European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Webinar on the role of inclusive policies for the economic empowerment of women during COVID-19
27 August 2020
Keynote address by Norbert Mumba, Deputy Executive Director, AFI
Warm greetings and welcome to everyone, I would like to thank our hosts the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for their invitation to the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) to deliver this keynote on the role of inclusive policies for the economic empowerment of women. I hope you are all safe and in good health as you join us for yet another important webinar.
I would also like to appreciate our host the EBRD, fellow keynote speakers and esteemed panelists for their important contributions to this webinar. We recognize the technical and practical importance of inclusive financial policies and it is both timely and appropriate to be talking about the opportunities we have to build a new inclusive economy that serves the needs of all women and girls.
Does COVID-19 present a challenge or an opportunity for the economic empowerment of women?
As countries begin the necessary journey of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has turned its expectations on policymakers and regulators to provide leadership and guidance, and to actively stem the adverse ripple effects of the current global situation, especially in the lives of the vulnerable: women, youths, the elderly, the differently-abled, informal sectors and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
COVID-19 presents many social and economic challenges particularly for women. Women have seen their care burden exponentially increased. They are often working informally and in sectors where they face higher levels of exposure to the virus and less opportunity to be able to protect themselves against it. They are exposed to risk such as fraud with the increasing dependency on technology and digital financial services (DFS) as in some countries the level of financial education and digital literacy are low.
But with challenges comes opportunities and allow me to focus on the opportunities. Regulators are at the intellectual forefront in the fight against the crisis. They need to forecast on implications of the crisis, adopt necessary preventive measures and ensure their proper implementation. Smart policy measures however, are meaningless if they do not positively impact the lives of those most adversely affected by the crisis. We need to ask ourselves: How can we utilize the opportunities presented by COVID-19 to build financial systems that no longer excludes women, and instead, accelerates women’s access and usage of formal financial services?
There are four key pillars I want to highlight today as we look at the opportunities for women’s economic empowerment that COVID-19 has presented us with. The first of this is the role of National Financial Inclusion Strategies (NFIS).
AFI has published the guideline note - INTEGRATING GENDER AND WOMEN’S FINANCIAL INCLUSION INTO NATIONAL STRATEGIES that highlights key actions members can take to accelerate progress in this area. This includes establishing a dedicated Financial Inclusion Unit in the lead institution. México has a national strategy for advancing gender equality within its National Development Plan. The Plan introduces gender equality as a national principle to which every public institution’s objectives and programs must be aligned.
Regulators can undertake NFIS reviews through a gender lens and ensure the targets for increasing and measuring women’s financial inclusion are formally codified within the NFIS. They can work with other ministries to look at removing legal and regulatory barriers experienced by women, including ownership of collateral such as land and the ability to own and run a business on their own.
Sex Disaggregated Data
Secondly, I want to highlight the importance of sex disaggregated data and how data from national supply and demand side surveys can support financial service providers develop gender appropriate products and services. Bank Al-Maghrib in Morocco has promoted the value of sex-disaggregated data through awareness raising workshops on women’s financial inclusion. It has mandated the collection of this data on account ownership and credit through annual reporting since 2013 and has moved to address existing data gaps by mandating Payment Companies to report on gender.
Digital Financial Services (DFS)
The third pillar that I wish to focus on is the use of digital financial services (DFS) solutions such as mobile money services and other such innovations, to reliably offer an affordable, convenient, secure, and efficient way of supporting women into accessing and using formal financial services and products.
The pandemic has led to a proactive increase in the use of technology and digital transactions we see such increase and Kenya and in countries covered by the BCEAO in West Africa. Nevertheless, the fast transition to increasing the use of DFS has left many women at risk of being left behind because they have less opportunity to access and use digital financial services due to their lower levels of access to smart phones and lower levels financial education and digital literacy. We must ensure that women and girls are equipped with all necessary awareness and skills to ensure their effective participation in economic activity and speed up their recovery from the global emergency.
Opportunities in further leveraging on technology may allow digital transaction history, phone bill data points and social media data points to be considered as a form of alternative credit history to better serve women who do not have access to landed collateral to access finance for their small businesses. This will help women overcome some of these barriers to women’s access to financing and drive women’s participation in the economy.
We see projects such as the Female Agent Project, implemented by Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF) and a leading payment service provider in Jordan, that aims at catalyzing access to DFS among underprivileged women through a network of women agents as key to effective women’s participation. The Central Bank of Jordan has also amended regulation to enable e-KYC for forcibly displaced persons (FDPs) to open mobile wallets remotely using their UNHCR identification cards, thus allowing them to receive remittances and undertake person-to-person transactions.
The fourth and final pillar I wish to highlight is the importance of women-owned and -led MSMEs. In most countries, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are the backbone of the economy due to their contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), exports, employment, and social cohesion. Despite its importance, access to financing remains, especially for women-led MSMEs, one of the biggest hurdles to reach the sector’s full potential and growth. A comprehensive ecosystem for MSME financing together with a concerted effort by both public and private sector stakeholders is needed to help enhance financing to MSME across the EBRD portfolio.
We see COVID-19 as presenting an opportunity to spur members drive to establishing an inclusive SME finance ecosystem that ensures sustainable financing for SMEs in both peace and emergency times while highlighting the use of digital technologies to support new generations of entrepreneurs.
We have also seen the importance of insurance products, particularly those for women-owned and led MSMEs to reduce their financial risk and increase their resilience. The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus is addressing legal and policy constraints which indirectly constrain women in accessing and using insurance and has introduced microinsurance to specifically target support to women.
We recognize that the path to recovery might present several options and opportunities, particularly around the four keys areas I have highlighted - the strategic and systematic integration of gender sensitivities and gender targets into the NFIS, the collection and use of effective sex-disaggregated data, the access to and effective usage of digital financial services by women and girls and finally the gender sensitive support needed by the MSME sectors.
At the 2016 AFI Global Policy Forum in Fiji, AFI members committed to close the persistent nine percent gender gap in financial inclusion, through the Denarau Action Plan. The Denarau Action Plan identifies measures AFI members can take to increase the number of women with access to quality and affordable financial services globally and fulfil the commitment the membership made to halve their respective gender access to finance gaps by the end of 2021. The adoption of the Denarau Action Plan has enabled AFI and our members to make unprecedented advancements in gender-inclusive policies and regulations. We see our members commitment to this end unwavering even during the current global health crisis.
Gratefully, we have not been alone in these endeavors. Our members efforts have been supported by a broad array of likeminded partners, including the Swedish Sida, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Public Private Dialogue partners as well as institutions represented on today’s panel who are working with AFI to champion the Denarau Action Plan. These partnerships remain the core of our work to ensure truly inclusive financial ecosystems as we emerge from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
It is my hope that today’s webinar will serve as a platform for us, as a collective of policymakers, regulators, industry players and other key global stakeholders, to share policy and financial inclusion related interventions targeting service providers, the poor, migrants, and other vulnerable groups especially women and girls.
I wish you all a fruitful deliberation. Thank you.