Virtual Couch Talk:Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow: Innovative Solutions for Financial and Economic Inclusion for African Women



Event: Virtual Couch Talk to Commemorate International Women’s Day March 8th 2022

Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow: Innovative Solutions for Financial and Economic Inclusion for African Women

H.E. Deputy Chairperson AUC Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa 

H.E Queen Máxima, UNSG Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development Solidarity Statement

Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina – President of AfDB

Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki – CEO of AUDA-NEPAD (MSME training)

Mrs Elsie Addo Awadzi -2nd Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana

Dr Edward Addai, UNICEF Representative to the AUC and UNECA

Prudence Ngwenya, Ag Director of Gender Directorate of the African Union Commission

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me start by thanking the Directorate of Gender for gathering us together for this couch talk. There is never a better time than this to talk about a pertinent issue that affects women and speak to a possible way forward.

I also want to appreciate my sister H.E the Deputy Chairperson AUC Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa for her tireless support.

I would also like to honour the presence of HE Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, UNSG Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development for her continued work leading global advocacy in advancing universal access to and responsible usage of affordable, effective, and safe financial services. Also, let’s appreciate the presence of Dr Akinwumi Adesina and Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki for their continued support of women’s empowerment on the continent.

I am delighted to be part of this event today especially since it’s on the day we celebrate women and speak on the many achievements of women in achieving sustainable development. Today is also an opportunity to further distil issues that affect women globally but within our contest in Africa.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

As we have heard from the speakers today while being a global problem, the financial exclusion of women is a global problem, it wears a special face in Africa where many women are operating outside formal financial systems. The World Bank estimates that more than 70% of women are excluded by financial institutions and are unable to receive basic financial services including savings, loans, credit, insurance for their small businesses and other services from financial institutions. Often this is a result of non-contextual conditions presented by financial institutions.

Though we have seen an increase in absolute terms with financial inclusion, the gender gap in financial inclusion has remained constant. Accelerating women’s financial inclusion requires sustainable action to advance women’s and girls’ economic opportunities on the continent as this enables economic empowerment and gender equality.

From an economic inclusion point of view, women increasingly contribute to the agricultural sector and rural economies in Africa. It is generally estimated that women’s labour force share in African agriculture is somewhere between 60 and 80%. Despite the role played by women in food production, very few women have statutory rights over land, especially the ones they cultivate on. This discourse around the land is fuelled by patriarchal norms and value systems that are in place hindering women’s ability to make decisions that will enhance their earning capacity.

This situation is mirrored across other areas of economic production in Africa.  Though there is a high rate of women entrepreneurs in Africa, women face severe constraints in accessing factors that may improve productivity and production. Women in the informal economies are hindered by factors including customary laws, persistent social norms that limit their autonomy, lower levels of education and financial illiteracy, lack and low-income levels, lack of collaterals, access to capital, social-cultural constraints, time, mobility, and proximity in access formal financial institutions, the exorbitant cost of financial services, a constant mistrust of our financial institutions and evident digital divide between women and men. While it is often appreciated that these problems are constant across Africa, the discussions today have emphasised that women are disproportionally affected.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I believe despite all the discussions, as we mark International Women’s Day, African women have growing reasons to be hopeful about their future. Indeed, there is still a very long way to go towards gender equality, but change is gathering momentum.

The World Bank reports that Africa has implemented more reforms in implementing gender equality than any region in the last 10 years. This has gone beyond just attaining gender equality to real measures in empowering women economically in other to reduce women’s dependence on men.

What is most important is we are recognising that the economic empowerment of women is central to the actualization of the continent’s ability to achieve agenda 2063. Considering this, the African Union declared 2020 to 2030 as the decade for Financial and Economic Inclusion for African women and this enabled African leaders to scale up actions for progressive gender inclusion at National, Regional, and Continental levels.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

As we work to implement the vision espoused by the decade, I am glad that the key actors who can lead change on this topic are here today. I would like to offer a few thoughts for the next phase.

Financial inclusion levels in Africa, are low for men and women but in finding durable solutions for women, we must rid ourselves of the mentality of one size fits all. Time and time again, this approach has failed to put into consideration the differences in men and women and has consistently impeded progress. This kind of approach inhibits the designs and implementation of policies and interventions targeted at the financial inclusion of women. This will not help us measure tangible progress.

It is important to say before we develop policies and interventions into ways of financially including women, we must lean on the shoulders of giants and be inspired by evidence. We have had many programmes and instruments addressing the financial and economic inclusion of women. It is important for us to go back to these, explore the wins and lessons as we design new solutions.

We have seen the growing importance of technology-driven financial innovations in Africa and a growing number of them are innovating new ways of access to banking for the most excluded. Though this growing innovation is thriving on the continent, there is a large gender disparity between men and women that engage in fintech. Fintech solutions can play a major role in closing the gender divide in financial inclusion by confronting some of the barriers women face. This can be done by ensuring fintech applications are tailored to the specific needs of women. We have seen the use of mobile money apps in different countries and a good example is the Mpesa in Kenya. These low-cost digital services address several barriers to financial inclusion generally and could benefit from an expansion to deliver targeted services to women.

In conclusion, addressing the financial and economic inclusion of women requires commitment at levels. This includes addressing formal norms and regulatory challenges through instruments of states.  This also includes addressing informal norms and cultural practices. As leaders in our spaces, it is important that we take leadership in addressing these, acting as champions for the cause.

I thank you