Written by Claire Scharwatt, Mobile Money, GSMA

The following post was first published by Mobile Money and has been cross-posted here with permission. 

Closing the gender gap in mobile money. A regulatory and policy outlook

Mobile money is a key tool for women empowerment and can contribute to reduce the financial inclusion gender gap. As such, bridging the gender gap in mobile money [1] is a priority and will be critical to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 5 - Gender Equality

Mobile operators are increasingly aware of this challenge and 22 have already committed to reduce the gender gap in their mobile money customer base by 2020. Earlier this year, we published new research on the barriers women are facing when it comes to access and usage of mobile money in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali. As operators ramp up efforts to boost the adoption of mobile money among women, effective marketing and distribution tactics are also emerging. 

In this blog post, we explore how regulators and policy makers can contribute to reducing the gender gap in mobile money by (i) analysing demand-side data, (ii) making commitments to close the gender gap, (iii) implementing targeted regulatory interventions, and (iv) creating a supportive policy environment.

Analysing demand-side data

Data is critical to help regulators and policy makers better understand the barriers women are facing when it comes to access and usage of financial services. Demand-side data in particular is an invaluable source of insights that can help inform policies and monitor the evolution of the gender gap. While supply-side data can be effectively collected on a regular basis, demand-side data tends to be more reliable and can provide deeper insights. In the case of mobile money, supply-side data on gender is usually captured during the service registration process. However, we know that in many markets, men tend to register on behalf of women, making the Know-Your-Customer (KYC) information less reliable [2] . Other challenges of supply-side data may include double-counting of accounts, inconsistent tagging of data due to lack of staff skills and understanding [3]

A number of demand side studies are already available and provide gender-disaggregated data that can be used to understand the financial inclusion gender gap; these include World Bank’s Global Findex, the FinScope Survey, Gallup Payment Surveys, Financial Inclusion Tracking Surveys (FITS) and Financial Inclusion Insight Surveys. Where demand-side data is not readily available, we encourage regulators and policy makers to commission demand-side surveys and to share findings with financial services providers including mobile money providers. Good examples of this include Bank of Ghana and the Central Bank of Vanuatu, which have been successfully collecting and analysing financial inclusion sex-disaggregated demand-side data for mobile financial services. 

At a market level, sex-disaggregated data is recognized as essential to build the internal business case for developing women’s market programs. Its collection also allows financial service providers to adopt a more customer-centric approach to support their understanding of the different needs, preferences, behaviour and profitability of diverse client segments. This ultimately leads to the development of products and service that better target and serve the needs of different customer groups [4]

Making commitments

There has been a growing momentum among regulators and policy makers to focus on women’s financial inclusion, as illustrated by the adoption of the Denarau Action Plan at the 2016 AFI Global Policy Forum [5]. According to a survey conducted by AFI among its members in 2016, only 22% had an explicit focus on women’s financial inclusion within their national financial inclusion strategies. AFI’s Financial Inclusion Strategy Peer Learning Group (FISPLG) therefore developed and published guidance earlier this year on “Integrating gender and women’s financial inclusion into national strategies” which has now been incorporated into AFI’s capacity building programs for his members [6].  Presenting a vision to close the gender gap in financial access and adopting explicit objectives in national financial inclusion strategies is probably a good place to start and we encourage regulators and policy makers to publicise their targets as part of their Maya Declaration objectives. At the time of writing, only 9 out of 432 targets adopted by AFI members were related to financial inclusion of women. Additional commitments are expected to be announced at this year’s 9th Global Policy Forum to be held in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, 13-15 September.

Implementing targeted regulatory interventions

The gender gap is driven by a complex set of socio-economic and cultural barriers negatively affecting women which cannot be addressed by either the private sectors or financial regulators alone. Nevertheless targeted intervention by regulators and policy makers can play an important role in helping to address the challenges that disproportionately affect women. Relevant targeted regulatory interventions include: 

