Including women- Lessons from Somaliland

Posted on May 06, 2015 by Sumita Kale

Women form a large segment of the unbanked, as in many cases society norms keep them from having control over money, and accessing bank accountsThe position in India is no different, especially in northern states, where women are least likely to be educated, free to move around outside their limited networksThe latest Global Findex Report for 2014 shows this disparity - account penetration for males has gone up from 43.73% in 2011 to 62.47% in 2014 while for women, the percentage has risen from 26.49% in 2011 to 42.64% in 2014The disparity shows in each and every parameter of inclusion e.gwhile 17% of males had used a debit card in the past year, just 3.25% of women had done so.

The fact that access to accounts leads to empowerment is clear to all governments,  yet the special needs of this segment remain un-addressedExperiences narrated by Leora Klapper (lead economist at the World Bank and an author of the Findex Report) from Bangladesh and Ghana would resonate with all Indian women (See New Yorker, April 15, 2015)One of the biggest challenges is taking the financial service to the doorstep of these women and here, mobile money operators have had some good results.

Take Telesom in Somaliland that has almost doubled its penetration amongst women over the past four yearsTrue, India is not Somaliland and we follow the bank-led modelYet there are some basic lessons that India can take from Telesom's experiences.

As explained in this blog post by Elisa Minischetti and Claire Scharwatt one of the first things that Telesom did was to recruit more female agentsThis not only increased the comfort level for women customers, but also raised the sense of reliability amongst male customersIn India, banking agents are predominantly male - as the CGAP-CAB survey showed, just 13% of agents were women in 2013.

Further, Telesom's marketing campaign focused on women - advertisements that showed the convenience of the service for womenIn India, advertisements are still few and far between.

Telesom is using the transactions data through a gender lens to finetune the services offered to womenIn India, data is still not available through a gender lens on so many parameters.

In India of course, the struggle is still on to find the business case and making service delivery viableUnless the picture changes and banks focus on customer-centred products and services, women will continue to lag behind in the county.

Claire Scharwatt.

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