Africa: Bridging the Gender Gap and Digitising Informal Markets


The Digital gender gap continues to expand across emerging markets. As a result, there is a rising need to address digital gender equality with targeted approaches, particularly among predominantly informal markets like rural communities, Small-to-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) segments. When women and girls are empowered through digital technologies, societies benefit overall. Thus, addressing this gap is essential to promoting digital inclusion, transformation, and economic development across Africa.

ELG Convenor – Gail Makenete and participants of the Female Leadership Breakfast hosted by the Trust during the Mondato Summit- 2022

The Trust’s Expert Leader, Ms Gail Makenete, gave a keynote address on Bridging the Gender Gap and Digitising Informal Markets during the just concluded Mondato Summit held in Maputo on 17 and 18 May 2022. Here is what she had to say about the role of female leaders, regulators, and digital financial stakeholders:

Question #1: What role does female leadership play in securing more access to finance for women and girls?

Example #1: Women’s leadership plays a critical role. Women are natural savers. Even in the most severe of situations, a wife /mother will always dig into the last of her savings for her family’s benefit. Women’s leadership helps because women can encourage each other and share best practices on how best to save for rainy days. This is particularly true for rural communities with limited access to finance. Rural savings groups, which in most cases are led by women, are very vibrant and provide access to finance for family requirements through revolving loans among members. Additionally, they encourage savings, even of smaller amounts.

Example 2: A 2019 International Finance Corporation (IFC) report on Moving toward gender balance in private equity and venture capital firms revealed female partners invested two times more in female entrepreneurs than male partners. Another example of the importance of female leadership. Based on this finding, there are two opportunities that female leadership can play in securing more access to finance for women and girls.

“We need to use a feminist approach and intentionally support and design delivery mechanisms, financial products, and services for women. Gender norms still impact the efforts to create conducive enabling environments for women. These require cross-sectoral approaches, including education governance, a shift in social constructs, and more stakeholders to advocate for female leadership.”

Question #2: How can digital finance stakeholders, from Central Banks to fintech providers, better target and develop services targeting women?

Whilst we saw the devastating effects of Covid-19 on communities, losing jobs, losing loved ones, and businesses closing down… there were some positives in the development of digital financial services (DFS) and access to them by communities. For example, during the lockdowns, people had to trade and pay for their goods digitally with no movement or restricted movement. In addition, we saw tremendous strides in using digital banking services and mobile money services in some of our jurisdictions.

However, several questions also arose, including:

Who is accessing which services and are women beneficiaries of DFS? Are they financially literate to access DFS?

The availability of sex-disaggregated data to examine exactly what products and services are available and are they being accessed by women and girls in equal measure to their male counterparts?

This is why the work we are doing under the ELG Plan of Action over the next three years is critical. We advocate for an increase in gender-disaggregated data. Our work with our Women in Finance Networks (NFNV) across the eight countries ensures will continue our efforts of consolidating detailed country-specific, community-specific norms for women’s needs. The finance industry needs to continue to build evidence around understanding women’s economic needs.

There is a need for improved channels to share information and collaborate. The Trust is working with the Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) Network and FinEquity to launch a community of practice focused on women’s financial inclusion in Africa. The community will be launched in August 2022 with the goal to deepen connections, collaborations and action on advancing women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment in the region. Be the first to know more about what we have planned and how to engage by filling in this short interest form:

“Bring together policymakers and development partners. The ELG and the Trust’s networks and partners continue to build on connecting all the work various stakeholders are doing so that we continue to amplify what we are doing.”

Question #3: Given your experience, how can regulators help, and how have they helped previously?

Regulators play a critical role in ensuring the safety and legitimacy of payment and settlement transmission mechanisms during the pandemic. Financial service providers’ charges were curtailed to curb increases during the pandemic. DFS players had to contend with no increases in charges for services to increase user access. In addition, enhanced financial literacy campaigns were undertaken, focusing on consumer education and protection. This was a joint effort between the Regulator and the players in Lesotho to ensure more access to the online services, but at a lesser cost, whilst still being protected. There is a need to promote the safe use of digital financial services to avoid cases of cybercrime, which are on the rise.

“Policy direction and deliberate women-directed policy interventions related to what disaggregated data reveal is still needed. Therefore, this is the first regional convening we are currently drafting under the Expert Leaders Group”.

About Gail Makenete, GMT Expert Leader Group Convenor

Ms Gail Makenete is a Chartered Accountant by profession who has worked in many financial markets, apart from accounting. She started working as a trainee accountant in an accounting firm, moved to the Government ministry for four years, and later made the Central Bank of Lesotho for almost 32 years. She left as the Second Deputy Governor in December of last year. One of her portfolios as Deputy Governor was to oversee the payment and settlements department, where this interesting digital finance development was taking place. She is passionate about community work and has been a Rotarian for 28 years. And has empowered women and girls by advocating for increased participation of women in sports at all levels since 1993. She is currently the Convener of the Expert Leaders Group (ELG) under the Graça Machel Trust. The Trust is a women-led, Pan-African institution whose mission is to amplify women’s movements, influence governance, promote women’s contributions and leadership in Africa’s economic and social development, and advocate for the protection of children’s rights and dignity.