Financial Inclusion For The 21st Century Woman
Written by Blessing Onyegbula
I was 12 years old at the time, standing in the bank next to my aunt, who was clearly exasperated, when she turned to me and said, “Nne, let’s go home now. I’ll come back another day to complete it.”
She had waited in line all morning for her turn to apply for a loan, only to be told by the bank that she would need her husband’s approval. My smart mouth wanted to ask if her husband would have to request her signature if he was ever in such a situation, but I had to shut it because of the expression on her face.
Keeping with the tradition of the International Women’s Day celebration, on the 8th of March this year, brands came up with their brilliant but rather patronizing ads in line with the celebration’s theme #Breakthebias.
And as expected, most of it revolved around women and money. Getting tagged as a boss babe, rich independent woman, and other niceties sounds cool, right? But if we’re being honest, how much of that financial power do we actually wield? Plus, phrases like that indicate an anomaly, that the chase for money, financial independence, and career growth is not usually associated with women.
So when I thought of a way to discuss this peculiar hindrance women encounter when trying to access financial power, Financial Inclusion came to mind.
Borrowing words from Investopedia,
Financial inclusion refers to efforts to make financial products and services accessible and affordable to all individuals and businesses, regardless of their personal net worth or company size.
It involves providing financial services to the poor and disadvantaged in society, a category that presently has a dominant female representation.
Various definitions place emphasis on the use of banking services for improving the living standards and financial strength of the underbanked and banked population in society. This is yet another category that women dominate emphatically.
Financial inclusion, for women, especially in the Nigerian space, also tackles issues like:
- Domestic violence. (trust me, this will make sense as you continue reading this article)
- Spousal neglect
- Economic disenfranchisement of widows
- A terrible business environment that hampers women-owned businesses
Financial inclusion is key in fighting for gender equality. Plus, it also improves the economic growth of a nation and the general welfare of individuals. This is because a society where different categories of individuals enjoy a sufficient share of the different financial services available is one where the economy thrives. As the economy benefits from financial activities from different corners and an increased population of financially savvy and fluid people.
But, according to the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) women have remained at an abysmal 8% in financial inclusivity, which begs the question, why?
Why Have Women Not Been Financially Inclusive?
Women are less driven to chase wealth, unlike their male counterparts, which means they are not aware of tailored opportunities that can help their finances. And this stems from the orientation society gives that it’s a man’s role to be the sole provider. In contrast, the woman is for childbearing and other domestic activities. This ignorance can also stand in the way of them accessing financial opportunities. More on this in the next point.
Lack of access to opportunities
This can be due to poor policies or unimplemented policies that will restrict them from enjoying these opportunities when they are aware of them. Plus gender roles in the society that restricts a woman from being bothered about making money, means there’s only so much she can understand about how money works. Or even how far she can go with the right funds for her business. Moreover, her lack of exposure and family obligations will prevent her from taking advantage of these financial services after she becomes aware of them. For example, the usual norm is for Banks to ask for collateral in order for people to access loans. But instances, where a woman’s wealth is tied to her husband’s, may mean she won’t have anything to present as collateral.
Restrictions from spouse or culture (eg Saudi Arabia)
In African societies, with men viewed as the primary provider, women are usually not encouraged to go hard in their fight for money. This leaves them with lesser bargaining power when it comes to money. Money is an easy tool to restrict a woman’s freedom, especially in societies where patriarchy abounds.
Also, certain tribes here in Nigeria don’t allow women to claim family property or own an inheritance. This blocks what would have been a source of financial security for her.
Now, remember when I mentioned Domestic violence in the introductory part of this piece? Most abused women are reluctant to leave their abusers because they lack the resources to support themselves and their children.
Who is supposed to be responsible for financial inclusion
The Government (Policy formulation and Implementation)
Even in developing countries, the government has realized the pivotal role women play in contributing to their family’s financial assets and the country’s economic growth. But this realization should be backed by solid support. It should go beyond grants and loans. Policies that cater to women’s financial needs and trickle down to how companies and brands relate to their female customers should be enacted.
Companies (incentives & intentionality)
Allowing men to have a predominant role to play even in women’s financial affairs should now be a thing of the past. There have been painful stories of women losing access to financial services cos they are unmarried. Or needing a male company when trying to access certain bank services.
Aside from banks, other companies that offer BaaS (banking-as-a-service) should make targeted efforts to help women feel “normal” about making financial decisions and using financial products.
This is done by offering incentives such as gift cards for shopping and brand positioning to encourage women instead of the standard stuff that appeals more to men. PiggyVest is one brand that has hacked that, as it’s normal to hear jokes like “check your woman’s Piggyvest account.” This is because they’ve been able to tap into a woman’s need for financial security through savings and made their product pretty user-friendly for this category of people.
Women (mindset change)
Lastly, it will be unfair to call out other parties involved in the lack of financial inclusion for women without casting light on women themselves. First, as women, we should be able to let go of the mentality that a man should be the sole provider in any setting. Professing your love for money and the finer things of life should match your zeal to make that money on your own. Taking the bold step to get financial education and seizing as many opportunities to make money legally will also be a step in the right direction.
Finally, you may not be in a position to change things in government or affect the product development and policies of a company. But as a woman, the easiest step you can take is by changing your mindset; contributing to healthy discussions on improving your finances and exposing yourself to opportunities. Take an interest in financial education. And be quick to share the good and laudable efforts of companies and the government whenever they come up with a way to improve financial inclusion for women.
Edited by Zulu Nneka Anyaogu
Zulu is a Lawyer, Programs manager, and Youth Human Rights Advocate who is passionate about women’s rights and the inclusion of young people in decision-making spaces. In her spare time, you’d catch her binging on movies, reading crime and mystery novels, and eating. Connect with Zulu on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Published by Yetunde Onafuye
Yetunde is a storyteller, podcaster, and a graduate student with interest in the social and political history of post-independence Africa. She’s also the co-lead editor at Sisterly HQ. In her free time, she reads and reviews books, engages in social volunteering, and watches tons of dramas and TV shows. Connect with Yetunde on LinkedIn and Instagram.