If We Fail To Secure Financial Inclusion For African Women, It’s A No-grow Future

There is a shared truth among women living across Africa’s 54 economies: for the wealth of the continent to bloom, they must be financially included, writes Tariro Nyimo, Head of Stakeholder Engagement
and Strategic Fundraising
 at Digital Frontiers – a non-profit organisation that develops gender equality and financial inclusion capacity-building programmes, to help Africa achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Investing in women goes beyond the obvious economic benefits it brings for society. Women shoulder significant social responsibilities in ensuring the well-being of those under their care: providing homes, tending to elderly and the sick, raising children, and earning an income. It’s crucial to acknowledge the additional responsibilities they carry, while supporting them with financial services that truly meet their needs.

If we want to achieve sustainable, economically-active households in the future, we must first address the systemic bias favouring formally employed men. Not nearly enough is being done to ensure formal financial system in African countries caters deliberately to the needs of the women the economy so desperately relies on. According to the Global Findex Database 2021, persistent gender gaps are still experienced within sub-Saharan Africa such as bank access which has increased by only 7% since 2011, reaching 12% in 2021. We must further acknowledge the reality that women in the informal sector have a need for distinct financial instruments.

This starts with considerations around channels that open up access to finance for women, as well as their affordability. To create a financial environment that works for women,  banks need to re-evaluate products and ensure they’re investing in the right things. An example of this would be an offering that takes a woman’s life-stage needs into account, that gives women the ability to respond to emergencies such as a child’s medical expenses, or for entrepreneurial business support every financial year end. It comes down to the need for financial institutions to earn the trust of women.

For many women on the continent, the banking environment is intimidating – where they’re often wary of the imposing financial building marked by ‘the big wall with the big sign’ that does not invite everyone through the door. Informal savings groups like stokvels in South Africa, Fushai in Zimbabwe or Ibimina in Rwanda, where women receive respect for their financial discipline are often more welcoming – whether they’re saving to buy groceries, agri-Inputs , raise livestock, or own a piece of land.

To gain a foothold with women in Africa, banks and other financial institutions must ask whether they are doing enough to enable their financial security? This is a cut-through question in light of the World Economic Forum’s recently published Global Gender Gap Report 2023 which provides data to support the call for absolute financial inclusion. The report highlights that four out of five jobs filled by women fall within the informal or MSME sector where jobs are often ‘invisible’, which significantly disadvantages their access to financial support.

The crucial question society faces is: “Can we afford to ignore the situation?” For the sake of bringing about economic and social transformation in society, we need to create real change. Our financial institutions should focus on unlocking access to finance, ensuring product quality, and delivering ease of use for these offerings through actions such as:

  • Bringing to market affordable mobile money services that achieve reach, break barriers of traditional banking and open doors for other digital financial services, and growth for MSMEs.
  • Incorporating a focus on female inclusion in STEM education through financial support for women who are raising the next generation of women, and through institutions championing confidence in our young women – opening doors to opportunities in mathematics and science-related careers.
  • Scaling up country-specific offerings based on the realities facing women because we cannot forget that Africa is not one country, but a region of 54 different economies.

We must start the change now. In the words of Saadia Zahidi, a Managing Director at the World Economic Forum, “Global gender gaps in health and education have narrowed over the past year, yet progress on political empowerment is effectively at a standstill, and women’s economic participation has regressed rather than recovered.” Any further lag in economic participation cannot be tolerated as there’s much work to be done in prioritising the active financial inclusion of women.

By Tariro Nyimo

Head of Stakeholder Engagement and Strategic Fundraising at Digital Frontiers


About: Digital Frontiers  

Established in 2015, Digital Frontiers (DF) is a not-for-profit capacity building specialist headquartered in Africa and focused on building human capacity aligned with achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. To date, DF has built and implemented comprehensive capacity building programmes that support the acceleration of global initiatives in digital financial services and financial inclusion, gender equality, digital health, and inclusive digital economies.  

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