AFI’s Global Policy Forum Emphasizes Need to Close Gender Gap

Monday 10th September 2018

Unpacking the causes and identifying solutions to the persistent gender gap in access to financial services was the topic of a lively panel discussion moderated by GBA Chief Executive Inez Murray at the 10th Global Policy Forum of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), held in Sochi, Russia, last week.

The latest Global Findex showed a 7 percentage point gender gap worldwide in financial inclusion. That gap sits even higher, at 9 points, in developing economies, and both gaps have remained largely unchanged since 2011. Dr. Louncény Nabe, Governor of the Central Bank of Guinea, set the stage for the discussion, illuminating for the audience the structural factors underlying gender inequity in Guinea, including low female literacy rates (just 37 percent of women aged 15 + are literate) and poverty, which makes women’s access to and use of mobile phones (a gateway to digital financial services) limited. The Governor cited the promise of savings groups – particularly Village Savings and Loans Associations and cooperatives, both models ubiquitous in Francophone Africa – as having major potential, particularly with the overlay of digital solutions. He also noted the importance of financial capability building efforts as a key enabler of usage.

Nathan Naidoo, Director of Policy and Advocacy at GSMA, noted that there is indeed a global gender gap in access to mobile phones, yet digital innovations have been the main driver of getting more people into the financial services system. He cited encouraging research showing that once women obtain access to mobile technology, their usage of mobile financial services is actually on par with men. Nathan raised the point that a lack of sex-disaggregated data was a limiting factor in understanding uptake and usage patterns. For example, many accounts are set up by male relatives on behalf of female clients, which blurs the picture. GSMA has launched the Connected Women Commitment Initiative to encourage mobile network operators to make a public commitment to get sex-disaggregated data and offer support to them to do so. Nathan further suggested that the many advances in getting women national identification numbers and lowering KYC requirements were major drivers of women’s access, while encouraging the hiring of additional female agents and roving “doorstep banking” agents was also hugely important to enabling more women to use digital financial services.

As co-chairs of the W20’s Financial Inclusion Group under the Argentinian presidency of the G20, GBA and AFI have put forward many of these recommendations — including a focus on more and better-quality sex-disaggregated supply- and demand-side data, financial capability building, national digital and biometric I.D. systems, and enabling of agent networks — for inclusion in the final communiqué to be presented to the G20 in Argentina Oct. 1–3.

Panelist Helen Walbey, representing the T20 (or Think20 – a network of research institutes and think tanks from the G20 countries) verified these recommendations as critical and also spoke to three more that help enable women SME owners: getting women into supply chains through government procurement, use of moveable collateral registries and alternative data to build credit history for women who lack traditional forms of collateral, and reforming legal barriers to access and control over assets.

Property rights are foundational to collateral access, and panelist Julia Constanze Braunmitter from Women, Business and the Law shared that there are 75 countries that still have laws on their books constraining women’s rights to property. Laws that restrict women’s mobility and access to identification are also a major barrier to financial inclusion. These and other serious inhibitors are addressed in this year’s Women, Business and the Law report, and Julia’s recommendation to regulators is that these are analyzed as part of the design of national financial inclusion strategies developed by AFI members.

Finally, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Zambia and Chair of the AFI Gender and Women’s Financial Inclusion Committee Dr. Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula shared an insightful overview of the considerable progress AFI has made since the adoption of the Denarau Action Plan on gender in 2016 and a commitment by the AFI network members to halve their gender gaps by 2021. Initiatives being leveraged include capacity building within the AFI network on integrating a gender lens into national financial inclusion strategies, the collection and use of sex-disaggregated demand- and supply-side data, and a new leadership development initiative for AFI members in cooperation with Women’s World Banking.

All panelists acknowledged that the multi-layered solutions to closing the financial inclusion gender gap require collaboration across many ecosystem stakeholders, with data as foundational to our evolving understanding.