AFI: Congratulations on starting your new role and acting as a member of the AFI Board of Directors. As women continue to hold more strategic positions in the AFI network, what does this position mean for you personally, for Tunisia, and for women leaders across the AFI network?
First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to give this interview to present my vision and point of view. In fact, this position is an honor for me but, above all, it is a heavy responsibility as I feel I am representing women of the Middle East and North Africa region.
This is not uncommon for AFI which has always been led by outstanding women and men and I am personally convinced that it is AFI DNA. This is still true for Tunisia, a pioneer in the region as regards promotion of women’s rights.
In fact, in 2020, the CBT issued a new banknote paying tribute to Tunisian women, as embodied by Dr. Tawhida Ben Cheikh. I am very proud to be the first female Deputy Governor to have her signature on this banknote
In September 2021, The Tunisian President appointed the first Tunisian woman as Head of the Government.
Also, in our present Government, there are eight women ministers. Not only some of our Sovereign ministries are headed by women, such as the Ministry of Justice, but also, very technical ministries such as Finance, Industry, Trade, Equipment and Infrastructure and Environment. This is the same for the Ministry of Women, Family, Children and the Elderly and the Ministry of Culture.
Furthermore, the position of Secretary General of the Government is held by a woman. Besides, there are several female advisors and very high-ranked officials in the administration. In fact, this interesting female presence in decision-making positions is not only limited to the administration but many examples exist as well in the public service, the private sector, finance, research, education, the civil society. For my part, I humbly hope to make future generations dream and get inspired by women leaders in senior positions.
The history of my country Tunisia is full of examples of female success. The latest example that comes to my mind is that of the Tunisian tennis player Ons Jabeur. She reached the Wimbledon final brilliantly. But above all, she is an inspiration for all women and young generations. She has proved that excellence is a matter of hard-work and commitment.
AFI: The CBT has spent the few previous years working on enhancing digitalization which should encourage financial service providers to develop mobile payments and other digital solutions. How did the pandemic accelerate development, access and usage of digital financial services in the country, in particular helping to reduce gender gap in access to financial services?
From a gender-gap perspective, a national demand-side survey on financial inclusion has revealed, in 2018, that Tunisia is facing major financial inclusion problems particularly for women. Indeed, while 71% of men have access to formal financial services, only 51% of women do especially in rural areas. Besides, the results of this survey have shown a poor usage of DFS. For instance, only 3% of the population have tried mobile financial services.
In this regard, we decided to make digital financial services a lever of financial inclusion which is, in my opinion, a prerequisite to achieving economic and social inclusion as well as gender equality.
In December 2018, we established a regulatory framework governing payment institutions. These are new actors called to play a key role in supporting innovation and promoting cashless payments which help to open remote accounts and make their services available through a broad agent payments network.
Also, as part of a whole strategy to foster financial innovation, the CBT acts as a regulatory enabler for FinTechs to allow those with high financial inclusion potential to experiment their solutions (ex. Crowdfunding donation-based, eKYC) in the regulatory sandbox.
Furthermore, as you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed and accelerated digital transformation since it brought changes to the consumer’s behavior as well as to regulators’ priorities, imposing an urgent need for digital banking services.
In this context, the CBT, as part of its role as regulator and catalyst of the payments market, has focused its efforts on modernizing this market based on a more flexible and a more appropriate regulation, with a specific support and control of the ecosystem players, in line with its digital payments and “de-cashing” development strategy.
For instance, in Tunisia, during the COVID-19 lockdown period, we had an interesting experience regarding DFS potential to overcome financial exclusion problems. In fact, in 2020, the CBT, jointly with several stakeholders, had contributed to designing, developing, testing and operating a solution to provide social transfers on behalf of more than 350 thousand households based on digital wallets, so as to avoid crowded movements in Post branches and comply with social distancing measures. A real challenge was met within five weeks that highlighted the capacity of the public and private sectors, as well as the civil society, to work together in order to make things work.
