9 March 2020

Gender Inclusive Finance: Impetus for Egypt’s economic growth

By Mai Abulnaga, Sub Governor of Governor’s Office & Head of Financial Inclusion and Regulations Sector, Central Bank of Egypt

Access to financial resources is widely recognized as key to women’s economic empowerment. In Egypt, women’s economic and financial empowerment is a governmental priority, as demonstrated in the country’s Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030 and the National Women’s Strategy launched by the National Council for Women, which addresses economic, social and political opportunities to empower Egyptian women – which represents almost half of the population.

Significant efforts have been made over the past years to empower women. In politics, women occupy 24 percent of the cabinet’s ministerial portfolios and constitute 15 percent of Egypt’s parliament.

On the social front, the government adopted social protection cash transfer programs (known as “Takaful and Karama”), which aim to improve women’s wellbeing. Takaful, or solidarity, is a conditional cash transfers program that supports vulnerable families with children under 18, to ensure that children attend school and undergo health screenings (89 percent of beneficiaries are women).

While the current environment holds huge potential for women’s financial inclusion, inequality remains an obstacle with women remaining disproportionally excluded from the formal financial system, especially in rural areas. According to the Global Findex Database, formal account ownership in Egypt has increased to 33 percent in 2017 from 14 percent in 2014. Impressive gains have also been seen in women’s account ownership, which has more than tripled to 27 percent in 2017 from 7 percent in 2011, although notably below the 39 percent achieved in male account ownership.

Preliminary research suggests that lack of products and services to match the financial needs of women and the financial literacy and socio-cultural barriers,  are among the main obstacles that hinder progress in women’s financial inclusion.

In response, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has taken the responsibility to promote and coordinate a gender inclusive financial system that addresses the barriers facing women and brought it to the forefront of its development policy agenda.

CBE has been working on several pillars to build an inclusive financial system that:

  • applies gender-centric regulatory interventions;
  • modernizes digital infrastructure;
  • builds a comprehensive gender-disaggregated data on the supply side, which will be complemented with a demand-side mapping exercise in 2020 for evidence-based policymaking;
  • strengthens consumer protection.

The main outcomes and achievements of these pillars include:

  • Legal and regulatory framework:
    • Issuing a unified definition of a women-led/owned business for use in measuring data.
    • Issuing consumer protection regulation in collaboration with public and private sector stakeholders to raise awareness and financial literacy.
  • Initiatives to support entrepreneurship and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs):
    • Incentivizing banks to lend to microfinance institutions (MFIs) and NGOs, which boosted their financial capacity and enabled them to serve more than 3 million beneficiaries, of which 65 percent were women
    • Developing, qualifying and increasing the capabilities of young female entrepreneurs through the “Nilepreneur” initiative.
  • Enabling digital and technological infrastructure:
    • This was achieved through CBE’s key role under the National Payment Council, headed by Egypt’s president, where major strides in modernizing Egypt’s digital infrastructure included issuing the “Less Cash” law; launching the first national cashless payment scheme “Meeza”; issuing simplified KYC regulations; promoting the adoption and usage of digital financial service mechanisms and digital payments facilities in areas with limited access to formal bank accounts to formulate government-to-person payments, such as cash transfer programs and alimonies; enabling MFI’s to disburse and collect microfinance loans through mobile wallets; formalizing and digitizing the informal financial infrastructures such as village saving loans associations.
  • Evidence-based policymaking:
    • Building a comprehensive, gender-disaggregated database on the supply side to be to measure the levels, trends and challenges of financial inclusion in the country.  Supply-side data is currently collected from financial institutions (Banks and Egypt Post) using unique National identification numbers, through a Centralized Financial Inclusion Data hub at the CBE. This database will be complemented by a full-fledged demand side survey for households and MSMEs (with the national statistical bureau, CAPMAS).
  • Formalizing and Digitizing of the Village Saving and Loans Association (VSLA)
    • The CBE Board of Directors approved to fund the VSLA in Egypt with an amount of 30 million Egyptian pound targeting the scale up and digitization of 100,000 women beneficiary in one year under the overarching objective of women empowerment as well as spreading awareness and financial literacy.
  • Women’s Mentoring and Leadership:
    • Leveling the play field between genders and introducing programs to maintain a sustainable gender-sensitive culture and infrastructure within CBE and the banking sector. Currently, women constitute 12 percent of bank board of directors (BOD), 30 percent of CBE’s BOD and occupy 20 percent of managerial positions in the banking sector.

We have walked a long way but much remains to be done to halve our gender gap by 2021, and in our capacity as AFI’s BOD Chair, Gender Inclusive Finance Committee vice chair, and as Gender Inclusion Ambassadors, we are committed to reach this goal by supporting the implementation of DAP through AFI’s network and enabling all AFI members to become gender ambassadors.

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

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