Gender and Finance

exchange rates, by: Kigali Wire

Gender equality concerning the access to financial resources is a key issue in order to promote the empowerment of women as well as economic growth and sustainable development. A better provision of financial resources available to women would empower them economically but also politically and socially. Furthermore, at the household level, women represent in most cases the primary financial managers in the families, ensuring intra-household resource allocation to meet ongoing basic needs and additional saving to invest and protect their families’ future. Yet, women receive very little support in their businesses and often do not know about their rights to seek financial services. Their access to financial resources remains difficult.

An explicit concern with gender issues with reference to financial services and inclusion is nothing new. The problem of women’s access to credit was already stressed at the first International Women’s Conference in Mexico in 1975, leading to the constitution of the Women’s World Banking network and from the early 1990s microfinance programmes started to specifically target women also in consideration of their likelihood to have higher repayment rates.

Despite the existence of programmes specifically focused on women, there is a long way to go to ensure equal gender access to financial services, particularly in rural areas. According to recent surveys, across the developing countries 46% of men have a formal account, but only 37% of women do, with a persistent gender gap of 6 to 9 percentage points across income groups within developing economics.

Women face a wide range of constraints that hamper their access to financial services. On the demand side, they are likely to lack financial capability and confidence to manage their finances thus impeding them from being in a position to take advantage of opportunities. They are also likely to lack time due to their important role in the household and mobility in order to interact with financial service providers.  Finally, women  are often in a weaker position to take on funding for their microenterprises and SMEs as traditions and cultural rules combined with a lack of property rights can discriminate against them in terms of access to property and lack of sufficient assets that can be accepted as collateral. For example, in certain North African countries, lending practices may be influenced by institutional barriers and practices such as requiring husbands to co-sign for a loan , to ensure that women’s initiatives are approved by their husbands.

On the supply side, many constraints are valid regardless of gender, however, some weigh more against women. Indeed, service delivery is not adapted to women, limited physical outreach of financial institutions and their restricted opening hours are a particular constraint for women, since they are less mobile. Furthermore insufficient gender disaggregated data limits market information and financial institutions lack credible information on women clients and their potential.

Available data show a general low access to financial services across the African continent. Within the regional context. men’s access to financial services is consistently ahead of that of women, but disparities within the continent remain. In Sub-Saharan Africa the gender gap is relatively small compared to the MENA region: 27% of men and 22% of women report to have a formal account compared to 23% of men and 13% of women in the MENA region. In the four North African countries where data is available (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia) the percentage of women with bank accounts at formal financial institutions is consistently half that of men, ranging from 6.5% (women) and 12.8% (men) in Egypt and 26.7% (women) and 52% (men) in Morocco. A similar disparity can be traced with reference to the access to loan, with data ranging from 0.5% (women) and 2.5% (men) in Algeria and 3.6% (women) and 5.0% (men) in Morocco and account to receive remittances with data spanning from 0.2% (women) and 1.2% (men) in Egypt and 8.1% (women) and 12.1% (men) in Morocco. In terms of insurance policies available data suggests a very limited penetration regardless of gender, with the most striking difference registered for agricultural insurance (11.2% of men and 6.2% of women paid for crop, rainfall or livestock insurance) in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite these various constraints, there are opportunities to advance women’s financial inclusion across the continent. Financial institutions, multilateral and bilateral organizations, non-profit entities and the private sector are increasingly aware of the importance of empowering women economically by increasing their access to finance. Looking forward, removing discriminatory aspects of legal and regulatory frameworks, particularly with reference to land and property ownership, will be an important factor in improving women’s financial inclusion in Africa. This aim can also be supported by increasing the awareness of policy makers and other stakeholders with regard to the financial needs of women and bringing women leaders directly into policy dialogue.