In 2021, the same task was carried by adopting of digital payments on large scale. Almost one million households were served in a record time. In May 2020, soon after the lockdown period, we published a circular on the requirements to offer mobile payments by financial services providers.
Moreover, we introduced, in circular n° 2020-05, some free banking services, such as the electronic payment of any transaction which is less than, or equal to 100 Tunisian dinars (USD 32.5)
Significant progress is made to scale up government-to-public (G2P) digital payments and to bridge the gender gap in financial inclusion. However, new actions that focus on collecting updated data on women’s access and use of financial services and improving women’s financial literacy will be helpful to achieve the socioeconomic empowerment of women and financial inclusion goals.
AFI: The Central Bank of Tunisia has been ranked N°2 in the Gender Balance Index by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions forum, just behind the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and ahead of many developed and developing countries. What are the reasons of this success? What are the key takeaways that you could share with other regulators to support the advancement of women leaders in their institutions?
This classification is the fruit of enormous efforts deployed by the Central Bank of Tunisia (CBT) for many years, especially that it occupies a preponderant place according to this classification thanks to highly qualified new recruits
I should make it clear that job titles that are considered as senior management in our organization are: head of division, deputy managing director, director. In addition to “soft skills training “, the CBT organized Coaching and training sessions for top and mid-level managers in recent years.
With regard to recruitment, it should be noted that the percentage of women who apply for a job is very significant. In fact , women in the CBT account for about 49.25 percent of total staff, with 353 female executives out of a total workforce of 849 for the year 2021.
I can also mention the percentage of recruited women since 2000 which is 48% (with 257 Female executives out of a total of 535 employees). The percentage of women who have been promoted since 2010 is 41.6 percent (331 Female executives out of a total workforce of 795). In addition, 68.4 percent of women were recruited since 2016 (147 Female executives out of a total workforce of 215)., This means that we have, within our institution, a strategy for hiring, retaining and promoting women.
Honestly, we are trying to be the worthy successors of the builders of both the Republic of Tunisia and the CBT. At all stages of our history, the important role of women has been highlighted. This has been more visible over certain periods, but it has always been constant.
I take the example of Mrs. Annie Abed, former General Director of Legal Affairs in the 80s and Mrs. Hayet El Euch, Former General Director of Human Resources. Imagine, at the time, a Tunisian woman who was certainly very competent and who played her role wonderfully in such a strategic position.
This is a shared legacy until this day. I have to underline that the Executive Board, which the highest decision-making body of the CBT, complies with a perfect parity. It is composed, up to 50%, of women.
This represents a challenge which requires that we continue to preserve equal opportunities for all CBT staff, both women and men, whose ultimate objective is basically to contribute to achieving the missions of our Institution. “Only professional competence and capacity will prevail”.
AFI: What do you think AFI can do more to encourage and support current and potential women leaders to make positive impacts in the AFI network?
Based on AFI’s missions, I believe that women leaders have a crucial role to play in enhancing equality of chances to have access to financial services. For this purpose, I will submit a number of proposals that I think will make a positive impact and boost the gender equality dynamics.
First, I suggest the organization of a gender equality-dedicated annual Forum as an opportunity for peer exchange between AFI members and why not create a special award in this field. Second, I really consider the establishment of an annual ranking based on gender equality in AFI member financial institutions (similar to the OMFIF). Finally, the elaboration of a roadmap for gender equality ongoing promotion.
As I said at the beginning, I eagerly and humbly wish to make future generations dream and I hope that young people, women and men, will be inspired by women leaders’ paths and experiences. Each one of us can contribute to this and, in my opinion, the AFI is a favorable framework to do this work.
In addition, 198 regulators and policymakers from 27 member institutions graduated from AFI’s annual Leadership and Diversity Program for Regulators, delivered in partnership with Women’s World Banking and Oxford University. The porgram is ongoing since 2018.
Finally, AFI established Gender Ambassadors in 2019 to provide recognition of AFI member institutions that are making progress in gender inclusive finance and women’s institutional leadership. There were 11 Gender Ambassadors in 2019, and 19 are expected to be revealed during the GPF in Jordan.