Rwanda has made significant strides in terms of financial inclusion where the last 15 years saw an increased rate from 21 percent to 77 percent, in terms of access to formal financial services, however, the gender gap remains at 7 percent, above the world's average of 5 percent.
To further extend financial inclusion for the underserved population including women, youth, and SMEs, the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) issued guidelines to equip financial institutions with a toolkit to account for women's financial inclusion in their strategic targets and financial products.
Below are some of the outstanding steps to be taken, though not exhaustive:
Develop women-customised products
Financial institutions are required to develop customized products that target women's needs for personal and business finance and cater to the range of economic activities women undertake.
Such efforts could include investment in research to understand the women's market in the country as well as the development and marketing of cost-effective and convenient savings and credit accounts, transactions, and insurance products.
In relation to this, Kampeta Sayinzoga, CEO of Rwanda Development Bank (BRD), challenged financial sector players to provide products that are relevant to women, rather than using 'women-labeled products' as a marketing tool.
Women in leadership positions
The central bank has noted that it is important for lending institutions to encourage women's representation and leadership to counter gender biases by ensuring that women's voices and needs are considered and integrated into organizational strategies, policies, and product offerings.
For instance, women's roles at customer-facing checkpoints create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for women customers, hence, better understanding and addressing women's specific financial needs, preferences, and concerns to improve their participation in financial services.
Credit based on movable assets
Financial institutions can also develop credit products that accept movable assets and decrease perceptions about the risks posed by movable collaterals, they can explore further mechanisms to strengthen loan guarantees, such as the development of partnerships with insurance companies to secure the loans and minimize potential losses in the event of default.
In addition, they can accept traditional wealth storage mediums such as livestock and gold as collateral.
In 2013, Rwanda completed reforms to Law 11/2009, enabling the ecosystem to register movable property to secure a range of transactions, including access to credit.
Interoperability allows female consumers to participate more fully in digital payment opportunities and financial services by providing them with the flexibility to transact across different platforms and service providers.
It is also important because women on average are less likely to possess multiple phones and SIM cards.
Insurance providers are encouraged to adopt a gender lens while designing agricultural insurance products since the sector constitutes a large portion of women's economic activities, particularly in rural areas outside Kigali.
This group experiences higher levels of vulnerability because of interlocking inequalities such as restricted access to resources, lower land and asset ownership, and less education.
"Insurance also becomes important, as agriculture is the hardest-hit sector by climate change and the resulting natural risks and disasters. Developing gender-sensitive agricultural insurance (including index insurance) can therefore be crucial for protecting women workers in this space," the central bank noted.
Different types of insurance products for informal workers
As mentioned, women's economic participation is highly concentrated in agriculture's informal sector, which exposes them to a variety of risks, such as theft, work, and income losses as a result of natural disasters, early health decline, and others.
To address this, financial service providers can contribute, for instance, by offering insurance with savings and credit products to existing and new customers.
It is understood that this should be developed within an adequate framework of disclosure, transparency, fairness, and other consumer protection safeguards.
By partnering with mobile network operators, data generated from mobile wallet transactions, USSD, and SIM toolkits can be used to provide microloan applications to borrowers, the central bank noted.
"Telco-based lending offers improved credit access for women and addresses underwriting challenges for women and micro-businesses that may lack collateral and a documented credit history."
It leverages mobile money technology for loan applications, calculation, and disbursement, which makes it easier for women who use mobile money services but are unbanked to access small-ticket financing more efficiently and safely.
For effective financial education, one should understand women's financial behavior with respect to social norms. Women often have many demands on their time given their disproportionate care responsibilities.
On-demand content--either through pre-recorded interactive-voice-recording courses or SMS-based tips and lessons delivered via WhatsApp--is an alternative way to enable women to learn on their own time, guidelines suggest.
This method, coupled with conversations with family and community members about shared household responsibilities, may have a transformative effect by allowing women to discuss money and involve them in larger financial decisions, according to the central bank.