Policy Enablers that Tackle Women’s Lifecycle Needs in MENA

Understanding Women’s Barriers

Dr. Harmgart led the discussion, reiterating the importance of understanding women’s lifecycle needs and how policymakers need to use the same framework to understand barriers to women’s financial access and use when developing policies. She centered the discussion on three priority segments, with a further focus on the lifecycle needs of each: unbanked women, refugees and women MSME owners. Discussants outlined some of the challenges that women in these segments face in Jordan and Lebanon and key policy initiatives to try to tackle them.

Key Points

  1. The overall focus of Jordan’s policy framework has been on employment for youth and women as the key for economic growth. Many Arab countries believed that investing in education would help improve economic conditions for women, but they found this not to be the case – having a highly educated female population did not translate into labor force participation.
  2. Women in the region often leave the workforce because they’re paid so poorly and/or cannot access most jobs. They are often entrepreneurs out of necessity rather than opportunity.
  3. Jordan has worked to gradually remove gender discrimination in regulations, including those around retirement age, childcare, inheritance and control over economic assets. They are also looking at how to change social norms that cannot be controlled by policy but are a result of culture.

2018 GBA Summit

  1. The Central Bank of Jordan had a shift in mindset regarding gender inclusivity, and this has changed the game in the country. Part of this change was due to the microfinance industry in Jordan actively trying to become part of the regulated financial system.
  2. Jordan has implemented a national financial inclusion strategy that has a particular focus on women, based on a market study that helped them to understand the true obstacles standing in the way of women’s access to finance.
  3. Lebanon faces similar challenges: 50 percent of the higher education sector is comprised of women, yet only 5.6 percent of members of boards are women.
  4. Banque du Liban is looking to develop a “nudge” approach that gets more women into financial services through moral persuasion and encouragement. The central bank is looking to hold monthly meetings with the private sector to engage with them as part of this plan.
  5. Banque du Liban is also working with clusters. For instance, they are engaging with women’s cooperatives to bring about a system of collective guarantees. They are also engaging with NGOs, including Fair Trade Lebanon, which is helping to upgrade standards so that businesses can enter international markets.

2018 GBA Summit

  1. Fintech is filling a gap, complementing formal financial services that tackle lifecycle needs. However, liwwa, which connects small businesses in need of capital with people who want to invest in them, found that as ticket sizes increase, the proportion of women’s SMEs decrease.
  2. The private sector, the government and civil society need to all be involved in solving these challenges together. It is no one’s particular responsibility; it is the responsibility of everyone.
2018 GBA Summit


Facilitator: DR. HEIKE HARMGART Director, Regional Head of Eastern Mediterranean Region, EBRD

DR. SAWSAN MAJALI Senator, Jordanian Senate

H.E. DR. MAHER SHEIKH HASAN Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Jordan

SAAD ANDARY Vice Governor, Banque du Liban

MUNA SUKHTIAN Managing Director, Microfund for Women

AHMED MOOR CEO, liwwa Inc.


I think about tackling the lifecycle needs of women as a car. De-risking is the airbag. Regulation is the signs on the road. The electronic components are fintech. — Dr. Heike Harmgart

In Jordan, the more women are educated, the less they are employed. — Dr. Sawsan Majali

A lack of access to finance in Jordan is often the outcome of a woman not being able to find a good job. — H.E. Dr. Maher Sheikh Hasan

Government policies can be great enablers of financial inclusion, which generates growth. — Saad Andary

The micro finance industry played a big role in getting the central bank to recognize the value of women. — Muna Sukhtian

We need to leave our personal mindsets at home and bring our professional mindsets to the workplace. — Ahmed Moor