Report Reveals Five Barriers African Women Face in Digital Finance

ADDIS ABABA – A report has revealed persistent barriers in the digital finance sector that limit women’s economic empowerment in Africa and recommends policy responses to overcome them.

The African Women’s Report, a biennial flagship publication of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, analyses the digital finance ecosystem in the continent.

The analysis has examined components of the digital finance sector in Africa and how they impact women’s economic prospects.

The report, published on Monday, addresses challenges that limit the use of digital finance to promote women’s empowerment in the continent.


The report pinpoints “five key issues” affecting the use of digital finance as a catalyst for women’s economic empowerment in Africa.

First, despite having more mobile money services than anywhere else in the world, women’s access to digital services, mobile, and the internet in Africa is limited due to illiteracy, cost, skills gap, and social norms.

Second, while impressive gains are made in improving women’s digital finance skills, Africa lags behind compared to other regions.

The share of women with digital finance skills in North Africa, for instance, has doubled from 12.5% in 2014 to 25.7% in 2018 – surpassing the global average of about 20%.

However, the same figure stands at only 12% for the entire continent, the report reveals.

The third issue the report raised was only 33% of African women have a formal bank account compared to 43% of men.

“This gap, together with limited access to economic assets, escalates women’s vulnerability and exclusion from profitable sectors and formal jobs.

Fourthly, the report says social norms as well as inherent biases in financial practices, products, and services adversely impact women.

Finally, the lack of women’s participation in decision-making processes, as well as in financial and technology fields, means digital finance policies and products are unlikely to include women’s perspectives and meet their needs.

In addition, the report says in some African countries, women are nine times less likely to have formal identification than men. This impedes their ability to access, own and use digital finance services freely and safely, the report says.


Africa is a global leader in several transactional technologies such as mobile money.

However, “there remains considerable scope to scale up digital finance and ensure that women can take full advantage of the resulting opportunities,” said Edlam Yemeru, Acting Director of ECA’s Gender and Social Policy Division.

“This requires addressing a number of barriers related to connectivity, digital literacy, cost, laws, and culture,” she added.

According to the director, the newly released report takes “a holistic approach” in looking at the digital finance ecosystem and defines policy options for governments to develop the sector further and accelerate financial inclusion.

The report outlines several policy responses for governments to consider in ensuring their national digital ecosystem supports, not challenges, women’s economic empowerment.

Specific responses include prioritizing female representation in the sector, up-skilling people – especially women – in digital finance, reforming laws for greater mobile money uptake, and designing gender-sensitive policies that combine technology with social development.

The report also proposes that sex-disaggregated data on internet usage, mobile ownership, and financial literacy become a part of national household surveys to inform the design of relevant policies.

It further recommends embedding digital finance frameworks in national development plans and working with credit bureaus to address the potential for inherent gender biases within credit reporting systems.

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