• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Breaking biases to bridge the gender gap in women’s financial inclusion in Nigeria

Breaking biases to bridge the gender gap in women’s financial inclusion in Nigeria

Webinar Recap

Accelerating progress on eliminating the gender gap in access to financial services in Nigeria requires broad-based institutional reforms that put gender equality in the front burner. Also, individuals and institutions are evolving and recognizing that biases, stereotyping and discrimination do exist and have negative impacts on our overall development as individuals and society. These were the submissions of key experts during a webinar organized by the Gender Centre of Excellence at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Organized in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria, Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA), Lagos Business School, and Women’s World Banking to mark International Women Day, Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria: Breaking Biases to Bridge the Gender Gap provided an opportunity to reflect on gains in women’s financial inclusion. Importantly, the experts also identified key strategies that can be adopted towards addressing systemic gender bias, stereotyping, discrimination, and gender inequalities that exist in Nigeria especially pertaining to access and use of formal financial services.

The panel was made up of seasoned gender and financial inclusion professionals including:
• Dr. Paul Oluikpe – Head, Financial Inclusion Delivery Unit, CBN
• Prof. Olayinka David-West – Associate Dean and Professor of Information Systems, Lagos Business School
• Ashley Immanuel – Chief Executive Officer, EFInA
• Emezino “Zino” Afiegbe – Senior Relationship Manager, Women’s World Banking
• Loise Maina, Gender Lead, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

The moderator, Henrietta Bankole-Olusina (Program Director, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Nigeria) opened the webinar highlighting that the IWD is a special day in which women are celebrated for their social, economic, and political achievements globally and a day to renew our commitment to work towards a fair and equitable world where both men and women can enjoy full rights and achieve their full potentials in all spheres of life. She noted that despite the persistent gender inequalities in society, we can take comfort in the fact that in many countries including Nigeria, women are making positive gains. Citing a recent study by United Nations across 75 countries that showed that 90% of people hold bias against women, she noted that a lot of work still needs to be done. She noted that this year’s IWD theme, #BreakTheBias was a call for everyone to work for a more gender-equal world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination where there is diversity and inclusiveness, and where difference is valued and celebrated.

Biases Defined
According to Ashley Immanuel, bias is an inclination or prejudice against a person or group of persons in a way that could be considered unfair, for example favouring men/boys over women/girls. She added that bias can be both conscious and unconscious. The panelists highlighted some gender stereotypes, biases and discrimination that exist which keep women from participating fully and benefitting from formal financial services.

Dr. Paul Oluikpe noted that the patriarchal system which considers the role of women as appendages and subordinates to men is most often culturally entrenched and religiously reinforced thereby making men to be dominant. He pointed out that the current education system is narrow in terms of gender equality and people do not understand that gender equality could bring about systemic stability in social, economic, and political spheres of the society. He added that, we cannot have a social system that subordinates one group of gender to the other and expect to have a stable or financially sustainable system.

Bias Hinders Development
The panelists acknowledged that issues around gender bias is a concern because it hinders sustainable development. They noted that there is a USD 300 billion financing gap for formal women-owned businesses, that women own less than 20% of land globally while in Nigeria only 10% of women are landowners, and that women only hold 24% representation in top leadership positions. According to the panelists, Nigerian women need to be placed on equal pedestal so they can compete favorably with their counterparts in the world as the country stands at an advantage if women are encouraged to play at the global level.

On what a gender-equal society will look like, Prof. David-West noted that the orientation should start from the family and in how people relate with one another and how children are treated right from when they are young. For example, beliefs that men/boys are assertive or should be in leadership or that men/ boys are strong while women/girls are weak. She remarked that boys and girls should be given equal opportunities to grow and develop and achieve their potential.

What Individuals and Organizations Can do to Tackle Biases
In tackling the systemic biases that exist within individuals and financial services sector, Loise Maina stated that there is need for an integrated approach as the ‘one size fits all approach’ may not work given the various dynamics at play. According to Emezino Afiegbe, there is need for leadership imperatives which promotes equitable participation of women and men in critical sectors. This should be equally reflected in support provided to women led MSMEs including sourcing for equity, debt capital, entrepreneurship development, and efficiency in business management.

A lot needs to be done in terms of advocacy, and awareness raising on the need to develop and roll-out diverse financial and non-financial services that meet women’s unique needs. He added that there is also need for a more equitable model of employment that takes into consideration the burden of unpaid care work including childcare that many women must bear to support their full participation and productivity in the economy. According to Loise Maina, there is also need for organizations to undertake gender pay gap analysis to ensure that women and men get equal pay for equal work done. According to UN Women, globally women receive equivalent of 77% of men’s earnings in similar roles.

Ashely Immanuel remarked that there should also be the provision of enabling environment for women led MSMEs, and the knowledge capital required to address barriers to accessing and using formal financial services. Women should be exposed to more education, as people with high level of education tend to use financial services more. According to her, the daily cycle of a woman should be considered in the design and usage of financial services and households should not prioritize education of boys over girls because they don’t anticipate return on investments for girls. Early marriage should be discouraged and there should be equal income earning opportunity for all. She remarked that some women are not decision makers in terms of use digital financial services as some women do not even have financial identification/digital identifiers or phones.

Strategies towards #BreakingTheBias
In adopting some promising strategies towards addressing systemic biases against women’s access to financial services, Loise Maina noted that there is firstly the need to recognize and understand the biases and acknowledge that there is need for change. There is also the need to have clear policies on anti-discrimination and diversity and inclusion. Organizations should invest in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies that eliminate biases in recruitment, training, retention, and compensation and promote more diverse and inclusive leadership at all levels as men still make up majority of management in financial institutions like banks and insurance companies.
Prof. David-West stated the need to support women into more senior roles through workplace training and mentorship programmes and the use of positive role models. According to a study done by McKinsey and Company in 2018, companies with more gender diverse leadership are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and provide a rounded view for customers. According to her, there is the need to build a business case for gender equality and to show that companies that support women’s participation and leadership at all levels do better outperform those that don’t. For Ashely Immanuel, organizations should regularly collect and analyze gender-aggregated data to gain a better understanding on how they are performing, and track changes to be able to take more informed decisions and adopt more women-centric approaches in designing their products and services.

Conclusion
Achieving long term and sustainable development would only be possible if men and women are given equal ease of access to resources and opportunities including economic participation and decision making. The onus lies on all stakeholders to vigorously value different aspirations, behaviors and needs equally irrespective of gender to ensure a world free of gender biases, stereotypes, and discrimination.