100 million of the world's poorest families, especially the women of those families, with credit for self employment and other financial and business services by the year 2005.

"Although it is called 'microcredit,' this is a macro idea...with vast potential," said Clinton."Whether we are talking about a rural area in South Asia or an inner city in the United States, microcredit is an invaluable tool in alleviating poverty, promoting self-sufficiency and stimulating economic activity in some of the world's most destitute and disadvantaged communities."

Clinton first lent support to the promotion of microcredit during the Fourth International Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. The Microcredit summit was held two years later.

The ongoing special session, which ends on June 9, aims to assess the gains held during the meeting in the Beijing capital in which 189 member states pledged to remove obstacles against gender equality and full development and peace for women.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), in a report released during the conference, said that microcredit is one of the key strategies to help women end their own poverty.

Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, said that microcredit is a wise investment in human capital.

"When the poorest, especially women, receive credit, they become economic actors with power. Power to improve not only their own lives, but, in a widening circle of impact, the lives of their families, their communities and their actions," he said.

Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of UNIFEM, said the program means more than access to money. "It is about women gaining control over the means to make a living. It is about women lifting themselves out of poverty and vulnerability. It is about women achieving economic and political empowerment within their homes, their villages, their countries," said Heyzer, who was co-chair of the UN Council, Microcredit Summit.

Clinton said that President Bill Clinton is fully supportive of microcredit schemes and sees to it that communities where such programs are implemented are included in his visits to other countries.

The UNIFEM pointed out that microcredit has been a crucial element in increasing women's economic activities. When done well, it said, it gives women the ability to make a living on a sustainable basis.

"Microcredit could unleash the economic potential of hundreds of millions of the world's poorest," said the UN agency.

In Vanuatu, the Department of Women's Affairs is generating a micro-credit scheme, which recently celebrated its third anniversary. The project has helped indigenous women living around Port Vila, and there are plans to expand it to the outer islands.

* The Global Women's Media Team (GWMT) for the UN General Assembly Special Session to Review the Beijing Platform for Action is composed of NGO women and women journalists from Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe. The GWMT is coordinated by Isis International-Manila and supported by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in East and South East Asia and South Asia, the Canadian International Development Agency - South East Asia Gender Equity Programme, United Nations Development Program in Latin America, the Caribbean and Mongolia, World Council of Churches, and the British High Commission.

BPFA-NEWS is the electronic news distribution network of the Global Women's Media Team, a group of women writers covering the ongoing United Nations Review of the Beijing Platform for Action. BPFA-News is hosted by Isis International-Manila. It is archived at: http://www.isiswomen.org/womenet/lists/bpfa-news/archive


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