Regulators to discuss the financial inclusion gender gap during upcoming meeting in Côte d'Ivoire
The Alliance of Financial Inclusion (AFI) is organizing a conference under the theme “Bridging the Gap: Financial Inclusion Policy Solutions for Women in Africa.” The one-day event will be held on 22 July 2015 in Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire, ahead of the 3rd Annual African Mobile Phone Financial Services Policy Initiative (AMPI) Leaders’ Roundtable, which will be held on 23-24 July 2015.
Recent studies indicated that more than 1.1 billion women worldwide still remain outside the formal financial system. In Africa, only 20 percent of the banked population is comprised of women versus 27 percent of men. Four out of five women in Africa lack access to a formal account, compared to one out of every four men.
Globally, not more than 8 percent of women in low-income countries have a loan from a formal financial institution. In most regions, less than one-third of women have a formal savings account. And yet, women make up 40 percent of the world’s workforce and female-owned SMEs represent 30-37 percent of all SMEs in emerging markets. Even after accounting for individual characteristics such as income, education, employment, age, and rural status, there is still a gap in women’s participation in the formal financial system across 148 economies.
There are multiple reasons cited as barriers for women’s inclusion in the financial system. This includes socio-economic challenges as well as barriers associated directly to the financial sector. Lack of money, financial illiteracy, requirements by financial institutions, culture, education background, belief systems and women’s role in the household sector, are some of the most frequently cited reasons as barriers for women to be included in the financial system.
Regulators need to dismount these barriers to ensure women have access to quality and affordable financial services and products. This requires that policymakers develop policies that will facilitate the inclusion of women in the financial system. There are several examples where innovative approaches have already yielded tangible results in increasing women access to finance. For instance, in Nigeria, Access Bank introduced a program where non-traditional collaterals such as pledging of jewelry and household equipment, are allowed to enable women entrepreneurs to access loans. Exim Bank in Tanzania, launched the Tumaini Account, a program tailored for women that offers personal and small business loans using the savings balances in Tumaini as guarantee. In Zambia, the government and regulators have been a strong advocate and influence by making women’s access to finance as a policy priority.
While the implementation of these initiatives and financial products to improve women’s financial inclusion should be lauded, there are still many opportunities to tap and explore. Understanding women’s needs and how best financial services can serve these needs may open up potential for new policy actions.
AFI is currently conducting a study to provide perspectives on the gender gap issues in financial inclusion policy. The preliminary findings of the research will be used as input to facilitate discussion at the conference in Côte d'Ivoire. This event will bring together policymakers, financial regulators and other relevant stakeholders to discuss current issues, share knowledge and practices, as well as potential solutions by using financial inclusion policy to close the gender gap.