Promoting women’s leadership in senior positions within the banking sector is a priority.

Bridging the financial inclusion gender gap: Insights from women at the heart of AFI

AFI members are committed to the Denarau Action Plan (DAP) with the aim to increase women’s access to quality and affordable financial services globally. The DAP targets to accelerate the progress of women's financial inclusion by halving the financial inclusion gender gap across AFI member countries by 2021.

To help shape the conversation surrounding International Women’s Day, we asked members of the AFI Gender and Women’s Financial Inclusion Committee (GWFIC) about progress made, lessons learned and perspectives in bridging the financial inclusion gender gap.

GWFIC Chair, Dr. Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Zambia, GWFIC Deputy Chair, Lobna Helal, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Egypt and GWFIC member, Serey Chea, Director General of the Central Banking General Directorate at the National Bank of Cambodia, share their views with us.  

AFI: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Deputy Governor, Dr. Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula, Zambia: International Women’s Day (IWD) means a lot to me. It is a day that celebrates women. It is also a day of reflection, advocacy and action. It is a day when I pause and take stock of how far we have come as women in achieving equality and reflect on what still needs to be done. It is a day when the spotlight is on women; our concerns, our responsibilities, our contributions to national development and to the world.

In my country, IWD is a public holiday; every year, this day has a theme that enables concerted attention and action in a targeted area.

This year, I’m proud to convey that our theme is Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives. IWD is a strong call to motivate and unite organizations, friends, colleagues and communities to think, act and be gender inclusive — in the case of this year — through the activism and agency of women themselves. IWD is the one single day that provides the greatest teachable moment for women’s issues.

Deputy Governor, Lobna Helal, Egypt: I believe that celebrating IWD is important as it provides a platform to raise awareness and promote women’s empowerment. The aim is for women in the community to get together to share their common interests, demonstrate their success, discuss their challenges and the way forward.

On this day, the National Council of Women (NCW) renews its covenant with all Egyptian women and girls to continue working towards achieving its "National Strategy for the Development and Empowerment of Egyptian women 2030” that focuses on strategic pivots, namely the political and economic empowerment, societal protection, and cultural and legal pivots.

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) will also celebrate the launch of the Women Mentoring Program that aims to create a pool of young Egyptian leaders across different industries who can assume senior positions in the future.

Serey Chea, Cambodia: IWD is a public holiday in Cambodia. Many events are held across the country to celebrate that day.

In my opinion, March 8 is a day of celebration of how far women have come in claiming equal rights, but also a constant reminder that so much more needs to be done within my country, my region and in the world. Despite significant achievement, bias towards women in the work place, businesses and else, remains and requires more effort from stakeholders to make a change. 

AFI: What plans does your institution have in place to halve the financial inclusion gender gap in your country by 2021?

Deputy Governor, Dr. Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula: Zambia has a formal gender gap of 9.9 percent as at 2015. Our government recently launched the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) 2017-2022 that has set targets for women’s financial inclusion at 80 percent and 70 percent for general, and formal financial inclusion respectively. The Bank of Zambia (BoZ) is a major stakeholder and implementing agent of this strategy.

BoZ’s 2016 – 2019 Strategic Plan includes growing formal financial inclusion by 16 percentage points and mainstreaming gender within the Bank and financial sector — part of BoZ’s Maya Declaration Commitments.

Additional action and commitments by BoZ to reduce the gender gap include financial literacy training (50 percent of target participants are women), Women’s Savings Groups in 10 provinces of Zambia, a Gender Strategy and framework for collection of supply-side sex-disaggregated data, and women’s leadership training to facilitate greater gender diversity in decision-making positions. Also, in partnership with the International Labour Organisation Country Office, BoZ will train its employees on the importance of gender equality in society.

Deputy Governor, Lobna Helal: In order to halve the financial inclusion gender gap by 2021, CBE aims to create an ecosystem that utilizes an enabling environment from both demand- and supply-side by working on key pillars: sex-disaggregated data, conducive regulatory framework, financial literacy (short- and long-term), digital financial services, and tailored financial products for women.

The conducive regulatory framework would formalize Village Savings Loan Groups (VSLG), define women-owned businesses, and issue consumer protection regulations and a dispute resolution mechanism to safeguard banking clients.

CBE also plans to motivate banks via incentives to offer products that address women’s needs, and leverage on digital financial services to facilitate microfinance client loans and alimony for women.

Serey Chea: Cambodia plans to halve the women’s financial exclusion rate to 13 percent by 2025. To do so, specific attention to gender has been included in the NFIS draft. However, as a step forward, the National Bank of Cambodia is strengthening its sex-disaggregated data collection at the granular level through the periodic returns from financial institutions and also from the credit bureau.

