The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has taken a bold step aimed at developing a women-specific strategy which recognises and treats them as a critically important and distinct customer group with a focus entirely on their financial inclusion. The policy, when fully implemented, will address the financial inclusion of all categories of Nigerian women, young and old.
As designed, it takes an additional reference point – Nigeria’s Sustainable Banking Principles – which promotes women’s economic empowerment through a gender inclusive workplace culture in business operations just as it seeks to provide products and services packaged specifically for women and based on international best practice.
This framework meticulously put together by the apex bank also carves out the barriers of particular importance to women, laying out eight strategic imperatives and related recommendations with the greatest potential for addressing these barriers.
The framework makes it clear that the eight strategic imperatives are consistent with the priorities identified and adopted in the 2018 National Financial Inclusion Strategy. These imperatives also take into account the December 2019 Assessment of Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria.
Far and above, that is the important specificity that defines the strategic imperatives with a focus on what is most important to close the gender gap and to ramp up the use of financial products and services by Nigerian women. Similarly, it pays attention to what can be done within the realm of the financial sector. This is just as these strategies draw important lines between the focus on women’s financial inclusion and the broader issues of women’s economic and social empowerment.
From the provisions of the policy document, Strategic Imperatives 1-3 address the most urgent measures to ramp up women’s financial inclusion with the objectives of the Framework in mind which are the reduction of the gender gap by one half by end 2021 and eliminating the gender gap by end 2024. Strategic Imperatives 4 – 8 address an equally important set of imperatives, which focus on the development and uptake of a range of viable women-focused products and services and delivery systems, with the recognition that the implementation of these recommendations requires a longer time horizon.
This policy thrust was conceptualised by the Financial Inclusion Special Intervention Working Group and developed by the CBN in collaboration with Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA) and Women’s World Banking with input from over 50 stakeholder institutions. The overarching vision of the framework is for Nigeria to be globally recognised, with an inclusive financial sector that would have closed the gender gap by 2024.
An earlier financial inclusion report indicated a gender imbalance and a clear need to attend to the issue of growing female financial exclusion. For example, that report of 2018 stated that 40.9 per cent of females were financially excluded as against 32.5 per cent of males. There is, therefore, an urgent need to act fast as a delay might result in the figures getting even wider especially in a period of crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the ways of actualising this laudable policy, in the opinion of this newspaper, is for financial institutions to address structural issues limiting women’s access to finance in such a manner as to understand and develop products that are specifically tailored to address such issues.
It goes without saying that supporting a stronger role or empowering women is a key enabler in reducing poverty, stimulating economic growth and ensuring sustainable development. It is from this perspective that we relate this policy to efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) aim of gender equality and Nigeria’s financial inclusion targets simultaneously.
It is pertinent to observe that women’s financial inclusion can create greater economic stability and prosperity for women, their families, and their communities, by building assets, enabling the ability to respond to family needs as well as mitigating risk. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) research affirms that when a woman has access and, just as importantly, control of formal financial products she not only contributes to her own well-being, but also to the well-being of her family.
It has been argued elsewhere that being financially included can have transformative effects for women as it energises them to participate in the financial system, better manage risk, smooth consumption in the face of shocks, or fund household expenditures like education.
Empirical evidence abound that providing low- income women with the right financial tools to save and borrow money, make and receive payments, and manage risk is important for their empowerment, and also for poverty reduction.
It is on the basis of this that we aver that women’s financial inclusion is not only a powerful force in the economy and in the society: it is a particularly powerful force. While both men and women benefit from financial inclusion, there is evidence that economic inequality falls more when women have greater access to finance.
In the meantime, we commend the CBN for this audacious initiative and hope that it will be implemented effectively and efficiently so as to achieve the set objectives.