[Column] Kairi Brand: The gender financial inclusion gap in Africa
While financial inclusion is growing in importance worldwide there is still a discrepancy between male and female financial inclusion – the so-called gender financial inclusion gap.
At a global level, the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report estimates it will take an average of 132 years to achieve gender equality globally!
The African continent is no exception. It appears that there are several reasons for this. In many African societies, it is men who handle the financial affairs in a family, with the woman managing the household and caring for children.
Women in emerging African economies also often have lower financial literacy levels on account of lower levels of education. Moreover, in some countries, legal and regulatory barriers in fact restrict women's access to financial services. These factors lead to limited awareness and understanding of financial products and services.
It is important to note that these challenges vary across countries and regions, depending on factors such as socio-economic conditions, cultural contexts, and institutional capacities.
The irony is that, while the African financial literacy gender gap is very real, it does not mean that women are not entrepreneurs. According to the fifth annual Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (2021), Sub–Saharan Africa has the world’s highest rate of women involved in entrepreneurial activity at 26%. In this, Botswana, South Africa, and Ghana are among the countries with the highest percentages.
However, due to the various challenges women entrepreneurs across Sub-Saharan Africa continue to earn lower profits than men (32% less) according to a World Bank report. One of the major inhibiting factors is the lack of capital on account of discriminatory practices.
In Nigeria, according to the National Assessment of Women’s Entrepreneurship Development, women are highly interested in becoming entrepreneurs but face unique challenges that prevent them from formalising and growing their businesses.
Addressing the gender financial inclusion gap is both a moral imperative and a strategic decision. Investing in equal opportunities yields positive outcomes, benefiting companies and contributing to economic growth.
Given the fact that so many women are entrepreneurs, and desperate to become financially independent, one can just imagine the economic growth that could be unleashed if more women were given access to financial literacy. Fast-tracking financial inclusion in terms of gender equality is therefore crucial for achieving economic empowerment and sustainable development.
So, what actions can be taken?
Some progress is under way. Many microfinance institutions in Africa have specifically targeted women by providing them with microcredit and savings facilities. These institutions have recognised the potential of women as entrepreneurs and have extended financial services tailored to their needs, including group lending methodologies.
The private sector is playing a pivotal role, with both local and global players already introducing innovative solutions to address and support the complex needs of this market. As an example, Admirals, one of the world’s leading fintech companies, reiterated its commitment to help fast-track digital financial inclusion in Africa with the opening of offices in Nigeria and South Africa.
The Estonia-based neo-broker provides a wide range of digital trading and investment products and financial services in accordance with its licenses from leading regulatory bodies worldwide. Admirals prioritises financial literacy, education, and knowledge-sharing as essential drivers to encourage greater access to global financial markets.
Through its financial literacy initiative,Admirals Academy,thecompany provides access to diverse and straightforward education material and resources to equip clients with the knowledge and tools to make informed financial decisions.
Access to financial information, and the opportunity to engage with and experience the benefits of digital financial solutions, is especially valuable when it comes to reaching those living in remote areas and yet having access to mobile connectivity.
On the governmental front, some governments are working on the removal of discriminatory laws and regulations that promote gender equality. These include laws that protect women's property rights, inheritance rights, and access to credit. Collaboration is key - among governments, financial institutions, NGOs, and civil society organisations.
Partnerships can leverage resources, expertise, and networks to implement comprehensive strategies and initiatives. These initiatives could include.
- Providing training, mentorship, and access to capital through initiatives like business incubators and microfinance programmes.
- Collecting and analysing gender-disaggregated data, which is essential for understanding the specific barriers women face in accessing financial services. This data can inform evidence-based policies and interventions that effectively target the gender gap.
- Educating girls at a young age about financial concepts, including budgeting, savings, investments, and financial planning. Financial literacy programmes can be targeted towards schools, communities, and workplaces to enhance girls’ and women's understanding of financial services and products.
- Setting up more bank branches and mobile banking services in under-served areas, particularly rural and remote regions where women face limited access.
- Developing affordable and flexible savings, and micro-financing products that not only address the day-to-day needs of women micro entrepreneurs but also encourage greater discipline and support the sustainable growth of their businesses.
- Drive digital financial inclusion, such as mobile money and digital wallets. This requires improving internet and mobile connectivity, promoting digital literacy, and addressing barriers like affordability and access to smartphones.
Promoting gender financial inclusion stimulates growth, reduces poverty, and fosters social stability. Empowering women has a multiplier effect that positively impacts families and entire communities. Closing the gender financial inclusion gap is therefore crucial to achieving economic empowerment and sustainable development on a global scale.
But there is no one-size-fits-all solution; it requires a strategic, multifaceted approach that considers social, cultural, economic, and policy barriers that stretch beyond borders.
As an international player with vast experience in both developed and emerging economies, Admirals has witnessed first-hand the successes emanating from the Group’s approach to cultivating an inclusive environment across its regions.
Empowering people starts by investing in equality, respecting the individual, and encouraging and nurturing the growth of every person, regardless of gender. With these principles as a foundation, strategies that promote inclusivity and enhance the economic participation of women, will have material, sustainable, and impactful results on societies the world over.