• Gender finance
  • Microfinance
  • SME Finance
Mar 30, 2017

The high-level conference on “Advancing Women’s Financial Inclusion in the Arab World” hosted by the Central Bank of Jordan, the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) and GIZ attracted more than 200 high level policy makers and financial sector experts from the Arab World and beyond at the Dead Sea in Jordan to discuss strategic policy developments for the financial inclusion of women in the Arab world.

In recent years, policymakers all over the world have been increasingly paying more attention to gender and financial inclusion. The Denarau Action Plan launched at the 2016 Global Policy Forum of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) reflects the global network’s commitment to gender and women’s financial inclusion. It aims to promote the development of smart policies and regulations to create an enabling environment that accelerates women’s financial inclusion.

Cultural norms or legal barriers are often at the root of women’s limited financial access and usage of any type of financial service. According to Women, Business and the Law report, of the 26 countries with the highest number of discriminatory laws against women, 19 are located in the Arab region. Discrimination in women client treatment takes many forms. Some laws directly infringe on a woman’s ability to open a bank account (such as obtaining a national ID), while others influence her ability to work or acquire assets.

Different realities and different behavior in saving and borrowing between women and men require partnerships across all levels as well as quick wins and long-term changes alike. Policymakers and regulators need to produce sex-disaggregated data. As the “one size fits all” approach does not work, providers must consider gender-specific product development to support women’s financial inclusion and to tap the full potential of women, as they strike a more prudent balance between risk and reward. Some banks in the region already provide interesting businesses cases:

  • BLC Bank of Lebanon recognized women clients as a growth market and as a competitive differentiator. It launched its We Initiative Women’s Market Program, in which it offers women tailored loans or savings options, such as mother-child accounts. It also designed non-financial services, such as business development services and online and offline networking, to address the specific challenges women entrepreneurs face. The We Initiative has positioned BLC as the Bank of Choice for women in Lebanon and as a global good practice.
  • Bank Al Etihad launched its Women Banking program ‘Shorouq’ in Jordan in 2014, which covers collateral-free business loans, startup loans, maternity breaks or family and retirement insurance as well as non-financial support services designed for women. A platform enables the clients to network and learn. Those women can now benefit from an integrated set of banking services tailored to their needs.
  • Bank of Palestine launched in 2015 a Women’s Market program called ‘Felestineya’ to cater to the financial needs of women. The program targets women entrepreneurs and business owners, women in employment and women at home. Financial services include loan products and bank accounts on behalf of women for their children. Additional non-financial advisory services supports women in financial management.

The regional policy forum carried on the strong emphasis on gender and financial inclusion from the AFI network. Reflecting on “Regulatory Barriers and Policy Changes to Enhance Women’s Access to Financial Services” in the policy forum’s flagship panel, Dr. Alfred Hannig, AFI’s Executive Director, pointed out that “96% of AFI members are committed to closing the gender gap”.  The central bank deputy governors from Egypt and Rwanda, both being members of the AFI Gender and Women’s FI Committee, as well as representatives from Banque du Liban, BLC Bank Lebanon, and the World Bank stressed the need for strategies that address both supply and demand side barriers to women’s financial inclusion. They highlighted successful international interventions at the policy and regulatory level in view of promoting the implementation of the Denarau Action Plan in the MENA region.

Through their strategic partnership for financial inclusion in the Arab region, the AMF, the AFI and GIZ will further support knowledge exchange and capacity building of partnering regulators and supervisors for the development of progressive policies to address the financial inclusion gap for women.

Read the Arabic version here

By Mehrechane Nayel, Central Bank Advisor, Promotion of the Microfinance Sector in the MENA Region, GIZ

This blog post is brought to you by GIZ and the Arabic Microfinance Gateway under their Outreach Partnership for the Regional Policy Forum on Advancing Women’s Financial Inclusion in the Arab World. The event was hosted by the Central Bank of Jordan, the Arab Monetary Fund, and GIZ from November 22-23, 2016 at the Dead Sea, Jordan with the support of AFI, the European Union, CGAP, and New Faces New Voices.