The developing countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have a total population of about 380 million people, of which 60 percent are under the age of 25 years old. The region has the highest unemployment rate for youth in the world. By 2020, more than 60 million jobs need to be created in order to absorb the new job market entrants and stabilize youth unemployment. Opportunities to expand financial inclusion in the developing countries of the region are significant, particularly among youth, women, and the poor.
According to Global Findex Report 2017, financial inclusion in the MENA region (not including high-income economies) has increased by 10.6 percentage points since 2014, to reach 43.5 percent of adults with an account in 2017. However, the region has the world’s largest gender gap, with only 35 percent of women holding an account, compared to 52 percent of men. Social norms and legal barriers are often the main obstacles facing women in accessing financial services in the region.
On the other hand, there is high mobile phone ownership among the unbanked, with 86 percent of men and 75 percent of women owning a mobile phone, offering a potential for expanding financial inclusion.
Despite the challenges posed by geopolitical tensions and the displaced populations in the region, financial service providers in affected countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Yemen are providing financial and non-financial services to improve people’s resilience and help sustain livelihoods.
At the country level, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq have achieved significant advances in account ownership levels among adults to reach 42.5, 32.8, and 22.7 percent respectively in 2017, almost doubling their 2014 levels. These improvements are mainly due to a strong commitment to financial inclusion at the policy level in those countries.