Remarks by Minister Kitt at Ireland Aid-International Labour Organisation Joint Publication Launch
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you all here this evening, and may I say that I am especially delighted to welcome the delegation from International Labour Organisation in Geneva.
We are here this evening to mark a milestone in the growing relationship between Ireland Aid and the ILO, on which we have been working closely for the past 18 months.
The primary focus of the Ireland Aid programme is the reduction of poverty, inequality and exclusion in developing countries – a focus that we share with the ILO.
The Ireland Aid programme of development assistance is primarily focused on long-term development activities, implemented with a range of partners, including recipient governments, NGOs and civil society. It is locally owned and designed to ensure maximum participation of the beneficiaries themselves. We are also deeply involved in responding to emergencies and assisting a number of countries to recover from natural and man-made disasters.
In addition, we value the importance of building partnerships with agencies and organisations which have particular expertise and skills in areas which can add value to our work.
The International Labour Organisation, as one of the specialized agencies of the UN system, has a wealth of experience in employment and labour matters. It has a unique tripartite structure involving governments, workers' and employers' organisations. I'd like to extend a special welcome here this evening to representatives from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Irish Business and Employers' Confederation, which along with the Government comprise Ireland's tripartite representation at the ILO.
Our Partnership Programme with the ILO concentrates on issues relating to gender equality and disability.
We are assisting poor women in developing countries to establish and grow their own businesses, thereby creating jobs for themselves and their families. With the income generated by these businesses and the wages from the jobs created, families have the opportunity to emerge from poverty in a sustainable manner.
To date this programme has been concentrated in a number of countries in Africa and Asia.
In Africa we have developed our knowledge base on the factors affecting women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia. A series of reports has been published, which are available here this evening. We have also produced video films on women entrepreneur role models in each of the 3 countries.
Based on the findings from the research, we are supporting associations of women entrepreneurs in Ethiopia and improving women's access to markets. Plans are in train to support retrenched women workers to assist them explore the potential of starting their own businesses.
In Tanzania we are working with the Government to ensure that gender equality is mainstreamed into the new national Small and Medium Enterprise Policy.
In Zambia we are cooperating closely with the Government to strengthen the component on women's economic empowerment in the National Gender Policy and the Poverty Reduction Strategy.
In the context of Asia, we are partnering with another ILO programme to tackle the important issue of trafficking in women and children – which is essentially a poverty-based problem. In Laos we are working in villages to enable families and communities to generate income through enterprise development, thereby reducing poverty and vulnerability.
In Cambodia we are adopting an integrated approach aimed at combining skills training, entrepreneurship, and access to credit to help women create their own small enterprises.
And in India we are working with a local NGO to improve women entrepreneurs' access to business support services.
Therefore, as you can see, in relation to women's entrepreneurship we are working at 3 levels: at the macro level on policy formulation and implementation; at the meso level on capacity building and institutional support; and at the micro level by providing direct assistance to women entrepreneurs.
Just as women entrepreneurs face considerable barriers and inequalities, so women with disability are even more seriously disadvantaged. Therefore we are partnering with the ILO in Ethiopia to promote entrepreneurship and enterprise creation specifically for women with disability.
The project promotes economic empowerment among women with disabilities and women with disabled dependants. Training in micro-enterprise skills is provided, as well as access to vocational skills training opportunities. Access to credit is also facilitated.
The stories of some of these women are available in the publication which we are launching here this evening. These accounts are inspirational and, in my view, are a real insight into the strength of human character and endeavour over adversity. I urge you to take a copy home and read for yourself these real life Stories of Change in Ethiopia.
One example is the story of 20 year-old Ayelu Basha Bedasa. She runs her own weaving business, employing 4 male weavers. Her achievement is impressive, given her physical impairment and that in Ethiopia weaving is considered to be men's work. In her own words she says “I never imagined that weaving could be so profitable, could make me so proud and self-sufficient. And being self-reliant makes me happy. It gives me peace”.
In our partnership with the ILO on disability, we are also working in an integrated fashion at 3 levels. At the macro-level we are examining the impact of legislation on the employment of people with disabilities; at the meso level we are developing the capacities of local NGOs involved in disability issues; and at the micro level we are providing direct assistance to women with disabilities in several regions in Ethiopia.
I am particularly pleased to be working with the ILO on disability issues, given that this is European Year of People with Disability and the fact that Ireland is hosting the Special Olympics shortly.
We have recently added a new component to the ILO partnership. The ILO's Special Action Programme on Forced Labour is a global programme working towards the eradication of Forced, Bonded, Coercive and Child Labour. This work complements the other elements of the partnership programme.
The first phase of our partnership runs until mid-2004. We will be evaluating the impact of our work to date early next year. We do not regard this relationship as merely one of funding, but rather one in which we can share experiences and lessons, build synergies and seek further ways in which we can complement each other in our shared objectives of working towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
I would at this point like to remember Mr Pekka Aro, the Director of the ILO's SKILLS Programme, which is implementing the disability component of the Partnership Programme. He died tragically 4 weeks ago, a victim of the SARS virus. Our thoughts are with his family and colleagues in the ILO.
Finally I would like to thank Don Skerrett and Mary Johnson for their roles in developing the partnership, and Gerry Finnegan, Barbara Murray and Grania Mackie for making the partnership a reality on the ground.