Women, children, and the elderly are among the most vulnerable groups in the world, and Covid-19 lockdowns and the war in Ukraine have made this vulnerability worse. These events have resulted in a decline in economic activity, particularly in what President Museveni has called the “vulnerable economy.”
To address gender inequality and lift millions out of poverty, the government of Uganda is striving to unleash women’s economic power. One strategy is to create opportunities for women using FinTech.
Most women in Uganda operate their businesses on a cash basis, which excludes them from many financial services available to women in other parts of the world.
However, since the Bank of Uganda issued a letter of no objections to MTN mobile money and Airtel Money in 2009, financial inclusion has doubled. Slowly but steadily, women are adopting and participating in financial technology.
During the 2019 Africa Fintech Festival, the Uganda chapter of African Women in Fintech and Payments was established, enabling women to form alliances with one another. Catherine Denis, the co-founder of Numida Technologies, was one of the entrepreneurs who attended the festival. Numida Technologies provides unsecured digital loans to semi-formal micro and small businesses via a mobile app.
Gender inequality is a challenge in Fintech, particularly in rural areas where women are constrained by social norms that prevent them from owning a phone. Many of these women lack the option of owning their own mobile money or bank accounts. They usually save their money in liquid form and rely on personal networks or loaners to meet their basic financial needs, making them vulnerable to loss, theft, and exploitation. If they had access to digital tools, these small-scale businesses could make use of digital logistics, potentially saving many from collapse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Museveni has repeatedly called on women to participate in income-generating activities and has established various programs to improve women’s livelihoods. For example, in 2017, he launched the Presidential Initiative to Skill the Girl Child, which equips young women with different skills, including baking, knitting, sewing, shoemaking, and hairdressing. Graduates are given seed capital of Ugx 1,000,000 to start businesses in their field of study.
The government of Uganda has subsidized the founding of new Savings and Credit Cooperative Organizations (SACCOS) throughout the country. Newly established SACCOS can apply for a start-up grant from the Microfinance Support Centre (MSC), a government-owned apex institution.
MSC also provides interest-free loans to SACCOS or other subsidized loans, and the government provides operational support, paying salaries and rent for the first two years after start-up. These support schemes are part of the government’s
“One SACCO per sub-county” initiative, which is part of the wider “Prosperity for All” program. Through these SACCOs, women have improved their livelihoods and those of their families. The government trains and empowers women to manage savings groups through the district community development department.
Most recently, President Museveni launched the Parish Development Model (PDM) as part of his last-mile strategy for poverty eradication. PDM has a pillar on financial inclusion, which seeks to enable meaningful participation in the formal money economy by providing access to appropriate financial products and services, such as savings, credit, insurance, and payment systems, to households without discrimination. Access to financial services through digital services has the potential to decrease income disparities, increase access to necessary financing, manage risks, and lower the cost of money transfers while improving savings behavior.
Access to mobile money and bank accounts owned by themselves is essential for women and can help government and private entities improve their lives. When women have access to accounts owned in their names, they can use them to grow and save their money.
Embracing equity means that we must intentionally design and implement policies and programs that level the playing field for women, including those in rural areas. We must prioritize their financial inclusion and empower them with the necessary digital tools to enhance their economic participation.
It is encouraging to see that the government of Uganda is making strides towards achieving financial inclusion for women through various initiatives such as the establishment of SACCOS and the Presidential Initiative to Skill the Girl Child. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that every woman in Uganda has access to financial services and the digital tools necessary to participate fully in the formal money economy.
We need to break down the social norms and cultural barriers that prevent women from owning mobile phones and accessing financial services. We must also address the issue of gender inequality in the fintech industry to ensure that women have equal opportunities to participate and benefit from technological advancements in the financial sector.
In conclusion, achieving gender equality and financial inclusion for women is not just a moral imperative, but also an economic imperative. By embracing equity and empowering women with the necessary digital tools and financial services, we can unleash their economic potential and lift millions out of poverty. Let us all commit to #EmbraceEquity and work towards building a more prosperous and inclusive future for all Ugandans.
The writer works with the Digital Media Unit of the Ministry of ICT&NG