FinDev Interview

Amplifying Women’s Voices for Financial Inclusion in Africa

Interview with Nomsa Daniels, CEO of the pan-African advocacy organization Graça Machel Trust
Nomsa Daniels. Photo credit: GIZ/Hussam Da’na.

Nomsa Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of the Graça Machel Trust, a Pan-African advocacy organization focused on child health and nutrition, education, women’s economic and financial empowerment, leadership and good governance. Prior to the Graça Machel Trust, she was Executive Director of New Faces New Voices (NFNV) where she was at the forefront of initiatives aimed at increasing women’s financial inclusion.

The Graça Machel Trust was established to amplify the voices of women's movements, influence governance, and promote women's leadership and contributions in the economic, social, and political development of Africa.

Can you tell us about the Graça Machel Trust’s key activities for advancing women’s financial inclusion in Africa?

Nomsa: We at the Graça Machel Trust, very much believe in accelerating the economic advancement of African women in order to ensure that women play a much stronger role in our economies. As we have seen when we invest in women, it has a multiplier effect on society: women invest in their children, in their community, and in better education. The approach of the Trust is to help empower women in different sectors in order to create a critical mass of women who can drive the social and economic transformation of Africa.

In 2010, the Trust established its first women’s network under the name “New Faces, New Voices” – a network of women in finance - and it has a presence now in 16 African countries. The objective of the network is to advance women’s financial inclusion in Africa. How do we do that? We advocate for bringing more women into the formal financial system by increasing women’s access to finance and financial services regardless of economic background, age, geographic location, etc. We also advocate for building women’s capacities to access finance because we recognize that many women are in business and although they receive business management training, they do not receive similar training on how to raise capital from banks, which requires completely different skills. We also advocate for more women holding leadership positions in the financial sector. This is very important – institutions led by women are likely to be more sensitive and more responsive to the needs of women on the ground, leading to more appropriate interventions for women.

From your perspective, why is gender equality important for financial inclusion?

Nomsa: In addition to the multiplier effect mentioned earlier, financial inclusion means giving women a financial identity within the financial system that allows them to reap the benefits by leveraging their deposits for their well-being. Research and anecdotal evidence show that women have different ways of engaging with financial services, and they have different financial needs and priorities, which is why the gender dimension is so critical in financial inclusion.

What are the key barriers preventing the financial inclusion of women? What is needed in order to overcome such barriers?

From our experience, making women less fragmented and bringing them together to speak in one voice is really effective.

Nomsa Daniels

Nomsa: The biggest barriers in my opinion are the lack of collateral and the discriminatory laws. In developing countries, women typically don’t own land or other tangible assets. Women are still considered under the guardianship of the male figure in the family (father, husband, brother and even son), which restricts their mobility and their power to make decisions about their lives. In some countries, women still need permission from husband to open a bank account or permission to travel, leave the house, or start a business. How could a woman be economically active with all those restrictions?

Another barrier is lack of education and knowing one’s own rights. Women need to have a better understanding of the terms and conditions of the services and products offered and what their rights as consumers are, but they are often intimidated to approach financial institutions. With education and awareness building, such self-imposed barriers could be removed and women could make more informed financial decisions. It all starts with the power dynamics at the household level; that’s where the gender discrepancy in social norms arises. That’s the most difficult area to influence, but with time things are changing and people’s mindsets as well.

From our experience, making women less fragmented and bringing them together to speak in one voice is really effective. Strengthening businesswomen’s associations and working on a set of clear issues for an advocacy agenda makes a big difference.

Prior to the Graça Machel Trust, you were the Executive Director of New Faces New Voices, which is, as you mentioned, a pan-African organization that advocates for greater financial inclusion for African women. What are some of the key lessons learned from this experience?

Nomsa: In 2012, New Faces New Voices partnered with Making Finance Work for Africa, and GIZ to produce a Policy Brief entitled Advancing African Women’s Financial Inclusion. This brief looked at the challenges and obstacles that impede women’s access to finance and financial services across Africa and one key recommendation was to build awareness among policymakers and other stakeholders about the financial needs of women in different market segments, and bringing women leaders into policy dialogue.

Five years later, this and the rest of the recommendations still hold, and as we have learned from our experience in countries across Africa, to bring about change, it takes a visionary leader or a local champion (individual or institutional) to harness the contribution of women. Evidence-based research backed up with data is also very important. Data gives women the power to show their potential, allows them to make arguments and influence policy making, and makes them equal partners in the development process.

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