Managing Director, Bank of Industry (BOI), Ms Evelyn Oputu, has described women empowerment as vital to economic development, stressing that women should not be shackled because handicapping women was to handicap oneself.
Oputu, who disclosed this during a programme on gender equality in Abuja, said the issue was very important and had been taken to the forefront when she assumed office in 2005, noting that at that time women empowerment and finance is always relegated to the background.
According to her, the paradigm shift on women empowerment was introduced to take care of women because most banks were not lending or granting loans to the women due to the best reason known to them.
To achieve this, the bank, she said, introduced a policy that 85 per cent of its fund would be geared towards developing SMEs. Consequently the bank introduced SMEs desk in order to facilitate access to loan especially women knowing that this is the major area where women are operating.
With the move, other financial institutions have also introduced the SMEs desk to take care of women empowerment
Oputu said her passion was borne out of the fact that there is more poverty among the women who form the fifty per cent of the population.
While stressing on the need to make the empowerment of women more prominent in the rural areas where she said majority of women live with poverty, Oputu said the bank is going to initiate a programme that would address the bottom pyramid of the society in terms of empowerment.
"We are going to have a programme that will address the bottom pyramid of the society in terms of empowerment and we are taking into consideration specifically the gender issue because gender issue is not only about being given equal opportunity but how the society is responding to basic things that surround women.
The MD lamented that women die in Nigeria earlier than their men counterpart because little or no attention is given to gender issues, the situation, which she said, negated what is obtainable in other parts of the world.
"When I say gender I mean every aspect of our lives and everything we do. We need to think about it. In every part of the world women live longer but reverse is the case in Nigeria, it is the reverse of the global average we die before the men, she added."
She urged women to cultivate the habit of pulling one another up, noting that through this they could overcome the problem of being left behind in the developmental process.