Decade of women’s financial and economic inclusion: Why scaling up actions is inevitable

Friday March 24 2023
Women legislators in Rwanda.

Women legislators in Rwanda. AU member states Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa and Senegal are among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest level of women representation in their parliaments. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

The February 2020 African Union (AU) Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, afforded African women and girls various platforms and opportunities to rally support and advance actions towards implementing commitments on gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE).

Their efforts translated to the declaration of 2020 to 2030 as the new Decade of Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion. In this declaration, African leaders recommitted to scale-up actions for progressive gender inclusion towards sustainable national, regional and continental development.

A report on the “Status of Gender and Development in Africa” presented to the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government during the February 2020 Summit by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, the AU Leader on Gender and Development issues in Africa, shows that the continent has made considerable progress in implementing commitments towards GEWE.

Women leadership

AU member states Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa and Senegal are among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest level of women representation in their parliaments. Others, such as Ethiopia, have achieved a parity government for the first time, with women forming 50 percent of its Cabinet and appointing its first female president.

Sixteen member states have surpassed the 30 percent threshold of women’s representation in national parliaments, with significant progress in advancing women’s participation in holding elective offices and leadership positions. Further, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Liberia and Mali have significantly reduced the gender gap in terms of access to and attainment of education.


However, despite these laudable achievements, Ms Victoria Maloka, Head of Division within the Women, Gender and Youth Directorate, says more efforts and resources, particularly for African women, are needed for the continent to achieve gender equality in all spheres of life.

What is the expectation from this new declaration of 2020 to 2030 as the new Decade of Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion?

This decade is of great importance for African women and our young girls to build momentum and consolidate the gains realised over the years in efforts to close the existing gender gaps. Inequality and poverty are intertwined, and therefore this decade’s focus is on building strategies around catalysing and breaking that cycle that has held women and girls back for many decades. In terms of economic inclusion, the declaration is particularly timely as women account for 70 percent of the informal cross-border traders and, at a time, the continent is implementing trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA).

Among the benefits of this common market is the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers and implementing the simplified trade regimes, which will make it more affordable for informal traders to operate through formal channels. What this means, then, is that women can also benefit from initiatives to connect female agricultural workers to export food markets. Furthermore, at the regional and national levels, we expect similar momentum because the exponential potential in this continent will not be realised in a vacuum but through purposed gender-sensitive economic policies, a sound business environment and political commitment. This requires that gender mainstreaming in AfCFTA National Strategies should be intensified to draw the attention of member states to the critical importance of gender-responsive strategies in the operationalisation of the AfCFTA.

Financial inclusion

Financial inclusion refers to all initiatives that make formal financial services Available, Accessible and Affordable to all population segments. This requires particular attention to specific portions of the population that have been historically excluded from the formal financial sector either because of their income level and volatility, gender, location, type of activity, or level of financial literacy. In so doing, there is a need to harness the untapped potential of those individuals and businesses currently excluded from the formal financial sector or underserved and enable them to develop their capacity, strengthen their human and physical capital, engage in income-generating activities, and manage risks associated with their livelihoods.

What we mean by financial inclusion of women throughout the decade is to seek strengthened financial services and capacity building, especially for women living in rural areas, to gain access to technology and to use it to increase productivity in all industrious sectors and with tailor-made financial products for the women and have access to formal as well as reliable means to save, access and borrow money. Studies have shown that women invest 70 percent of their financial resources in the social welfare cost of the family, particularly education and the health of children, while human investment ranges from 30 percent to 40 percent.

Going forward, women and girls are keen on not only managing funds at the various public and private institutional set-ups but also owning the funds. There is nothing small about women, therefore, we are thinking big and looking at how women can have more control over their earnings and savings as well as managing and owning large amounts of funds.

We must be able to make significant progress in improving the lives and livelihoods of millions of women and young girls around the continent, and that means that we are leaving no one behind because when you empower a woman, you empower the family and the community at large. There is evidence of that trickledown effect. For that reason, in February 2020, African Women Leaders Network launched the African Women Leadership Fund, demonstrating their commitment to move from commitment to action. With a target of $100 million, the launch pooled over $20 million from the leaders present, the private sector, and more commitments will see that fund grow.

