By Staff Reporter

Africa must invest in Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for women and girls, disciplines which would boost their economic empowerment and access to digital finance.

Keiso Matashane-Marite, Acting Chief of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Section, Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) says women and girls are marginalized economically. Women and girls face deep barriers in financial inclusion because they do not have the requisite skills and knowledge that STEM careers avail.

Ms. Matashane-Marite, speaking at a media briefing to present the results of the African Women’s Report on ‘Digital Finance Ecosystems – Pathways to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Africa’, lamented the many  barriers that prevent financial access for women in Africa. The study was done to promote economic empowerment of women and girls.

“Without economic empowerment of women, substantive empowerment of women is an issue,” Ms. Matashane-Marite,” noted, arguing that economic empowerment for women is the right step in ensuring women are empowered in the social and political spheres.

Tied to its mandate, the ECA was providing technical support to member countries in promoting women empowerment through policy implementation and the transformation of the financial system. The Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division at ECA has developed a result area on digital transformation to ensure that gender informs digitalisation in every aspect.

“We have set out a number of pillars where we are starting…the first one is on STEM because we want to see African member states institutionalizing STEM education for girls and to see a movement just beyond policy pronouncement to implement the policy undertakings that have been done on STEM. STEM is critical,” said Ms. Natashane-Marite.

Furthermore, the ECA is working with the African Union Commission in a campaign on financial inclusion for women.  Ms. Natashane-Marite revealed that the ECA was undertaking research on digital transformation in ‘making a case for ensuring that STEM does take root’.

Digitalization, particularly in the financial sector, has the potential to be a critical backbone for economic and social transformation in Africa where the digital economy is envisaged to reach $300 billion by 2025 as a result of a fivefold increase in digitalization and internet use.

“Digitalization is critical to the realization of all components of women’s empowerment,” said Mr. Syed Ahmed, the Lead author of the three-year study conducted jointly with the Graca Machel Foundation, highlighting that digital finance has a critical role to play in women’s economic empowerment’.

Digital finance refers to digital forms of credit, savings, insurance and financial transfers.

Mr. Ahmed noted that digital and mobile connectivity, digital finance readiness and ICT usage have enabled women’s access to digital finance. However, women have limited access to internet usage than men across Africa. Furthermore women have other limitations such as affording digital tools, poor digital literacy, poor digital skills and restrictive social norms.

The study recommended concrete policy responses to overcome these barriers such as lowering the risks of accessing credit by women, removing inherent, invisible and unwitting barriers to women’s access to financial products and services.

Besides, financial laws at all levels of government should be amended to encourage mobile money uptake particularly for women, across Africa, thereby increasing savings ratios and enhancing their economic empowerment Mr. Ahmed urged.

“Although mobile money services are more common in Africa than in other regions of the world, only 29 per cent of women in sub-Saharan Africa use mobile Internet, compared with 48 per cent of women globally,” said Mr. Ahmed, adding that “In Africa as a whole, approximately 12 percent of women have sufficient digital finance-related ICT skills, which is below the global average. Capacity development programmes are therefore clearly needed to enhance digital finance skills.”