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Egypt’s Economic Recovery Will Not Succeed Without a Key Ingredient: Women

Egypt is on the road to recovery after the 2011 revolution, and financial inclusion is growing at a steady pace. But even though women’s financial inclusion is on the rise, the gender gap is widening. Women’s World Banking’s strategy for closing the financial inclusion gender gap in Egypt targets the players and the solutions that will ensure women benefit from, and contribute to, Egypt’s potential for robust growth.

Egypt is still recovering from the economic impact of its 2011 revolution, which crippled growth for a half-decade. Tourism and investment suffered most, and unemployment remains high—with nearly a quarter of Egypt’s women now jobless. But the forecast is brightening: Egypt’s economic growth is projected at 5.3 percent for 2017-2018, and financial inclusion has tripled over the past six years.

While women are benefiting from the recent growth, they’re mostly getting left behind men in financial inclusion. Women’s financial inclusion has quintupled to 27 percent over the last three years—thanks to microfinance, mobile money and government transfers (G2P)–but the financial inclusion gender gap is still widening, doubling to 12 percent in the same timespan.

It’s time for Egypt to leverage the political and cultural shifts that are allowing women to participate more fully in the economy—despite educational barriers, low labor-force participation and challenging social norms. Women’s World Banking’s strategy for closing the financial inclusion gender gap prioritizes women’s financial security as a crucial part of Egypt’s economic growth. Closing the gap will not only benefit women; it will mean a speedier recovery for Egypt.

Women’s Financial Inclusion Taking Center Stage in Egypt

Egypt has nearly 24 million unbanked or underbanked women: that’s 73 percent of its adult female population. The Egyptian government is focusing on gender-related policies as part of its Financial Inclusion Road Map. Its Strategy for Women aims to increase women’s economic and political empowerment by 2030, and to roll out cultural and legal initiatives to protect women. On the provider side, financial service providers are taking a page from the microfinance playbook and reaching out to low-income populations.

Women’s World Banking’s strategy for Egypt will cut the number of unbanked women by 10 percent—adding 2.5 million women to the ranks of the financially included. The strategy targets mobile money providers, FinTechs and other financial service providers with a social mission over traditional banks, which still favor the corporate sector. As the supply of financial services for the unbanked and underbanked grows, the emphasis must shift to providing solutions designed to work for women. Women’s World Banking’s financial inclusion strategy for Egypt will focus on:

  • Optimizing solutions low-income women already use, such as mobile money accounts, to ensure increased uptake
  • Working with financial service providers (FSPs) to create better safety net solutions
  • Increasing awareness for FSPs of the market opportunity of serving women and increasing awareness for women of the options that are available to them

Making the Most of Mobile Money

Roughly 97 percent of households in Egypt, and 80 percent of low-income households, own a mobile phone. Unlike many of the markets we work in, Egypt is close to gender parity in mobile phone ownership. That high penetration rate represents a huge opportunity to raise women’s mobile-money usage. Women’s World Banking’s strategy will double the number of women using mobile money, from roughly 6 percent active wallets to 12 percent. The strategy also calls on mobile network operators (MNOs) to target mobile phone owners who are unbanked and don’t yet use mobile money, which provides a huge untapped market.

With the mobile money sector primed for growth, Women’s World Banking will work with MNOs to ensure that women’s needs are identified and met, and hurdles minimized. For instance, permission from men is still usually required to buy a phone, and 40 percent of women report discomfort from their families about their handset usage. Beyond these social barriers, women in Egypt don’t have enough compelling use cases for mobile money, and use mobile wallets mainly for cash transfers. Women’s World Banking will work with providers to identify more relevant use cases for women such as savings, loans or insurance, thus giving them a reason to use the services.

Creating Better Financial Safety Nets for Women

Stronger financial safety nets are pillars of financial inclusion. In Egypt, women have low adoption and usage rates for savings and insurance. Women who save typically use group savings schemes known as Gami’yaat (ROSCAs).

Behavioral research by Women’s World Banking will identify barriers that keep women from using formal savings and insurance. Learnings from the research will guide the design of solutions that actively engage existing and new women clients.

Women’s World Banking will partner with FSPs, and Fintechs to help them diversify and create new women-centered savings and insurance solutions. Additionally, Women’s World Banking will work with providers on solutions that reach at least 1 million women who receive G2P payments, and other such programs.

Bridging the Distance between Women and Financial Service Providers

Financial solutions designed for low-income women will never gain traction unless the women who need them know about and can access those solutions.

Women’s World Banking will design messaging campaigns that reach out to low-income women in Egypt. Through cognitive and behavioral research and ecosystem development, Women’s World Banking will identify and address gaps in access that prevent low-income women from finding and using financial products.

Women’s World Banking will train financial service providers on the make-or-break necessity of women-centered design. When products are developed with women in mind, women are not just more likely to adopt them but also to actively engage with them and form lasting habits, thus creating the opportunity for women and growth for financial service providers.

With Women’s World Banking’s strategy for Egypt in place, it looks for others to join to build a more secure and prosperous Egypt.

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