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Bridging gender gap to boost financial inclusion 

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Aishah Ahmad

Overcoming gender gap in Nigeria represents a major obstacle that must be resolved if the country must achieve set targets in its National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS).

Gender gap as witnessed in Nigeria is larger than in most other countries, and as financial inclusion increases for both men and women, gender gap is widening.

While countries in Africa such as Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda are experiencing decreasing gender gap, Nigeria on the other hand, is not recording such corresponding momentous feat.

Nigeria is home to the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world of up to 50 per cent of the population, with unemployment rate at 23.1 per cent, and a significant portion of the citizen lacks adequate education.

Experts argue that progress towards financial inclusion has been adversely affected by unforeseen socioeconomic factors, and hinged such factors to recession, the precarious security situation in parts of northern Nigeria, and the slow uptake of Digital Financial Services (DFS).

Consequently, they said there is an urgent need for stakeholders to collaboratively identify, and address the macroeconomic and socio-cultural determinants of women’s lower access to education and income-generating opportunities.

A report on, “Assessment of Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria,” by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in conjunction with Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA), revealed that Nigeria faces a particularly significant and growing gender gap in financial inclusion, where its landscape presents both opportunities and challenges.

EFInA is a financial sector development organisation funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to promote financial inclusion in Nigeria.

The report presented the call to achieve gender equity by helping women access and use financial services to create and sustain economic opportunities, reduce poverty, and build financial resilience.

It identified low levels of income, education, and trust in Financial Service Providers (FSPs) as the core factors determining exclusion for women, which are also core drivers of the gender gap, given that women have lower levels of each than men.

It said the causes and effects of low income, limited education, and lack of trust in FSPs are ‘macroeconomic’, gendered and interlinked.

To achieve its aim, it urged stakeholders to tailor initiatives to increase women’s income, education and trust in FSPs, work towards commercial viability, and acknowledge the need for continued subsidies until the challenges improved and become commercially viable to serve currently excluded women.

Amongst other socio-cultural drivers and gender expectations that lead to women having lower levels of income and education than men, to overcome the gender gap in financial inclusion, it said these gender drivers should be understood and tackled as the core binding constraints.

It also canvassed structured saving solution to support women’s effort to save effectively and manage their often-competing daily needs.

The report mentioned that interventions focused on increasing and deepening women’s financial inclusion must centre on three key areas to achieve sustainable change, and may be complemented by subsidy efforts to provide services in the meantime.

Firstly, it explained that the focus to boost women’s financial inclusion should shift beyond product innovation to address the underlying drivers of gender gaps, through more systematic efforts to address women’s incomes and economic empowerment, education and boosting trust in FSPs.

Secondly, it said targeted collaborations across stakeholders is needed to understand and identity options for improving the commercial viability of serving financially excluded women, such efforts it said would need to outline the degree to which commercial viability is actually lacking and then determine interventions that could ‘tip the balance’.

Lastly, stakeholders should be designed to increase women’s low current levels of income, education, and trust in FSPs.

During the launch of the study recently, Deputy Governor, CBN, Aishah Ahmad, noted that the power to sustainable inclusive growth is hinged on women’s economic empowerment.

She stressed the need to strengthen financial literacy and women’s education, adding that the apex bank has approved some guidelines on unfair treatment, complex disclosures, and transparency for the industry that would be launched before the end of year.

Chair, Board of Directors, EFInA, Segun Akerele, said co-ordinated actions by all critical stakeholders to work across institutions to unlock barriers in financial inclusion are paramount.

Since inception, he said EFInA has supported the CBN and stakeholders in driving financial inclusion initiatives in Nigeria, by leveraging its pillars in research, innovation, advocacy and digital financial services.

According to him, EFInA’s engagement with regulators has ensured the development of regulations that supports and promotes financial inclusion in Nigeria.

“We recognise that we can through financial inclusion create the right enabling environment for ordinary Nigerians to achieve their potential and bring about inclusive growth,” he said.

A presentation by the Deputy British High Commissioner, Harriet Thompson, on, “Bridging the Gender Gap: Empowering Women, Building Economies,” said cultural change limits opportunities for women to benefit from economic activities, noting that Nigeria is at disadvantage.

She said raising awareness on women’s equality is for the benefit of everybody and not just women alone, adding the need for concerted efforts from government, private sector and the civil society to address the gap.

The report said: “The NFIS focuses strongly on enhancing formal financial services given their overall benefits. That said, women currently rely much more strongly on informal financial services than men do.

“These services play an important role to manage liquidity, transact effectively, build resilience from shocks, and create opportunities.

“However, they are often costly and can be high risk, particularly given the lower level of consumer protection they provide.

“By addressing these downsides, informal financial services could strengthen the customer experience and improve the quality of their products.

“Therefore, as a first step, we recommend that stakeholders further discuss our findings to ensure alignment and collaboration.

“Following this, additional research to assess the drivers of these factors among women will deepen understanding and help actors to develop tailored solutions.”


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