BY DAPO AKINTOYE
With the growing global focus and debate over gender-based discrimination across almost all levels of human interaction, forward-thinking leaders are clamoring for the needed change to close the gender gap. According to UN Women, over the past decade, 131 countries have passed laws to support gender equality. However following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, some of these gains may have been lost, particularly with regards to the financial inclusion and economic empowerment of women. Several studies confirm the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, pushing them out of both formal and informal employment, businesses and in some cases entirely from the financial system.
These are some of the thoughts that led to the development and launch of the Framework for Advancing Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in partnership with the Financial Inclusion Special Interventions Working Group (FISIWG), Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA) and Women’s World Banking (WWB).
At the e-Launch of the Framework, which held recently, Mrs. Aishah N. Ahmad, Deputy Governor, Financial System Stability, CBN presented a clearer picture on financial inclusion of women in Nigeria. “According to EFINA, the female financial exclusion rate was 40.9% in 2018 compared with 32.5% for men. This gap may have widened as a result of the coronavirus pandemic given women’s primary responsibility for caregiving, likelihood to be frontline health workers and their predominance in the informal sector which has been severely affected by the coronavirus induced-lock down”
She further stated that “the negative effects of the pandemic on women’s financial inclusion have manifested in the context of existing structural challenges which have kept women out of the financial system such as cultural norms, lower education and financial literacy levels, poverty, high cost of financial services, concentration of women in rural, subsistence farming and limited knowledge of financial institutions in serving the womens’ market.’’
‘These challenges call for bold, concerted and collaborative action on the part of regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders in the financial sector to implement strategies that will help change social attitudes, reduce structural barriers and economically empower women to advance their financial and economic inclusion over the long term.’’ She added.
Speaking further on why the CBN supported the development of the framework, Mrs Ahmad clarified that it was intended to complement existing CBN initiatives designed to expand access to finance for women which include the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF) – 60% of which was dedicated to women and women controlled businesses, – (thus far over 62% of the fund to had been granted to about 134,000 women), National Collateral Registry which expanded the types of collateral acceptable for loans to mention a few.
The Honorable Minister for Women Affairs, represented by Princess Joan Junmai Idonijie, giving the keynote address also echoed the thoughts that gender disparity in Nigeria is on the rise, ‘’Challenges that widen the gender-inclusion gap include; vulnerable state of women-owned businesses, the digital divide, limited awareness of government intervention programs, and pressures of domestic responsibilities.’’ She added.
Following the keynote was the formal launch of the framework, highlights of which included a categorization of the barriers to female financial inclusion related to demand, supply, financial & technical infrastructure and legal and regulatory factors. It further proposed eight (8) strategic imperatives for closing the gap such as measures to support account opening, financial and digital literacy, delivery of channels to serve women, gender disaggregated data, etc. The full report is available on the CBN website.
Following the formal launch were two technical sessions. The first was facilitated by Ashley Immanuel, Ag. CEO of EFINA. Spotlighting some of the typical characteristics of financially excluded women in Nigeria, she stated that a Nigerian woman was more likely to be financially excluded if she lived in northern Nigeria, did not own a mobile phone, was unmarried or in the youngest or oldest age group.
The second technical session was a panel discussion moderated by Ade Ashaye, Executive Vice President, WWB. Panelists included Mrs. Ambah Hamda, MD/CEO FSDH Merchant Bank/ Chairperson, Bankers Committee subcommittee on Economic Development sustainability and Gender; Mrs. Ronke Kuye, MD/CEO, Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF), Mrs. Oladoyin Olawaiye Component lead, SEDIN Programme, GIZ and Dr. Ijeoma Nwagwu, Faculty Member/SIDFS gender lead, Lagos Business School. Several themes were discussed including strategies for entrenching gender disaggregated reporting at banks and other financial institutions, how to improve financial and digital literacy in rural areas, amongst others.
In her closing remarks, Mrs Ahmad urged all stakeholders to carefully review and implement the 8 strategic imperatives presented within the framework; stating that focused implementation and collaboration amongst financial institutions, policy makers, regulators, development institutions and the public was required not only to close the gender gap in financial inclusion, but to ensure a safe, accessible and affordable financial system for all excluded Nigerians.
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).
Dapo Akintoye is a marketing consultant. He writes in from Lagos