Since 1975, the United Nations has designated 8th March every year as International Women’s Day (IWD). This is a global celebration, which spotlights the achievements of women across all sectors and fields of endeavour. The Day further serves as a timely reminder that the struggle for gender equality has yet to be won.
The theme for IWD 2019, Balance for Better, resonates given the ongoing efforts to achieve universal financial inclusion in Nigeria. Basically, in common with many countries, financial inclusion has been treated as a high priority issue since the launch of the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) in 2012.
The national target is that by 2020, 80% of adult Nigerians will be financially included and 70% will use at least one formal financial product. However, with a view to accelerating progress in achieving these national targets, the NFIS was revised in 2018.*
The revised NFIS acknowledges the existence of a gender gap in financial inclusion and provides that creating a conducive environment for serving the most excluded, for example, women is one of its priority areas.
We have always argued that government and market actions on financial inclusion should ultimately deliver improvements in the quality of life of both men and women in Nigeria. But this will not be possible where 40.9% (20.5 million) of adult women are currently financially excluded compared to 32.5% (16.2 million) of adult men.**
The question is how do we balance for better when it comes to financial inclusion?
First, there is credible evidence that knowledge and awareness of financial products is the confidence dimension that is most problematic in Nigeria. This is one of the main drivers for low levels of financial literacy in financially excluded populations. Indeed, the EFINA 2018 survey reveals that of the 20.5 million financially excluded women, 6.6 million have access to financial products but do not use or claim not to want them because they lack product knowledge.
We therefore strongly support financial education programmes but caution that their design and delivery must not happen in “silos” without reference to credible evidence-based sources, for example, the National Baseline Survey on Financial Literacy, which has helpfully identified critical market segments such as marginalized rural women and women farmers and microentrepreneurs.
Other exclusion factors for women arise from financial products that are simply unaffordable or that are not in sync with their lifestyles, for example, if they lack identity documents or mobile phones. We call on financial institutions to urgently address these forms of institutional exclusions at the earliest stages of the product design phase.
Lastly, we urge regulators to mandate that all financial institutions routinely and consistently collect and submit gender-based data about client uptake of their products. This is because in the absence of such disaggregated data, it will not be possible to measure to what extent progress is actually being made in closing the gender gap in each of the financial markets, namely, banking, insurance, pensions and the capital market.
* It was published by the Central Bank of Nigeria on 9 January 2019.
**Data from EFINA Access to Finance Survey 2018.