Gender-inclusiveness in finance as a first step to gender equality

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

“Gender” is a central success factor to practically all development interventions. In many parts of the world, women still face structural disadvantages. Germany’s Feminist Development Policy works to mitigate these. Yet, advancing equal access and opportunity is not always straight forward, because it is regularly not trivial (read more about the topic here).

In the financial sector, many practitioners equate “gender equality in access to and use of finance” to adjusting financial services by reducing entry barriers for women. The best known example over the past decades has been the overwhelming success of microfinance. However, increasing women’s financial inclusion is only one first step and not the ultimate solution (see box).

To achieve gender equality in a sustainable way, financial institutions and technical project teams need to competently and continuously address the topic in an integrated manner (known as “gender mainstreaming”).

Policies, operating manuals, and plans are indicative, but in many organisations hardly of strategic priority. The composition of staff, on the other hand, is indeed a strong indicator, of actual gender-balance.

On that level, financial institutions in many countries have made substantial progress. For instance, financial sector practitioners and regulators in Nigeria in a recent survey conducted by AFC for CBN/ AFI opined that:

  • Their sector had advanced in supporting women making careers, as several regulated financial institutions have appointed female CEOs.
  • A female CEO alone does not mean that gender relations across the organisation have changed.
  • Indeed, the fast-growing segment of financial agents underserves women in Nigeria, as only a small proportion of these agents are women.

Equivalently, traditional banking and microfinance jobs are pre-dominantly filled by men, and same goes for multilateral organisations and development finance banks. Moreover, women tend to occupy office-based jobs such as teller officers, while field officers are much more often men. More specifically, loan officers who appraise entrepreneurs and, after disbursement, monitor their repayment, are mostly men in the majority of (micro)financial institutions. Interestingly, field officers who promote savings are often women – for example, savings (“SuSu”) collectors in Ghana. Such officers are substantially less prevalent than loan officers.

In Nigeria, AFC executed a 3.5-year project that integrated gender in an exemplary manner. Across all levels of roles and hierarchy, the project team was mixed:

  • The international team leader (based in Nigeria) was male for about 2/5 of the project, followed by a female team leader for the other 3/5 of the project.
  • The team of national key experts was mixed, two-third female, while the support staff were all male.
  • The team of 56 local trainers was also mixed, with 2 out of 5 being women.

The project passed the threshold of female participation (35%) for all target indicators (smallholder farmers and agri-entrepreneurs trained and accessed financial services). The real success behind this numbers is qualitative: most of these trainees live in North-Western Nigeria where women are more financially excluded than in the South, according to EFinA, 76% of women in Nigeria’s North-West are financially excluded. Accordingly, about 1 in 3 of the trained women processors and farmers opened a formal bank account for the first time in their lives. Access to loans mirrors these numbers. Moreover, the most successful partner financial institution, Jaiz Bank, also deployed mixed teams in their branches in North-Western Nigeria where they piloted and rolled out the Shari’a-compliant Murabaha loan product, which was developed with support of our project team. Noteworthy, many of these women process rice, and hence make an important contribution to reducing Nigeria’s dependence on imported rice to feed its growing population.

Not all project teams arrive (yet) at balancing diversity as in this example. It is a milestone of a journey that still has rough terrains to cross before reaching its ultimate destination: routine gender-equality. Deliberate action, such as encouraged by AFC management, certainly is a building block.

For more information please contact Oliver.Schmidt [at] or Daniela.Richter [at]