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Bridging women exclusion gap through appropriate policies, initiatives

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Mobile money transfer services have become arguably the single most effective contributor to global financial inclusion initiatives, and, particularly in developing countries, they have facilitated access to cheap and reliable financial services for an ever increasing formerly unbanked segment of the population.

Favourable regulatory environments and supervisory good practices have enabled significant innovation in mobile transfer services in various countries, thereby contributing to unprecedented success in financial inclusion initiatives.

Indeed these have transformed into wider digital financial services ecosystems offering savings, insurance, local and international money transfers, payments and credit services on mobile money platforms to both individuals and corporate entities.

However, despite this success, achieving 100 per cent financial inclusion where all have access to financial services is yet an unfulfilled dream in many developing countries, including Nigeria.

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According to the Global Financial Inclusion Index, the proportion of adults around the world with access to formal financial services rose from 51 per cent to 62 per cent in only three years (2011 to 2014). By 2017, it had reached 69 per cent.

Despite this general progress, more than one billion women worldwide are still excluded from formal financial services, and the gender gap has not budged since 2011. This is in spite of the unique and significant market opportunity that women constitute in Nigeria.

According to data by Enhancing Financial Innovations and Access (EFInA), 44.1 per cent of the total excluded adult population in Africa’s most populous nation are men, while 55.9 per cent are women; leaving the gender gap at 11.8 percentage points.

Further assessment of women’s financial inclusion in Nigeria conducted by the same group in 2019 showed that Nigeria faces a particularly significant and growing gender gap in financial inclusion.

The report indicated that the gender gap in Nigeria represents a major issue to be resolved if the country is to achieve the targets it set in its National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS).

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This requires responding creatively to the barriers and social norms that may prevent women from harnessing the potential financial inclusion to improve their lives.

The Chairperson, Women in Finance Nigeria, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Sanni, argued that deliberate policy initiatives aimed at imposing and enforcing gender quotas as well as other positive measures for accessing loan, scholarships, educational enrolments, company recruitments, management and board positioning, and political offices should be adopted to address these anomalies.

She said the continued significant exclusion of a great proportion of women from participation in the financial system, economic activity and governance has its roots in multiple causes.

She attributed the development to gender discrimination in access to quality education, and disruption of girl-child education due to violence, kidnap, terrorism, rape and other forms of gender violence.

Also, “The culture of early marriage and early motherhood which sets girls and women back in the economic development process, poor penetration of financial services in rural areas where many women live.”

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She pointed out that poor and inadequate infrastructure, which frustrates production output and access to market for agribusiness and cottage industries in which many women are engaged, is also a major factor militating against women inclusion in Nigeria.

“Women are adversely discriminated against in terms of access to loans and other financial services for women, and in land holding. There are also title customary laws depriving women farmers and other women small business owners of farmlands and of access to landed property and collateral for borrowing from banks.”

Sanni, who is also the Group Chief Executive Officer of Emerging Africa Capital, suggested that massive deployment of FinTech and agent banking to penetrate local and unreached areas should be encouraged, while the government should provide better maternal and primary healthcare for women and children.

“Other initiatives include instituting reforms to ensure a favourable policy environment for investments in critical infrastructure like power and transport, as well as encouraging safe school initiatives geared towards keeping more girls in school for longer she said.”

She added that financial literacy campaigns should be launched in all local governments nationwide while embracing FinTech, Agency banking and other initiatives to broaden financial access.

Managing Director of Endeavor Nigeria, Eloho Omame, said the conversation about financial inclusion for women in Nigeria and Africa, must go beyond the present level to achieve its inclusion target.

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She said: “When we consider the state of financial inclusion for women, it is important to also remember the huge gap in capital access when it comes to funding companies.

“The current landscape leaves much to be desired. A vibrant and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem should include strong female-founded, high-growth companies that can also be long-term job and wealth creators.

“In 2019, globally, only three per cent of investment capital went to female-led companies. In Africa, the figure is reportedly higher, but it’s still sub-optimal.

“By some estimates, global GDP would rise by three to six per cent if women participated equally in entrepreneurship and were afforded more access to investment capital. Overall, very little has changed for women in accessing capital in the last two decades.”
In addition, she said female-founded companies in Africa attracted only 3.2 per cent of venture capital in Q1 2020, half of the proportion a year earlier.

“Another related, urgent, and timely consideration is the global pandemic and the fallout for female entrepreneurs.”The crisis has had a disproportionate effect on female entrepreneurs; this is a group that was already locked out of investment capital, for the most part.

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“For example, in Q1 2020, female-founded companies in Africa attracted just 3.2 per cent of venture capital, about half of the proportion a year earlier. That’s clearly a concern and a trend that needs to be isolated, carefully observed, and specifically addressed.”

Recall that in March 2018, the National Financial Inclusion Special Intervention Working Group (a working group under the National Financial Inclusion Governance structure) constituted a subcommittee to look into gender-related financial inclusion issues and proposed recommendations for addressing the high exclusion rates among women in Nigeria.

One key recommendation of the subcommittee was to develop a comprehensive framework that provides a guide and blueprint for women’s financial inclusion.

This framework is the outcome of the gender subcommittee’s work and follow-up work by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA).

This Framework takes as an additional reference point from Nigeria’s Sustainable Banking Principles, which promote women’s economic empowerment through a gender inclusive workplace culture in business operations, and seeks to provide products and services designed specifically for women.

Alongside these national reference points, the framework is based on what is considered international best practice in advancing women’s financial inclusion.

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“Developing a women-specific strategy stems from the recognition that it is important to treat women as a critically-important and distinct customer group, rather than as a subset of a broader group, for example ‘vulnerable’.

“It recognizes also that there are specific segments within this customer group. With this perspective in mind, the Framework builds upon the 2018 National Financial Inclusion Strategy (Revised), and integrates valuable insights from the Assessment of Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria (December 2019).

“It makes the important distinction that the 2018 Strategy is framed collectively as ‘women, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and people living in the most excluded regions (North East and North West)’, whereas this framework is focused entirely on women’s financial inclusion, addressing the financial inclusion of all categories of Nigerian women, young and old, throughout the country.

“The Framework carves out the barriers of particular importance to women, laying out eight strategic imperatives and related recommendations with the greatest potential for addressing these barriers,” it added.

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