UNSGSA - UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development UNSGSA - UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development

Keynote Remarks at G7 Event on Catalyzing Digital Financial Services for Women Across Africa

G7 Partnership High-Level Event: Catalyzing Digital Financial Services for Women Across Africa: Supporting Recovery, Resilience, and Innovation During COVID-19 

It’s a pleasure to be with you today, alongside Mrs. Melinda Gates  an esteemed co-champion of the G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa. I am also happy that Nicolas de Rivière,  Ambassador and Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations will be saying some words also on behalf of Minister Le Maire. I would like to thank the panelists – Minister Lawson, Minister Tolina, Dr. Ndulu, Dr. Suri, and Ms. Obo-Nai – for sharing your experience with us today and I also would like to thank South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for his video intervention.

The critical development challenges facing Africa today including, safe water and sanitation, fragile health systems, and economic informality – make the continent particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The crisis has caused severe output loses which have led to significant food and employment shocks.

African women have borne the brunt of these shocks. Eighty-nine percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa work informally, a sector with limited savings and capital, making them particularly vulnerable to economic shocks. Also, women-owned businesses tend to be smaller with less access to financial resources compared to men. New data suggests that in several Sub-Saharan countries, about 60% of women-led small businesses have lost their sources of income, three times more than businesses led by men.

In response to the pandemic, over 200 countries have expanded social protection measures, many using digital payments to provide transfers directly into bank accounts or mobile wallets.  South Africa, Togo, Burkina Faso, Zambia, and Nigeria all scaled up rapidly, specifically targeting women. These programs provide an economic lifeline for very vulnerable people and are really the key entry point to the formal financial system. Digital payments are therefore key to COVID-19 response and are essential for future recovery efforts.

Whilst financial inclusion is particularly important for women’s economic empowerment, today 60% of the 400 million financially excluded adults on the continent are women.

So what is standing on our way, to make digital financial inclusion for women a reality?

  • First of all Access to a mobile telephone and internet connection is an extremely necessary starting point. But Sub-Saharan Africa has a 41% gender gap with regards to mobile internet use. This disparity could be reduced.
  • Also having regulation in place that allows for mobile money and agents that are close to where women live and work, is an important prerequisite to use digital financial services for COVID-19 response.
  • There still remains a 9% gender gap in IDs between men and women in Sub-Saharan Africa. People without a government-recognized proof of identity often cannot open accounts and are shut off from the formal financial system.
  • Closely connected, tiered customer due diligence processes are needed to quickly onboard beneficiaries for mobile wallets and smaller value accounts.
  • Lastly, but not least, consumer protection policies are also key to ensure that use of and access to DFS does not increase the digital divide or gender inequality. 

Now without these key prerequisites in place, countries could be left behind, relying on cash-based manual systems that are extremely costly and prone to leakages. These enablers will also provide an entrance for women’s participation in the digital economy, including e-commerce platforms and tele-health services.

The crisis response has not stopped at payments. Governments have supported businesses with emergency credit lines and bolstered the reach of credit guarantee programs. These measures help businesses weather the storm of course. But it’s important that these programs target those entrepreneurs who need it  the most and be made available through financial institutions that cater to them – such as microfinance institutions and cooperatives.

The role of the fintech sector in supporting COVID-19 response really proves critical. They play an important role developing tailored and accessible financial products. This includes remittances, which are an important lifeline during the crisis, but also small and flexible working capital loans. Therefore, to create an innovative and safe regulatory environment for these new actors is more important than ever.  

The G7 partnership offers an important opportunity to unlock digital financial inclusion for women, so that women can live more productive and have safer lives. We must now scale up action through the partnership with specific targets in order to monitor and accelerate progress.

Lastly, I would really like to thank again Melinda Gates, and the French Government for their co-championing of this partnership, and the commitment of African policymakers to make digital financial inclusion for women a reality.

Thank you very much.