Rwanda’s gender trailblazers inspire future female leaders
Women holding top management posts at central banks remains a rare occurrence, unless you are referring to the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) where 50 percent of board positions belong to females. Most senior of these is Deputy Governor Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, who recently sat down with the AFI to discuss her institution’s successes in promoting gender equality and hosting the upcoming AFI Global Policy Forum (GPF).
Deputy Governor Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, National Bank of Rwanda
Greater female representation in decision-making posts can inspire new generations of women leaders and narrow the financial inclusion gender gap, Deputy Governor Dr. Nsanzabaganwa told AFI. As one of Rwanda’s principal women, she explained that a visible female presence at the top helps remove some of the fears that can hold back women and is what motivates her to keep pushing the boundaries of gender equality.
“I can’t just sit here in the central bank, relax and do nothing about gender in the financial sector,” she said. “It’s because I’m here that I feel the calling more.”
This sentiment is particularly poignant in Rwanda. The genocide against the Tutsi of 1994 left the country with a majority female population, forcing the land-linked East African state to promote greater equality in order to build economic recovery. In the 25 years since, the government has pledged to leapfrog developed nations by encouraging girl’s education and appointing women in leadership roles, like government ministers and officers in armed forces andpolice.
Today, Rwanda is ranked sixth in the world for gender equality with a parliament that is 61 percent female and parity in terms of ministerial positions.
Despite these remarkable achievements, Dr Nsanzabaganwa said that there is still much work to be done in the financial space. Among Rwanda’s five largest commercial banks, for example, only one has achieved gender parity in board members.
“You need diversity on those boards, diversity in senior management so that you can confidently drive these discussions within the organs of these institutions,” she said.
During her eight years at the central bank, Dr Nsanzabaganwa has been an avid supporter of community savings and credit organizations as well as advocacy groups like New Faces New Voices, both of which work towards increasing women’s access to finance and financial services.
“We are pushing awareness and really demonstrating the value that the female market segments offer to financial institutions,” she said.
Despite her efforts, she has noticed a worrying trend at the central bank. While its board, top management and executive directorates have at least 50 percent female membership, that figure halves for less senior roles like directors and managers. Across all departments, only around 33 percent of employees are female.
“You need to promote women but, where are they?”
Among the stumbling blocks are perceptions that the bank is elite and intimidating, which she explains by recounting an experience with a young woman who shadowed her for a day as part of a mentoring program.
“She told me that before she wouldn’t even dare enter the gates of the central bank because it is a big institution, and she thought ‘This isn’t mine. I don’t belong there’”.
She added: “It was like she had already put up barriers, meaning she wouldn’t even be interested if we put adverts out there to come to the central bank.”
This anxiety, Dr Nsanzabaganwa said, extends across all levels of society and must be combatted through greater female involvement.
“If you don’t have that diversity in your front officers, in your field workers … then you can really face a problem of resistance or even women fearing or not feeling confident to come forth when they have to deal with men,” she said. “These prejudices can be perceived or real, can kick in and push [women] back.”
The central bank hopes to get to the root of its problem by getting involved in programs that promote equitable workplaces, such as the Leadership and Diversity Program for Regulators (run by AFI and Women’s World Banking) and the Gender Equality Seal (implemented by Rwanda’s Gender Monitoring Office and the UNDP).
Through these programs, Dr Nsanzabaganwa hopes that the bank will be better at harnessing female talent into top-level positions as well as challenge its internal business operations and policies for signs of gender inequality.
“Gender is not just numbers -- how many women, how many men --, but other things like the diversity of ideas and styles you bring on board, the minds of people and perceptions,” she said.
Women are also among core recipients of targeted campaigns by BNR and state actors to boost financial education and are receiving training on basic financial management and services in order to close the knowledge gap between them and their male counterparts.
By empowering more women, Rwanda hopes it can meet its ambitious target rate for financial inclusion of 90 percent by next year. In addition, BNR hopes to avoid some of the pitfalls faced by other countries that, in the rush to embrace innovative technologies, inadvertently widened the gender gap by pushing initiatives that were either limited in scope and design or were poorly executed.
“We need to tackle this issue of women running the risk of falling back behind if we push technology without consciousness about what else needs to be done for them to really embrace and grow with it,” she said.
BNR is a member of AFI’s Gender and Women’s Financial Inclusion Committee, which provides leadership in advancing and promoting gender inclusive finance in the AFI Network. At the 2018 AFI GPF, the committee was recognized under the Advocacy Champion Award for its work in bridging the financial inclusion gender gap.
AFI’s Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is financed by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and other partners. AFI has formed strategic collaborations with a variety of global donors and partners from both the public and private sector. Learn more about our donors and partners.