  • Adopting flexible agent regulation to ease access to mobile money agents for women. Easy access to a mobile money agent is crucial to women, and uptake and continued use depend on agents being available to help them trust the service. Women usually require more interactions with agents than men before they feel comfortable using the service. In Ghana for example, Tigo noted that women usually require 5 to 10 interactions on average compared to 3 to 5 for men before they are confident to use the service and initiate transactions [7]. Women can also be less mobile than men, and to be less likely to have easy access to agents in order to perform transactions.   
  • Using tiered KYC to make it easier for women to sign up for mobile money and to streamline the registration process. Indeed, women are less likely to have the official identification documents required to open a mobile money account. In some markets, a man’s signature is required for women to open a bank account and make domestic money transfers. 
  • Allowing innovative products that are particularly relevant for women such as the use of mobile money for international remittances or government payments. For example, the digitisation of social transfers and government payments where the majority of beneficiaries are women can help attract more women to mobile money. In Pakistan, this has played a major role in the development of UBL’s mobile money service Omni among women (in 2014, women represented 86% of Omni’s customers) [8].  International remittances are another good example as we know that women represent half of all remittance senders globally and that they tend to send a higher proportion of their income regularly and consistently, even though they generally earn less than men [9].
  • Easing collateral requirements for women [10]. The Central Bank of Burundi and the National Banking and Securities Commission of Mexico (CNBV) have identified the lack of collateral as a barrier for women to access finance. 

Many of these regulatory interventions were highlighted in AFI’s 2016 Special Report “Policy Frameworks to Support Women’s Financial Inclusion” and have been given emphasis in the Denarau Action Plan [11].  

Creating a supportive policy environment 

To accelerate financial inclusion for women through mobile money services, it is important to ensure that they services are accessible, affordable, usable, safe and relevant for women — and that women have the skills and confidence to use them. Policy makers’ general support to mobile money is also critical to encourage more women to use the services, particularly when it comes to:

  • Affordability - Women are often more price sensitive since they tend to earn less and often have less control over household expenditures than men [12].  In that context, mobile and mobile money taxes tend to primarily affect women and can therefore slow down progress to reduce the financial inclusion gender gap.  
  • Financial literacy - Women tend to be less technically and financially literate than men, and to have lower confidence levels in their ability to use mobile money services. Joint financial education campaigns between the government and private sector companies can therefore play a critical role in ensuring that women have the skills and confidence to use mobile money services. 

As a growing number of regulators and operators are working to reduce the gender gap in mobile money usage, the GSMA will continue to gather insights on this topic. Please share your experience as a comment below or directly at mobilemoney@gsma.com.

About AFI & GSMA

The Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) addresses topics related to Digital Financial Services and gender within their several initiatives. Comments and inputs are welcome directly at dfswg@afi-global.org.

AFI and GSMA share a longstanding commitment to financial inclusion, closely working together on Gender related aspects of Financial Inclusion. The GSMA is a key responder on AFI’s High Level Public-Private Dialogue Roundtable held twice annually. The GSMA also provides knowledge and content to AFI members at working groups and other member events.


[1] Data from the Global Findex 2014 shows that in low- and middle-income countries, women are 36% less likely than men to use mobile money.
[2] Minischetti, E. and Pénicaud Scharwatt, C. (2014). Reaching half of the market: women and mobile money. GSMA.
[3] Data2x: Global Banking Alliance for Women (GBA), Inter-American Development Bank, et. Al., (2014). The value of sex-disaggregated data.
[4] AFI, Guideline Note 25. (2017). “Leveraging Sex-Disaggregated Data to Accelerate Progress towards women financial inclusion”.
[5] The Denarau Action Plan was adopted at the 2016 AFI Global Policy Forum in Nadi, Fiji. The Denarau Action Plan identifies measures AFI members can take to increase the number of women with access to quality and affordable financial services globally. It promotes the creation of an enabling environment through smart policies and regulation to accelerate women’s financial inclusion. 
[6] AFI, Guidelines Note 27. (2017). “Integrating gender and women’s financial inclusion into national strategies.”
[7] Minischetti, E. and Pénicaud Scharwatt, C. (2014). Reaching half of the market: women and mobile money. GSMA.
[8] Minischetti, E. and Pénicaud Scharwatt, C. (2014). Reaching half of the market: women and mobile money – the example of UBL in Pakistan. GSMA.
[9] Sending Money Home (2017). IFAD
[10] Already one third of surveyed AFI Members have used sex-disaggregated data to identify and address gender specific barriers to financial inclusion. Financial literacy (75%), collateral requirements (66%) and the socio-cultural environment were the top three perceived barriers to women’s financial inclusion, according to AFI members that participated in the AFI survey on Women’s Financial Inclusion. AFI, Guideline Note 26. Sex-disaggregated Data Toolkit: how to leverage financial inclusion sex-disaggregated data to accelerate women’s financial inclusion”. February 2017.
[11] Policy frameworks to support women's financial inclusion. http://www.afi-global.org/sites/default/files/publications/2016-08/2016-02-womenfi.1_0.pdf
[12] GSMA report (2014). Bridging the gender gap: Mobile access and usage in low- and middle-income countries.