Recognizing that women are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFI Network, guided by the Denarau Action Plan, has been agile in not only mitigating these negative impacts but also positioning itself to rebuild economies that are stronger, more inclusive and more resilient.
“We must be more intentional about bridging the financial inclusion gap and the disparities that exist from the gender perspective,” said Dr. Ernest Addison, governor of the Bank of Ghana in his opening remarks at AFI’s first Gender Inclusive Finance (GIF) webinar entitled “Integrating Gender Considerations into COVID-19 Policy Solutions.”
Co-hosted by the Bank of Ghana and AFI, the event aimed to encourage conversations on gender-sensitive considerations in COVID-19 recovery responses and capturing what AFI member institutions are already doing in their respective jurisdictions.
Highlighting that only 37 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa have a bank account, compared to men, Dr. Addison told the member-led event that this gap had widened over the years.
“Emerging and developing economies have been hardest hit by COVID-19, exacerbating pre-existing inequities which have led the poor and vulnerable bearing the brunt of the pandemic,” said Dr. Addison.
Ghana’s governor expressed concern that job losses and the collapse of many informal, micro and small businesses, many of which are owned by women, have pushed many out of the financial system.
Among measures undertaken by the Bank of Ghana to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 is to employ digital means of cash transfers to women and other vulnerable groups under the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty program, which uses biometric e-switch cards and mobile money interoperability platform.
Dr. Addison explained that “the use of digital financial services helped to accelerate the rate of financial inclusion and to contribute towards addressing the gender gap in access to finance.” Ghana’s financial inclusion gender gap currently stands at eight percent.
Looking to identify what additional support AFI members may need to enhance existing work, AFI’s Executive Director Dr. Alfred Hannig explained that the organization has been systematically incorporating GIF workstream into its strategic framework, while at the same time reinforcing policy support programs and incorporating GIF considerations through the lens of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
According to Dr. Hannig, the agility displayed by the network has ensured that financial regulators were not “paralyzed” by COVID-19, and instead have turned the pandemic into opportunities to accelerate progress and ensure that no one is left behind.
“Agility is very complex and important to us. We are doing what we can in the driver’s seat to build back better,” said Dr. Hannig, adding that the network has been able to reflect on strong growing partnerships, with growing interest from funding partners and opportunities in addition to those already in place.
Making progress in the GIF agenda is more critical than ever and will require that we address underlying pre-existing vulnerabilities, said the Bank of Ghana’s second deputy governor Elsie Addo Awadzi.
“Policies need to empower women economically by addressing issues affecting work-life balance, employment, healthcare, childcare, and elder care, among others. Greater access to finance for women necessarily depends on this,” said Addo Awadzi, who was recently appointed to AFI’s Gender Inclusive Finance Committee (GIFC) at AFI’s Annual General Meeting on 9 September 2020.
According to Bank of Zambia’s deputy governor, Rekha Mhango, who is the outgoing chair of the GIFC, in order to design gender-sensitive policies, surveys should specifically ask how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting women as there is a critical lack of data in the gender policy area.
Over two billion people in Africa are employed in the informal sector, out of which more than 40 percent are women, Mhango said adding that serious considerations must be given to the women’s market segment because they have been disproportionately impacted.
This sentiment was echoed by outgoing vice chair of the GIFC, Central Bank of Egypt’s sub-governor, May Abulnaga.
“Women-centric projects are crucial, especially at times of crisis,” said Abulnaga who is former vice chair of the GIFC. Egypt’s sub-Governor also said that the pandemic has pushed the central bank into deploying new initiatives and creating new opportunities for greater financial inclusion.
Md. Anwarul Islam, general manager at Bangladesh Bank, who also spoke at the webinar, emphasised the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs as micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are the backbone of the economy. Islam is also a newly appointed member of AFI’s GIFC.
In urging participants to make meaningful and tangible progress in gender inclusive finance, Deputy Governor Addo Awadzi called upon the network to renew their respective Maya Declaration, Denarau Action Plan and Kigali Statement commitments.
The Denarau Action Plan contributes to women’s economic empowerment and the United Nations’ SDGs, specifically goal five on gender equality. The Kigali Statement outlines specific actions to accelerate financial inclusion for disadvantaged groups.
Over 100 participants from all AFI regions attended the webinar and took part in discussions on key policy challenges affecting gender inclusive finance. Outcomes from the webinar discussions will contribute towards the development of a policy summary note that will guide future crosscutting interventions through AFI’s working groups, regional initiatives, and others.
AFI’s Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is partially financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.