First cohort of gender inclusive ambassadors takes stage during 2019 Global Policy Forum in Kigali, Rwanda. Dr. Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula stands next to Dr. Alfred Hannig on far left.
By Dr. Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula, Deputy Governor of Bank of Zambia & Chair of AFI's Gender Inclusive Finance Committee

Leaving no one behind: The value of Gender Inclusive Ambassadors 

September 13, 2019 was a very special day for me. As the AFI family, we attained milestone recognition with the certification of the first-ever AFI Gender Inclusive Ambassadors. Eleven member institutions were inducted. This is a tool which, if effectively used, can significantly assist us to scale up our efforts in the gender inclusive finance space and bridge the gender gap in financial inclusion. 

Leaving no one behind has become the mantra of the development community since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015. Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, the new Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.

SDGs and financial inclusion

The Denarau Action Plan, which was adopted by AFI members in 2016, and our network’s commitment to gender inclusive finance are well aligned with the SDGs and, more specifically, to Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls. This goal aims to, among other things, undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws. Furthermore, it targets the enhanced use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women and to adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels. In our view, the attainment of all other goals is dependent on achieving Goal 5, for which the financial inclusion of women is a critical enabler.

Why is empowerment for women so important for us?

Greater inclusion of women as users of financial services has positive macroeconomic outcomes. As stated by our greatest gender ambassador of recent times, former Managing Director of the IMF and now President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, empowering women is “a global imperative for all those who care about fairness and diversity, but also productivity and growth of societies and economies that are more inclusive.” (F&D, March 2019).

However, women are still being left behind despite the call to “leave no one behind”. The main question we should be asking ourselves is, are we are doing enough to tackle the issues related to closing the gender gap?

The job before us is huge! You just need to look at the statistics:

  • Almost one billion women are still excluded from formal financial services;
  • The gender gap in access to bank accounts remains at a stubborn seven percent globally and at nine percent in developing countries and emerging economies. This has not shifted since 2011. The gap is even larger when it comes to usage of those accounts;
  • Women-owned small and medium enterprises operating in the formal sector face a significant credit gap, which the IFC estimates at approximately USD2,872 billion;
  • Women in low- and medium-income countries are, on average, 10 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, which translates into 197 million fewer women owning a phone. Mobile subscriber growth may be slowing but the gender gap in mobile ownership is not closing;
  • Women are constrained from achieving the highest leadership positions: Only five percent of Fortune 500 chief operating officers (CEOs) are women  (Cheryl. (2014). Women CEOs of the S&P 500).

As a response for continuing to leave women behind, we have set ourselves the audacious goal of halving the gender gap in access to formal financial services in each of our jurisdictions of the AFI network by 2021.

My vision

As Chairperson of AFI Gender Inclusive Finance Committee, my vision is to see all member institutions in the AFI network certified as gender ambassadors. Furthermore, I would like to see this responsibility cascaded to not only the CEOs and senior management, but to each and every member of staff -- both women and men -- in these institutions. Imagine every individual member of the AFI network advocating for and taking all necessary action within their power to advance gender inclusive finance!


My clarion call is, therefore, for everyone in the AFI network to become a Gender Inclusive Ambassador, certified or self-appointed. We need concerted efforts at the individual and collective level to make speedy progress towards closing the gender gap and ensure that we address the root causes or barriers to bridging the gender gap. As regulators and policymakers, let us strive to continue to create an enabling environment that will help close the financial inclusion gender gap. Together, we can achieve more and contribute to the positive change that we want to see in the lives of the many unserved or underserved through gender inclusive finance. I am sure that one of the working groups will be more than happy to develop a handbook or other resource kit on how to be a Gender Inclusive Ambassador. With this multiplication of actors in our financial inclusion space, we can strive to leave no one behind.


AFI Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other funders.