A new report has identified persistent barriers in the digital finance sector that limit women’s economic empowerment in Africa, as well as policy solutions to overcome them.
The latest edition of the biennial African Women’s Report, commissioned by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), examines the digital finance ecosystem in Africa to examine all of its components and how they impact women’s economic prospects.
The report identifies five critical issues affecting the use of digital finance as a catalyst for African women’s economic empowerment. First, despite having the most mobile money services in the world, women’s access to digital services, mobile, and the internet in Africa is limited due to illiteracy, cost, a skills gap, and social norms.
Second, while significant progress is being made in improving women’s digital finance skills, Africa lags behind other regions. For example, in North Africa, the proportion of women with digital finance skills has more than doubled from 12.5% in 2014 to 25.7% in 2018, exceeding the global average of around 20%. However, the same figure is only 12% for the entire continent.
Third, only 33% of African women have a formal bank account, compared to 43% of men. This disparity, combined with women’s limited access to economic assets, increases their vulnerability and exclusion from profitable sectors and formal jobs. Fourth, women are negatively impacted by social norms as well as inherent biases in financial practices, products, and services.
Finally, because women are underrepresented in decision-making processes and in financial and technological fields, digital finance policies and products are unlikely to include women’s perspectives and meet their needs. Furthermore, in some African countries, women are nine times less likely than men to have formal identification, limiting their ability to freely and safely access, own, and use digital finance services.
Ms. Edlam Yemeru, acting Director of the ECA’s Gender, Poverty, and Social Policy Division, commented on the report, saying, “Africa is a global leader in several transactional technologies such as mobile money, but there remains considerable scope to scale up digital finance and ensure that women can fully capitalize on the resulting opportunities.” This necessitates the removal of a number of impediments related to connectivity, digital literacy, cost, laws, and culture.”
“Our report takes a holistic approach to the digital finance ecosystem and defines policy options for governments to further develop the sector and accelerate financial inclusion while paving the way for women’s economic empowerment – leaving no one behind,” she continued.
The report outlines ten policy responses that governments should consider in order to ensure that their national digital ecosystem supports, rather than hinders, women’s economic empowerment.
Prioritizing female representation in the sector, upskilling people – particularly women – in digital finance, reforming laws to increase mobile money uptake, and designing gender-sensitive policies that combine technology and social development are specific responses.
The report suggests that gender-disaggregated data on internet usage, mobile ownership, and financial literacy be included in national household surveys to help policymakers design appropriate policies.
It also suggests incorporating digital finance frameworks into national development plans and collaborating with credit bureaus to address the possibility of inherent gender biases in credit reporting systems.
Finally, the report encourages African countries to create regional digital finance regulatory and justice frameworks that use the African Continental Free Trade Area as a platform to enable digital identities and improve cross-border cooperation.
The African Women’s Report is the ECA’s flagship publication, published every two years. The most recent issue is titled ‘Digital Finance Ecosystems – Pathways to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Africa.’