Increasing Women's Access to Finance in Africa is Good for Business
By: Elenah Kimaru
There is an estimated USD 42 billion financing gap for women in Africa today. As a result, many female-owned businesses do not actualize their potential; and many investors miss profitable investment opportunities.
Empowering women and girls also helps economic growth and development. Gender equality is one of the UN’s seventeen Sustainable Economic Goals (SDGs) that establish a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. Gender equality, SDG goal no. 5 is
Although Africa has made significant progress in increasing gender equality over the past decade, progress has stalled in recent years – although some countries fare better than others. According to McKinsey, South Africa has the highest gender parity score in the region; Mauritius, Niger, and Mali have the lowest.
Increasing gender equality in the region would require a multi-pronged approach supported by all key stakeholders since discrimination against women takes on multiple shapes and forms. One significant way the private sector can get involved is by increasing women’s access to capital and credit.
Financing Gap Between Men and Women
Women in Africa today lack access to capital compared to men. This gap adversely affects women, their families, and their communities. It also means that investors overlook many potentially lucrative ventures.
Sub-saharan Africa is the only region in the world where more women than men become entrepreneurs. But when it comes to access to capital, the situation looks less rosy. On average, women in Africa own fewer assets than men, often due to discriminations encoded in property laws, and so they lack the collateral necessary to secure larger loans. And women are sometimes required to present more significant collateral for the same size loan, further inhibiting their access to capital.
The higher-than-average interest rates throughout the continent also discourage women from applying for credit to grow their business. Since female decision-makers tend to be more risk-averse than their male counterparts, women are less likely to take a high-interest loan. A study conducted by the AfDB found that 13.1% of women compared with just 8.2% of men cited high interest rates as the reason they did not apply for a loan.
The high collateral requirements and high interest rates hamper the women’s profit-making capacity since they cannot make the investments required to grow their business. But institutional obstacles are not the only issue. According to a survey conducted by the African Development Bank (AFDB) in 47 African countries, African women often self-select out of the credit market. This means that women perceive their credit-worthiness as lower than it is, so they do not even bother to apply. As a result, women turn to their informal networks for finance rather than rely on institutional investors.
Supporting Female Entrepreneurs
Increasing women’s financial literacy on the continent could help close part of the financing gap. Roughly 35 million women in Africa today are not signed up for any financial service (such as a bank or mobile money account.) Banks and digital financial services can establish programs teaching basic financial literacy to their clients. Through these programs, financial service providers can grow their client base, create greater customer loyalty, and ensure more reliable returns.
Another way to encourage female entrepreneurship is for investors and credit institutions to proactively seek out women entrepreneurs. The AfDB has set up a “Gender Equality Trust Fund” that will finance women-owned SMEs throughout the continent. The Bank has also established a risk-sharing mechanism that will de-risk investment in women-owned businesses to encourage more private-sector investment in women.
Women form Africa’s economic backbone. Their full economic empowerment is “crucial to increase productivity levels, enhance economic efficiency, and improve overall development outcomes to achieve inclusive growth.” Supporting female entrepreneurs on the continent is not just good for women and investors: it is also crucial to Africa’s sustainable economic development.