According to the World Bank, more than 70 percent of African women are excluded by financial institutions or cannot receive financial services, such as a savings or current account, loans, credit and other institutional services, with adequate conditions to meet their needs.

The overall goal of this new African Women’s Decade is that every woman must be able to work, be paid and participate in her country’s economy. This will involve examining the regulatory, legislative and policy context to determine the changes needed to foster the financial inclusion of women and assist financial institutions in adopting approaches tailored for them as a separate market segment.

Furthermore, as declared by the AU Heads of State and Government during the 33rd AU Summit in February 2020, one of the main objectives of this new African Women Decade is the development of market access by enhancing new credit solutions for women, generating access to infrastructure in downstream processing and distribution, and training them in agro-industrial technology.

Finally, in addition to access to financial products, technologies and services, achieving financial inclusion for women would require overcoming sociocultural norms and gender barriers.

What is the role of the member states and the regional economic blocs in the bottom-top approach to women’s equality and empowerment?

Our states and regional blocs have a key role to play in galvanising support at the various economic and financial sectors, be it banking, microfinance institutions, the telecommunication companies for mobile money services, pushing for the domestication and implementation of affirmative action policies, engaging in civic education and even establish relationships with innovators and development partners who can support the tailor-made solutions needed to achieve women’s financial inclusion and empowerment. Concretely, African governments must put in place policies and targeted complementary measures that help women overcome the constraints of accessing finance, as well as market information and networks.

Special programmes should include targeted entrepreneurship, business management and technology training, financial literacy and planning, investment and capacity building, particularly for women small business owners. The African Union cannot do this on its own. We need all hands-on deck. We also need civil societies and women’s bodies to join this call to enable us to meet commitments on women’s equality and empowerment.

The report on the “Status of Gender and Development in Africa” shows commendable progress by member states in terms of gender parity. How has that resulted in a tangible difference for women and girls?

We are very encouraged by the progress on gender parity, equality and empowerment by the member states, demonstrating a great commitment to the policies and frameworks they have adopted at the continental level. In fact, to see our African states among the top ten globally on matters of gender equality and empowerment shows that the efforts by our women and girls over the years have borne fruit. Having said that, however, there is a need to scale up actions towards the universal ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, popularly known as Maputo Protocol, and beyond that, we are saying we need to see more action in the full implementation of the commitments we have made to advance the welfare of women and girls on the continent. To date, 42 out of 55 member states have ratified the Maputo Protocol on Women’s Rights, and our call to the remaining 13 is to ratify it as we are past the year 2020, which was when all member states agreed to have universal ratification of the protocol.

For the AU, this is not just about the numbers. These policies and frameworks have been key once integrated into the national policies because it is from there that we can effectively monitor and evaluate the progressive actions to benefit the women and girls of this continent. This is manifested in various ways, be it in resource allocation to gender matters, the inclusion of women in top-level positions, access to quality education for girls, expansion of business opportunities and a favourable working environment for women and young girls.

What were some of the key milestones achieved for women in the previous decade, 2010-2020?

The African Women’s Decade (AWD) 2010-2020 on Grassroots Approach to Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment was a critical time to advance gender equality by accelerating the implementation of agreed global and regional commitments, particularly that of Dakar, Beijing and AU Assembly Decisions on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE). The AWD had 10 themes, which were implemented on an annual basis through the financial support of the Fund for African Women (FAW).

The AU-FAW, established in 2010 and which has now been transformed into a Trust Fund for African Women, is the mobilising vehicle through which national resources are pooled at the continental level. The Assembly of the AU Heads of State and Government committed to investing one percent of the member states’ annual contributions to the AU budget (based on actual received contributions) in the AU-FAW. The Fund supports grassroots projects submitted by member states and civil society organisations (CSOs) under AWD themes.

The AWD was implemented in two phases: 2010 to 2015 and 2016 to 2020. A Mid-Term Status Update Report was launched in 2016 and contained experiences from 22 AU member states and highlighted the progress made in establishing legislative, policy, administrative and institutional mechanisms in the implementation of the AWD at a national level.

However, despite these achievements, some challenges were met during this period, such as resistance towards the notion of gender equality, the existence of inequalities in national laws, inadequate financing of gender equality programmes, low representation of women in politics and public decision-making spaces, increase in the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexual violence.