The financial inclusion gender gap in Sub-Saharan Africa and how we can address it

The financial inclusion gender gap in Sub-Saharan Africa and how we can address it

During the last decade, Sub-Saharan Africa has made a tremendous progress in terms of financial  inclusion. According to the latest Global Findex survey of the WorldBank, in 2017, the number of adults in the region with a bank or other financial account increased to 43%, up 9 percentage points from 2014. A take-off which has largely been the result of the strong growth of mobile money, as ownership of such accounts during these years rose to 21%, almost double from 2014 (12%). Among this group, nearly half reported having only a mobile money account, while the other half reported having a financial institution account as well. It’s clear that in Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile money drove financial inclusion.

Things are improving but some key challenges remain strong. One of them, maybe the most important one, is the gender gap in account ownership. Financial inclusion gender gap is present in almost all developing markets but as the same report shows us, Sub-Saharan Africa has οne of the highest gender disparities worldwide. Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Nigeria, Togo are among the countries that have the larger gender gaps in account ownership.

The role of mobile ownership

It is considered that the spread of mobile money accounts has created new opportunities to better serve women, poor people, and other groups traditionally excluded from the formal financial system. Indeed, there are some early signs that mobile money accounts might be helping to close the gender gap. Global Findex data suggest that mobile phones and the internet could go a long way toward helping to overcome some of the barriers that unbanked adults say prevent them from accessing financial services. If we take a look in Sub-Saharan Africa we can see a strong gender gap in mobile ownership and an even stronger in mobile internet. According to GSMA’s “The Mobile Gender Report 2018”, Sub-Saharan Africa has the second biggest gender gap in mobile ownership worldwide (14%) and in mobile internet use (34%).

The report recognizes that the barriers women face to equal access to mobile are varied, complex and unlikely to be resolved on their own. But it also suggests that for closing the mobile gender gap it is necessary to be adopted a holistic approach and urgent, coordinated action by all stakeholders, including the mobile industry, policymakers and others. Such approach is necessary to ensure women in low- and middle-income countries are not excluded from the benefits mobile technology can deliver, including financial services through mobile.

On the other hand, financial inclusion gender gap should be confronted by financial institutions, also. Not only by the mobile ecosystem. For example, compliance and regulatory procedures from banks are the reason for the exclusion from financial services of roughly 35 million women in sub-Saharan Africa.  Alongside efforts to eliminate barriers to entry, African banks must tailor banking services and products to women in order to address their specific needs.

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