International Women’s Day 2021: AFI reached out to women leaders in the network to share their thought on women’s empowerment and insights on the important role women play in financial inclusion. This interview features Governor and AfPI Vice-Chair Caroline Abel, Central Bank of Seychelles.
Financial inclusion is about ensuring that no one is left behind when it comes to having access to efficient and affordable financial products and services. Therefore, every effort should be invested to continue bridging the gender gap that still exists globally and in all regions. This will ensure that both men and women can be empowered and have adequate access to financial services that enables them to contribute effectively towards economic growth.
We live in a day where, in many parts of the world, more women are venturing into business and are very much engaged in their families’ financial wellbeing. As such, financial services and products available for conducting transactions, payment services, savings and credit facilities must be inclusive.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has unfolded into an economic crisis has provided the perfect opportunity for us to assess the accessibility of financial services and the broader inclusivity of our policies for ensuring financial inclusion. Can everyone – both men and women – conveniently access financial services while bank branches are closed? What is the level of onboarding when it comes to digital financial services? Do people have sufficient knowledge and are comfortable using digital financial services? The answer to these questions should prompt relevant stakeholders to take decisive actions to improve on identified weaknesses. Expanding access during this time of crisis will also go a long way in promoting economic activity and ultimately assist recovery efforts.
Financial inclusion is an important tool to empower both men and women with the necessary financial capabilities to make the right financial decisions. While their needs and perspectives may differ, women should not be left behind on the financial inclusion journey. Every effort should be made to identify and address gender-specific barriers to financial inclusion.
Women’s determination is evident by how they have ventured into traditionally male-dominated sectors in recent decades. Where it comes to leadership, although there is much talk and effort globally to eliminate the preference of one gender over the other – from the recruitment process to the assigning of leadership roles – there is much more to be done to close the gender gap. In many instances, women have to work harder to prove themselves and those in leadership positions are sometimes limited in numbers compared to male leaders, which can be a bit daunting.
Having said this, women are tenacious, hardworking, and can easily adapt to changing situations. These qualities are what makes women unique in the attributes that they can bring to an organization. In addition, women are more naturally inclined to be attentive and understanding towards others, finding solutions and fostering collaboration. Such traits are particularly visible and vital during difficult times, such as the current crisis, where leaders are expected to persevere and remain determined to turn difficult situations around.
It is important that we seek to capture and dissect gender specific data so that we can gain better understanding of actual situations faced by women as well as the limitations they face. This will lay the foundation that ensures policies and regulations are fully inclusive, at the same time assist in identifying and addressing specific issues. Financial inclusion should enable women to contribute significantly towards national development through their participation in economic activities.
In humbly accepting the role of deputy chair of AfPI in August last year, I expressed the desire and commitment of the Central Bank of Seychelles to work in close collaboration with other members of the AfPI network. Our aim during this tenure is to advance the AfPI agenda further and strive to formulate policy responses that are targeted and relevant, in light of the realities of our respective countries. In all of this, the financial inclusion of women remains high on the agenda. Much has been achieved in that domain, although there is still more to be done, and we can start by sharing experiences and success stories.
I intend to use every opportunity to engage with colleagues across the network and advocate for gender equality and empowerment of all groups, including women, globally, to remove barriers that hinder their financial emancipation. At the AfPI level, we are committed to the Denarau Action Plan, which outlines the AFI network’s commitment to gender and women’s financial inclusion and can be used as stepping-stone to accelerate efforts in bridging the financial inclusion gender gap.
Women play an important role in identifying and highlighting barriers and challenges they face and must be given the opportunity to propose solutions to advance financial inclusion efforts. In many instances, it is a lack of availability and the lack of awareness, which results in an unwillingness among women to access and make use of financial services and products, that causes exclusion. In response to this, we must prioritize the development of peer-to-peer encouragement and support initiatives to forward this endeavor.
The COVID-19 pandemic is indeed an unprecedented situation that has brought widespread challenges for everyone – men, women and even children across all age groups. Aside from keeping themselves and their families safe, women have had to keep on striving in their day-to-day jobs across all sectors. Women entrepreneurs have been working hard to keep their businesses afloat while also managing the economic realities affecting the home front. In addition, women have had to take on new responsibilities, such as balancing remote working with home-schooling their children, given the schools’ prolonged closure.
At an institutional level, I admire how women have remained committed, devoting time and effort to deliver to the best of their abilities. What has also been remarkable is the level of support and collaboration that women have shown towards their female colleagues and their male counterparts.
The level of difficulty experienced may not be comparable for all women. While the road to recovery remains long and uncertain, women worldwide should stand strong and remain resilient. Moments of adversity, such as the current pandemic, should be seen as an opportunity for growth and to push forward to achieve one’s full potential. This can take several forms, from acquiring skills for a new job, seizing the rising opportunities to start a new business venture or finding innovative ways to adapt existing business models. Therefore, to all my fellow women colleagues, let us continue to persevere and to find inclusive solutions to the challenges we are facing today, and those we may encounter in the future.
The Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.