We also believe that financial inclusion is best addressed through educating women on financial matters. As such, a financial capability development campaign was developed in 2016 specifically focused on women. Six video spots were developed, three of which feature women as the main character and one with a child as the main character. Around 100,000 printed comic books with a focus on financial capability development have been distributed across the country to children between the ages of 9 and 12. The book is expected to be read with a teacher or a parent since there is a question and answer section at the end of the book.

Interested to view commitments by Bank of Zambia, Central Bank of Egypt and National Bank of Cambodia for halving the gender gap in their countries? Visit the AFI Data Portal at

AFI: As a woman, how are you using your leadership position to ensure gender-sensitive policymaking in the area of financial inclusion?

Deputy Governor, Dr. Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula: My professional sphere of influence is the financial sector. Therefore, I have a privilege and obligation to contribute to gender equality and equity in the financial sector, specifically removing barriers to the advancement of women in terms of participation in decision-making as well as access, and usage of financial products and services.

I’m a firm believer in gender equality and the value women can add to our society, if facilitated. As such, I advocate for women’s empowerment within the financial sector but also on various local and international platforms availed to me.

A champion of women’s financial inclusion in driving most initiatives that are implemented by my institution, I’m also; the current Chairperson for the AFI Gender and Women’s financial Inclusion Committee; member of the World Bank Group’s Advisory Council on Gender and Development, Champion for the New Faces New Voices Zambia Chapter. As Deputy Governor, I occupy a vantage position that enables me to ensure gender is on the agenda.

Deputy Governor, Lobna Helal: I focus on ensuring a sustainable gender-sensitive culture and infrastructure within the CBE and the banking sector by obtaining the buy-in of the government, the Governor and the Board of Directors to the concept of gender inclusion.

In addition, I raise awareness on the importance of women’s financial inclusion and empowerment through my participation in national and international forums as well as among women platform. This involves me coordinating with relevant stakeholders through meetings with women-led ministries and governmental bodies such as the National Council for Women, Ministry of Planning, and Ministry of Social Solidarity to develop joint initiatives that promote women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment. 

Lastly, promoting women’s leadership in senior positions in the banking sector is a priority. Due to my strong belief in women’s capability and potential, I also ensure the succession of these executives through leadership programs that create a pool of women leaders who can assume senior positions in the future.

Serey Chea: The Cambodia National Working Committee of Financial Inclusion is chaired by a woman and has a woman as its Vice Chair. The composition of the committee is also gender balanced, making it easier for myself as a member of the committee to draw attention to women-sensitive policy framework.

As part of my regular engagement and dialogue with the industry, a spot is dedicated to raise awareness about the importance of financial inclusion and women’s financial inclusion. Together, we explore together the challenges and opportunities, and best practices on gender-sensitive financing products.

AFI: What role do you think male leaders can play in driving greater gender diversity according to the DAP action agenda #10 – Drive greater gender diversity within their financial institutions?

Deputy Governor, Dr. Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula: It’s important that men are cultivated to be champions or advocates for greater gender diversity in our societies. Male leaders should also mentor upcoming high potential female employees especially where there are no female role models. Male leaders adding their voices to advocacy for greater gender diversity would be transformational.

The Governor of BoZ, who is also the Chairperson on the Board, is our “He for She Champion.” The Board has also been very supportive, making it possible to include a strategic objective in our Strategic Plan to mainstream gender within the Bank and the financial sector. In addition, the Bank has appointed gender focal persons and their alternates, ensuring there is a balance of males and females.

Deputy Governor, Lobna Helal: At CBE, we are privileged with the trust and belief of the Governor in a woman’s leadership capability. The Governor is always supporting women empowerment, clearly reflected in having 25 percent of women on the CBE Board, 30 - 50 percent of women in high level committees, and 50 percent or more women staff in a mid-level category i.e. Analyst, Senior Analyst and Director level. His support also extends to a national level with the launch of the Women Mentoring Program initiative.

Moving forward, we are developing a gender diversity and equality policy for CBE that shall act as a role model to all banks in the financial sector.

Serey Chea: Political will is crucial in the execution of DAP action. As such, political leaders, business leaders as well as all stakeholders play an important role in fostering gender-balanced culture within their respective organizations, be it in the organization structure or the products or services offered.

Male leaders could serve as resonance for women’s call on gender equality. They could be a role model for other men by how they treat women in their life, be it within their family or within the organizations they lead.


Learn more about the Denarau Action Plan (DAP) and AFI’s involvement in gender and women’s financial inclusion.