Financial inclusion in Africa leaves women behind

Jul 05, 2017

Despite growth in mobile money services and the industry’s commitment to addressing gender disparities; women continue to be left behind.

By Claire Sibthorpe

Accelerating financial inclusion for women across the African continent requires tangible commitments from key stakeholders in the mobile ecosystem.

Despite growth in mobile money services and the industry's commitment to addressing gender disparities; women continue to be left behind. Data from the Global Findex shows that women in low- and middle-income countries are 36 per cent less likely than men to use mobile money. The GSMA focused precisely on this challenge when conducting a study on women's use of mobile money in Mali and Cote d'Ivoire.

Our annual Mobile Money State of the Industry Report shows that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the growth of mobile money has been exponential and is now covering most of the continent. As of December 2016, there were over 277 million registered mobile money accounts, a significantly higher number compared to 178 million banks accounts in the region. There are now 128 deployments in 39 countries—in seven of these countries, more than 40% of the adult population is using mobile money as part of everyday life, including Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Uganda, Gabon and Namibia.

Now available in two-thirds of low- and middle-income countries, mobile money has demonstrated its potential as a powerful catalyst for financial inclusion, bringing financial services to the underserved - a first for many.

As leaders from the public and private sector convene in Dar es Salaam for the Mobile 360 Africa event, mobile ecosystem stakeholders from the region need to work together to realise the full benefits of financial inclusion.

Africa accounts for 63 per cent of active mobile money accounts globally. Women represent approximately 50 per cent of the addressable mobile market and ignoring this segment means missing out of an important commercial opportunity.

Bridging the gender gap in mobile phone ownership remains important to addressing the mobile money gender gap. Education and relevance are also key to realising the benefits of mobile money. In spite of widespread awareness of the concept of mobile money, many of those surveyed in Mali & Côte d'Ivoire didn't know how the service works, highlighting the need to improve users' understanding of mobile money, the benefits of the service, and their confidence in using it.

So what can be done? There is no ‘silver bullet' to narrowing the gender gap and increasing women's adoption and usage of mobile money. Its root causes are driven by a complex set of social, economic and cultural barriers. A holistic approach that takes the cultural context into account and is informed by an understanding of the gender gap and needs of women in local contexts is needed.

Gender equality and women's empowerment will be key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 5 - Gender Equality. The GSMA is committed to helping accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women, and is working with our members and others to connect everyone and everything to a better future. Through the GSMA Connected Women Commitment

Initiative, mobile operators are making forward commitments to reduce the gender gap in their mobile internet or mobile money customer base across Africa, Asia and Latin America, driving an effort to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women.

It's not a simple task, but it is imperative that we meet the challenge head-on to ensure that women are not being left behind. Members of the mobile ecosystem can make significant progress to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women, which is important for all of us because when women thrive, societies, businesses and economies thrive as well.

The writer is the head of the GSMA Connected Women which is focused on accelerating digital and financial inclusion for women and works with mobile operators and their partners to address the barriers to women accessing and using mobile internet and mobile money services

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