Assessing the Gender Gap in Access to Digital Financial Services in Burkina Faso
Gender Digital Divide
Since 2014, there has been a large increase in bank account ownership in Burkina Faso—but more so among men than women. As a result, there is now a significant gender gap in ownership of both bank and mobile money accounts (services that allow users to transfer and store funds via mobile phone). The gender gap between men and women is 16.8 percent for bank account ownership and 18.1 percent for mobile money. Globally, women are 8 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, and in Burkina Faso, there is also a disparity in smartphone ownership, with 67 percent of men reporting owning a smartphone compared to 30 percent of women.
As detailed in the USAID Digital Strategy, digital technology has the power to promote inclusive growth and foster resilient societies. However, without addressing gender and geographic disparities in the access to and use of digital technologies, digitally augmented programs risk failing the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. The gender gap in access and use is especially important to consider in the Sahel, given the gender disparities in rural life such as land ownership and economic activities outside the household. Digital financial services (DFS) such as mobile money have the potential to better serve women, poor households, and other groups traditionally excluded from the formal financial system. Given this, any efforts to increase account ownership in Burkina Faso should also prioritize financial inclusion of women.
Strengthening Resilience in Burkina Faso
Resilience programming is an integral part of USAID’s work in Burkina Faso. As such, the Sahel Regional Office launched the Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE) program in 2012, which is now in its second phase with RISE II. The goal of RISE II is that chronically vulnerable populations in Burkina Faso and Niger would effectively manage shocks and pursue sustainable pathways out of poverty. With the rapid expansion of digital finance, there are more opportunities to invest in financial infrastructure that meets the needs of women and rural households, providing them with access to the financial resources and tools to smooth consumption and weather shocks, to lead more resilient lives.
In 2018, the USAID Sahel Regional Office requested a Digital Agriculture Assessment of Burkina Faso and Niger by USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security and the U.S. Global Development Lab. The assessment found that women dramatically lag behind men in mobile money account ownership and usage. One of the assessment’s recommendations was to explore the constraints women face in accessing and using DFS. Given the priorities outlined in RISE II and the Digital Agriculture Assessment recommendations, the U.S. Global Development Lab's Digital Finance team partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology D-Lab’s Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation Program (MIT CITE) and USAID/Sahel Regional Office. The partnership supports research that can provide new insights into the constraints women face in using DFS and the role that DFS can play in increasing female entrepreneurship resilience. These insights can help both implementing partners and service providers develop strategies for reaching more women. From this research, the DFS team and MIT CITE released the "Assessment of the Gender Gap in Access to Digital Financial Services in Burkina Faso." The report summarizes key findings for Burkina Faso, proposes recommendations, and identifies the stakeholders who could potentially implement the recommendations.
Key Findings and Recommendations
There are three stakeholder groups: providers, enablers, and conveners. (1) Providers design and deliver DFS (i.e., banks, telecom companies, fintech startups). (2) Enablers facilitate a functional DFS ecosystem by managing institutions, identifying best practices, and designing regulations, policy, and programs (i.e., governments, international donors, NGOs). (3) Conveners aggregate DFS users (i.e., grassroots farmer cooperatives or farmer networks). The findings below provide insights into the barriers women face in accessing and using DFS and the connection between DFS and resilience as perceived by female entrepreneurs.
- The main barriers to DFS use by women include lack of financial resources, absence of formal education, and lack of awareness about what types of DFS are available and from whom. The main benefits of DFS use by women are convenience (saving time and reducing travel), safety, and security. The main advantages and barriers to DFS use were both cited by women in rural areas, implying that while rural women have a high demand for DFS, they still face significant barriers to access. Recommendation: In order to reach last-mile female customers, conveners and enablers should support advocacy, policy, and programmatic efforts focusing on financial inclusion, formal education, and digital literacy.
- Currently, DFS has a rather limited role in fostering resilience among female entrepreneurs for two main reasons:
- Women do not find DFS conducive to their entrepreneurial activities, which consist mainly of small but frequent financial transactions. Recommendation: Providers can initiate training workshops and media campaigns to increase knowledge among women entrepreneurs of the requirements and benefits of DFS, and consider new financial products compatible with small but frequent transactions. Enablers can catalyze change by partnering with providers and funding these sensitization activities.
- Most women see how DFS contributes to their personal lives and expressed interest in using it more. However, they did not make the same connection between DFS and their income-generating activities such as micro and small enterprises. Recommendation: Providers, conveners, and enablers can make a clear connection between resilience and entrepreneurial activity. The information would help inform decision-making about using DFS and which products best meet their financial activities. For example, providers could advertise DFS as a tool to facilitate the management of household resources to better provide for children and household members.
- Women expressed fears that due to a lack of education, they could be taken advantage of by agents, such as those who may not faithfully execute transactions. Recommendation: Providers, conveners, and enablers can consider improving women’s digital financial literacy, promoting trust between women customers and agents, and/or creating new monitoring and customer protection mechanisms that give women the means to verify digital transactions or contest them if needed. Ensuring mechanisms such as robust complaint procedures and integrity accountability for agents exist, as well as consumer awareness of these mechanisms, will help increase women’s confidence in their ability to use DFS and trust in a fair digital-financial ecosystem.
- Household dynamics play a key role in DFS use - power dynamics between wives and husbands can prevent women from making independent financial decisions. Trusted friends and family, often younger individuals with greater digital literacy, can help facilitate indirect DFS use. Recommendation: Providers, conveners, and enablers can address norms that discourage gender-equitable financial inclusion through a holistic household- and community-wide approach. Leveraging leaders that women trust to encourage DFS use, increasing technical understanding of how DFS works, and providing opportunities for continued financial autonomy can build women’s confidence both in their ability to use DFS as well as their faith in a fair digital finance ecosystem.
The MIT CITE research team will publish academic papers containing the complete methodology and research results in addition to these preliminary results. To learn more about DFS and resilience, check out USAID’s Digital Financial Services Accelerate the Journey to Self-Reliance infographic.