Despite the strides that have been made in terms of policy and technology to lift hurdles and improve access, women are yet to enjoy the perks. Women not just in Africa but across the world are at the bottom of the financial ecosystem.
Truth is, despite the exclusion, women are at the center of the financial sector in Africa. In a continent where agriculture contributes 17 percent to GDP, women make between 60 to 80 percent of labour input producing over 70 percent of the continents food according to the world bank.
However, According to a report by the IMF, only 37% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to bank accounts, compared to 48% of men. The gender gap further widens in North Africa to 18% – the largest in the world.
To change the narrative and eventually policy on financial inclusion, women are mobilizing, organizing and having conversations that challenge the status quo. One such space is the Angaza forum. In their first physical session and third running, conversations of financial inclusion took center stage.
One by one, attendees during the forum narrated their experiences as women in business. Though drawn from different parts of the continent, their challenges were so similar: financial exclusion.
In acknowledging and validating the systemic prejudice women encounter, Nuru Mugambi, a Sustainable Finance, Responsible Investment and Financial Inclusion Policy Advisor and the chairperson of Angaza Forum says financial inclusion for women is long overdue.
“Women are at the center of productivity on the African continent. The billions of revenue that governments collects are largely generated by women. However, we don’t track the money. We rarely look beyond numbers to find out who is making the money and what fiscal hurdles they have to jump in their line of business.”
Inclusion goes beyond access to financial services. It boils down to the decision makers. The financial sector is heavily male dominated. This affects the sector’s perception of investment and lending thus locking out many women and by extension women centred market solutions.
Maria velissaris, the founding patner at SteelSky ventures says we need more women at the decision making table. Maria , who has raised tens of million of dollars dollars in funding to invest in companies that improve access, care and outcomes in Women’s Healthcare says there a deficit of female fund manager, decision makers and access to these individuals. She notes that there is less than 0.006 of black women leading venture capital firms which furthers the disparity in funding allocation.
“Women create better outcome in finance. You give a dollar to a woman you get 3 dollars back. Women invest in other women. 85 percent of women are the decision makers at home when it comes to healthcare. Thinking of women and their contribution can generate great returns by allowing women access to money and freedom to allocate as they see fit.”
The value of integrating women into the financial ecosystem cannot be under looked. According to a Mckinsey study, the inability for African women to access finance will see Africa lose out an estimated $316 billion in GDP by 2025. Further, a UN Women Background paper estimates that women-owned businesses in developing countries have an estimated financing gap of $154–188 billion. It is reported that developing countries face an estimated financing gap of $2.1 to $2.6 trillion which is equivalent to 30-36 percent of current outstanding Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) credit.
To leverage the potential of women in business while addressing the funding gap the African development bank set out on the most ambitious women financing program in the world.
“Under the AFAWA barner, the bank aims to raise over 40 billion dollars to address the funding gap. We are working with G 20 and Gates foundation in patnerships that can unlock funding. We want to partner with as many people as possible to ensure resources are available for women in business,” says Cynthia Liliane Kamikaze, Chief-patnerships office in the Gender, women and civil society deppartment of the African Development Bank.
Beyond making funding available, strides are being made on the policy front and yielding result. According to the African Development Bank, in the last decade, Senegal has seen an impressive 900% increase in women’s financial inclusion, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo realizing a 700% increase in the same period.
Jo-Ann Pohl, a moderator at the Angaza forum and senior advisor, Kearny, South Africa says there is still room to ensure financial access for women across the continent by creating instruments and products that can meet the needs of women and adapt to their current conditions.
“We are looking at affordbale and accesible products. We also need to lift the lid on venacular as language plays a role financial literacy which is quite critical. There is a distinct difference in lending to people who are willing to pay and able to pay. We need products that improve womens ability to pay because they are willing. This will enable individuals stay in business, children stay in school and ideally get to a point of 4th generation wealth.”
The policy progression across the continent continues to challenge societal stereotypes such as women do not pay loans. While the assumption is far from true as women are always willing to pay back, many women are unable to pay back. As such finding creative ways of roping in and accomodating women in the financial sector is the way to go.
In interrogating the financial output of women through the economy, a larger conversation of how they make the money needs to be opened up leading to possibilities of fiscal support for continuity and expansion. Nuru says together with Angaza forum, they are working on a manifesto that will ensure data is gender aggregated. The clustering will shed a light on womens conributions and the shortcomings in the financial sector in supporting women thus paving the way for womens inclusion.