Dr. Alfred Hannig, AFI Executive Director, delivers opening remarks during Education and Financial Empowerment: Strengthening the Resilience of Rural Women event.

25 May 2021

Education and Financial Empowerment: Strengthening the Resilience of Rural Women

Organized by Banque de la République d’Haiti, 21 May 2021

Opening remarks by Dr. Alfred Hannig, AFI Executive Director 

 

I would like to thank Governor Jean Baden Dubois of the Bank of Haiti for inviting me to participate in the opening of this highly important forum on the Education and Financial Empowerment to Strengthening the Resilience of Rural Women.

First of all, I want to congratulate the Bank of Haiti for taking the lead with convening this forum, especially because of the important role that women and Madam Sara traders have to the Haitian economy and society. To quote film director Etant Dupain who you will be hearing from later, “To talk about Madam Sara is to talk about Haitian women.

Bank of Haiti (BRH) has been an active principal member of AFI for over a decade and is recognized as one of the network’s Gender Inclusive Ambassador institutions. As a committed champion of financial inclusion for Women, the central bank has endorsed and implemented different financial inclusion policies, many of which have been included in the central bank’s seven Maya Declaration commitment targets. I am proud to see that three of these targets have a direct focus on women’s financial inclusion.

Through AFI’s in-country implementation (ICI) program and supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), AFI provided technical assistance to BRH. AFI worked alongside Haiti’s Ministry of Finance and Economy and the Ministry of National Education as a main partner in helping develop the Plan National d’Éducation et de Formation (PNEF).

As a matter of fact, in the AFI network financial education for women is being recognized as one of the main drivers to narrow down the financial inclusion gender gap. It has been identified as one of the key areas of policy interventions of our members and started to occupy a prominent position within national financial inclusion frameworks such as NFIS, financial sector development strategies or national development plans. Without financial education for women particularly at the lower end of the economic pyramid sustainable and balanced growth will not be possible. This is even more true in view of the dynamic increase of the use of digital financial services by poorer segments of the population in AFI member jurisdictions. We therefore commend the efforts of the Haitian Stakeholders to further implement the PNEF and are very appreciative of the efforts of the Central Bank of Haiti in supporting this framework.  

Digital financial services for women at the bottom of the pyramid have gained even higher relevance with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted social and economic activities around the world. The initial health crisis quickly snowballed into an economic crisis that threatens to reverse many years of gains in economic growth, poverty reduction, and financial inclusion. We can see this as Haiti has seen a two percent increase in poverty rates in 2020, when compared to 2012.

Across the AFI network, even countries that have acted quickly to contain the spread of the virus have not been spared from these economic impacts. Globally, remittances and tourism have dropped sharply, investment has dried up, and trade supply chains have been affected, making it harder to get goods to market, and equipment and materials where needed. Remittances play a particularly important role in the Haitian economy but has experienced an 18 percent drop between 2019 and 2020.

Whilst all countries have been economically impacted by the pandemic, analysts and observers suggest that the negative effects of this crisis are most severe in developing and emerging economies, with the IMF predicting Haitian GDP to grow by only one percent in 2021.

As mentioned earlier, the crisis has not affected all equally. For instance, women are heavily affected as they are over-represented in the informal sector where they form the majority of street vendors and support agricultural supply chains. However, their average income is almost half of that of men’s. MSME, forcibly displaced people, those living with a disability and youths, are characterized by having limited or no savings, lower levels of financial and digital literacy and lack of stable income streams, making them much more vulnerable to economic shocks. These groups have been disproportionately impacted, as they are often employed in the informal sector, earn daily wages, and may fall outside the scope of government economic support packages.

These are the very groups that the AFI network committed to include in adopting the Kigali Statement on the Financial Inclusion of Disadvantaged Groups. These groups are more exposed to the pandemic, as many experience living and working conditions that do not allow them physical distancing and still have to go to work even when they are sick. Developing economies also have smaller financial resources to fight sudden and catastrophic events such this pandemic. Therefore, we have the responsibility to show each other support.

Yet, it has also been heartening to see extremely proactive responses to the COVID-19 crisis by our members in the LAC region. For example:

Financial regulators responded almost immediately to the crisis to ensure the continuing flow of credit to the real economy and to small businesses. This includes monetary policy interventions; adjustments of policies and regulation; provision of stimulus packages; adjustment of loan provisioning and moratoriums.

Many AFI members leveraged digital channels to provide economic support packages of unprecedented scale to workers and small businesses to mitigate some of the worst impacts of this crisis.

We have also seen specific measures that fully take advantage of digital financial services in the context of lockdowns and social distancing, such as reducing fees for mobile money services, utilizing e-KYC and digital identities for remote onboarding and removing transaction limits on e-wallets.

By recognizing the severe nature of the crisis, we also realize that we have an opportunity to draw positive conclusions from this crisis. One of the biggest opportunities today comes from the fact that over the past decade financial inclusion has emerged as a tested and proven policy tool that has worked to alleviate poverty and reinforced monetary policy implementation in many countries in the world after the Global Financial Crisis, especially in developing countries. Exploiting this opportunity in a smart way, will allow us to aim for an inclusive recovery. We should be brave to be the creators of positive conclusions from what we have learned so far. We are convinced that financial inclusion after COVID-19 can unlock and further drive women’s economic participation and enable transformative opportunities while leaving no one behind.

In view of these challenges and opportunities, AFI has initiated a COVID-19 response initiative to provide support for members, both to design high impact financial inclusion policy interventions, and to support the implementation of such policies.

Through our COVID-19 Policy Response framework and the In-country implementation program, which Haiti is in the process of accessing, AFI is committed to delivering systematic and effectively coordinated policy responses to help our members both mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on financial inclusion policy implementation in the short-term, and systematically plan for the recovery from the pandemic in the longer term.

It is fundamental that supervised institutions collaborate with different stakeholders to be fully sensitized about the importance of generating activities or developing programs that focus on women’s financial inclusion and contribute to fulfilling the commitment made by the AFI membership in the Denarau Action Plan.

I am proud to recognize the role of the BRH has taken in building for a more inclusive economy and for these two days of webinars that will contribute to share experiences and ideas for the promotion of education and financial inclusion of rural women. This is a great opportunity to reflect on the main issues for better social, financial and economic inclusion that will accomplish objectives established in the National Financial Education Plan.

Further exclusion is not an option. We need to move inclusivity to the core of our thinking and build a Normal which is perhaps not new, but better than what we have been used to as it is grounded on the solid basis of what we have learned and support our mission to ensure that we leave no one behind.


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