News & Media

The financial inclusion of women examined

On 9 March 2024, the Thabo Mbeki Foundation (TMF), in partnership with Unisa, WDB Trust, FASSET and BANQE African Development Bank, hosted an International Women’s Day dialogue under the theme Financial Inclusion at the Houghton Hotel in Johannesburg.

This prestigious event was honoured by women of great stature addressing issues of women, economy, progress in Africa, inequalities, rural women and mobility in Africa.

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Gracing the dialogue with their presence were (from left) Prof Puleng LenkaBula (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor), Zanele Mbeki, Gloria Serobe (Wiphold), Brigalia Bam, Ayanda Mafoleka (FASSET) and Dr Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi (TMF)

In her opening remarks, Thabo Mbeki Foundation (TMF) Chairperson, Dr Geraldine Frazer-Moleketi, said that 2024 International Women's Day is not just another day. "It is about building what we want to see for future generations, what we want them to give us, and that we want women interventions." She highlighted that the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Centre is more than a fixed institution; it is an active, breathing institution. She explained: "It is one that surpasses the traditional confines of a museum or library and intends to be a cultural nexus, a helpful intellectual and societal advancement, as well as a vibrant public space that embodies the rich, tough tapestry of African history and its diaspora."

Fraser-Moleketi further elaborated on the objectives of the Women's Development Institute, affirming that "the Women's Development Institute or the Women's Leadership Institute is a place for understanding the history of African women; the current issues faced by women, and striving to advance these for a better future for women on the continent".

She encouraged all women to contribute to the vibrant tapestry of the TMF and help shape a brighter future.

Prof Puleng LenkaBula, Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, started off her remarks by honouring Zanele Mbeki for her contribution to women's empowerment. LenkaBula stressed the importance of the partnership between the TMF and Unisa. She highlighted two major initiatives that contributed to the partnership's success: the seminar themed Investing in Africa and Zanele Mbeki's work on women's financial inclusion. "This partnership," she continued, "is now credible, vibrant and viable, and will endure over time. Its central focus is on developing women as leaders and fostering the participation of youth and young adults in shaping the future."

LenkaBula Puleng further alluded to the fact that the university has also become a partner in transforming society for the better. "It is really promoting the idea of financial inclusion for women, their societies, our country and for the continent as a whole, as we also claim to be Africans, and to contribute to the knowledge arena," she said.

In recognising the contribution of African women, LenkaBula highlighted the role of African women who organised themselves before the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1960 as active builders of freedom and democracies of African liberation. "This," she continued, "is aligned with Unisa’s 150th anniversary celebrations, which uphold the idea of reclaiming Africa’s intellectuals’ futures and the idea of growing from other resources and honouring pathfinders and those who returned and shaped our lives."

LenkaBula also highlighted the significance of women pioneers and mentors who encourage young women to play leadership roles. She stated: "I am one of the beneficiaries of being identified as an important partner  ̶  even school leadership. I was given that opportunity precisely as an anchor to ensure that young women were participating in our democracy in multiple ways."

Bongani Mathibela, Interim Chairperson of the Board of FASSET, emphasised the necessity of establishing impactful partnerships to advance the inclusion and empowerment of rural women. Mathibela also emphasised the need to honour and appreciate women's contributions to society on special occasions, and as an integral part of daily life.

In clarifying FASSET's attempts to advance women's inclusion, he underlined intentional collaborations with esteemed organisations such as the International Women's Forum South Africa, Duke Corporate Education and Wits Business School. These associations form a fundamental component of FASSET's women's programme, designed to empower women to assume more prominent and influential roles within various organisations nationwide. Additionally, the partnership with the Graca Machel Trust Women Creating Wealth programme aims to support women entrepreneurs by expanding their exposure and access to a broader array of opportunities.

The main message of the keynote speaker, Nontobeko Lubisi, Director Financial Inclusion, National Treasury, was a call to action for greater inclusivity and equality in society. Her presentation highlighted the challenges within the government that delay women's inclusion. These challenges include financing agriculture, access to information, access to microfinancing, finance infrastructure, climate financing and poor policy implementation. She stated that women in Africa make substantial contributions to the population and economy, but they do not share evenly in its economic development due to high interest rates, lack of collateral and constrained access to monetary resources. The sector of the population that has difficulty finding access to finance involves women who save in stokvels and those who prefer saving money at home. Although the rising evidence of the significance of investing in women, financial service providers frequently fail to leverage gender-disaggregated data for civilian products and services. Nontobeko emphasised the need to recognise the customer's inclusion ability and to avoid extending loans to someone likely to become over-indebted.

Additionally, Nontobeko reported that although progress has been made in getting more women into top management positions in South Africa and other African countries, global financial inclusion statistics for women are still discouraging. Policymakers need to work with financial institutions to improve the design of financial products that are accessible to women in order to achieve universal inclusion.

The event further continued to panel discussions. The first panel addressing Women, Economy and Progress in Africa was moderated by Prof Pamela Maseko from Nelson Mandela University. Panellists were Gloria Serobe (Wiphold), Funeka Montjane (CA, Standard Bank) and Isayvani Reddy (Mastercard).

The panel delved into the possibilities that can uplift and empower local economies to concentrate on women's progress throughout the continent. The second panel addressing Inequalities, Rural Women and Mobility in Africa was moderated by Dr June Bam. The panellists Tejumola Abisoye (Johnson Sirleaf Foundation), Prof Amanda Gouws (Stellenbosch University), Lebogang Ramafoko (Oxfam) and Dr Riah Phiyega (WDB), discussed the socio-economic challenges, including security, violence and gender inequalities, which have led to the migration and movement of women and sexual minorities in and out of the continent.

Additionally, the panel talked about the crisis of social reproduction in African households across the continent. The event concluded with a short dialogue between the elders (Zanele Mbeki, Ambassador Thandi Lujabe-Rankoe, Dr Brigalia Bam and Dr Johnson Sirleaf) reflecting on their efforts to close gender gaps. 

* By Boikhutso Mfusi, Dr Bongiwe Ngcobo, Dr Zaakirah Jeeva, Dr Ashleigh Shangare and Dr Farhin Delawala, Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs.

Publish date: 2024/04/03

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