Woman stands outside her home near Sani Pass in Lesotho / iStock

15 March 2021

COVID-19 brings opportunities for innovation in women’s financial inclusion

In conjunction with International Women’s Day 2021, AFI reached out to women leaders in the network to share their thoughts on women’s empowerment and insights on the important role women play in financial inclusion. This interview features Governor Retšelisitsoe A. Matlanyane (PhD) from the Central Bank of Lesotho.

  1. Why is financial inclusion, and specifically women’s financial inclusion, important to you?

Financial inclusion is a catalyst to growth. It is therefore imperative that broad based financial inclusion is attained in order to unlock economic activity. For a long time, developing economies have lagged behind in terms of financial inclusion. The chronic lack of depth of markets has, to a large extent, hindered financial inclusion.

Developments in technology in the recent years has brought revolutionary opportunities and broadened the scope for rapid developments of markets and products that have made financial inclusion much more possible. This has enabled access to markets and products as well as transactions at reasonable costs for all.

For a long time, women have been operating at the margins of the formal economy. The role of women in the mainstream economy has been increasing over time with women’s participation in business. For this reason, financial inclusion is central to our strategy towards reducing poverty and unemployment while we build a stronger and more inclusive private sector.

With mobile technology, the women’s savings groups have now been brought into the formal sector, thereby significantly reducing risks associated with handling cash. Access to credit by the members of these groups has been made much easier and efficient through mobile money platforms. These developments have in turn boosted the participation of women in the sector, expanding their businesses and making them more efficient as mobile payments are becoming more acceptable.

  1. What are the unique qualities that women leaders can bring to an organisation?

Women leaders have a much stronger connection with various sections of any community as natural nurturers. It is highly likely that women leaders are have a propensity to attend to details that may be missed by their male counterparts without losing focus on the strategic issues and the big picture.

In most cases, women leaders are agents of positive change in an organization, while conscious of the wellbeing of the organization in the wider ecosystem and environment within which it operates. An optimal blend of focus, innovativeness and flexibility to changing circumstances and environments, as well as elevated change management capabilities, characterize the approach of many twenty first century women leaders.

Many women leaders have demonstrated a blend of intellectual and emotional intelligence that work to enhance healthy growth of organizations while maintaining their stability even in the most difficult circumstance. These attributes are complemented by a higher propensity to adopt and embrace change. It is also backed by reasonable analytical assessment that is forward-looking with a long-term focus on positive outcomes for all, sterling performance and stability.  

  1. What are the biggest opportunities you face in developing and implementing policy and regulation focused on women’s financial challenges?

Emerging from a background environment of low levels of inclusion, there is every opportunity to demonstrate the advantages of financial inclusion for women and designing and implementing policies that are aimed at enhancing financial inclusion for women. The opportunity could not have come at a better time than when the sub-Saharan region has set benchmarks for itself to focus on gender equality as a requirement for balanced socio-economic development.

A combination of changes in various national legislation that are aimed at achieving gender balance, coupled with developments in technology, and of course the recent economic challenges in many economies, including those associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, present ample opportunities to address the need for financial inclusion for vulnerable communities especially women and youths.

In many economies, a combination of skills and the hardships that women deal with have forced them to venture into industries and lines of business that have traditionally been dominated by their male counterparts such as construction and mining. Many of these industries have traditionally been in the formal sector and have therefore enjoyed the services of the formal financial sector and facilities. Participation of women in these sectors helps to make it easier for women to be included financially. It also makes it easier to design policy that address the needs of start-up businesses in the same sectors with a focus on gender balance.    

  1. Lesotho is one of a handful of countries in the world with a reverse gender gap. What lessons can it teach the network and beyond on this?

We are very encouraged to be among the countries that managed to reverse the gender gap. The 2017 Global Findex showed that account ownership was 46 percent for women compared with 45 percent for men. The financial inclusion gender gap is negative for mobile money accounts suggesting that more women have mobile accounts than men.

The main lesson that one can draw from this achievement is that our countries should be consistent in the implementation of a wide range of reforms, including in the financial sector. This milestone is a product of several reforms including the enactment of the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act of 2006 which gave equal rights of married persons. This piece of legislation removed limitations that were imposed on women on issues relating to access to finance and entering into contracts and equalized the rights of women and men in this regard.

Similarly, reforms concerning access to land as detailed in the Land Act of 2010 allowed equal access to land ownership by men and women. The Act harmonized the exist­ing national laws and financial institutions’ regulations on the use of land as collateral.

Thirdly, the Companies’ Amendment Act (2008) allowed women to be directors of companies and set up their own companies.

Lastly, the National Assembly Act of 2011 mandates political parties registered with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to facilitate the full participation by women. Combined with the reforms that we implemented in the financial sector including introduction of mobile money, we have begun to observe increased participation by women in the formal financial sector. 

  1. What is your message to women in your institution and in our network, across the world on international Women’s Day, especially during the challenging times of COVID-19 pandemic?

One of the major risks of the COVID-19 pandemic to women is the possible reversal of the gains that have been achieved in enhancing their participation in the formal financial sector and the economy. In the face of rife unemployment and harsh conditions for the business sector, it is important to escalate the pace of implementation of relevant reforms that will turn around the plight of business activity and the economy.

Leveraging on technology is an integral part of business, economy wide reforms and trade in as much as it is absolutely essential for financial inclusion. COVID-19 presents opportunities for deeper integration and openness of markets, possibilities for exploration of new ventures, innovation and working beyond the traditional limitations of scope. Focusing on recovery from COVID-19, exploring and embracing new ways of operating, being innovative in every aspect of business and maximizing efficiency gains is key.

 

The Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is partially financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.

 


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