Navigating COVID-19: African women and digital financial access in South Africa and Nigeria

Financial inclusion is much in vogue given the reach of 21st century digital and mobile technologies. However, offering credit and a formal transactional account does not automatically bring transformative welfare change in the lives and businesses of the poor, particularly for women, as the strategy of simply including more low-income individuals, households and MSMEs into existing and formal economic market systems, as a conduit to inclusive development and enhanced social welfare, fails to fully capture the context of markets in which new technology, financial products and services are introduced, argue Shamira Ahmed and Tapiwa Chinembiri in this policy brief.

  • Not unlike the rest of the world, COVID-19 related socioeconomic shocks in South Africa and Nigeria are disproportionately experienced by women due to persistent pre-pandemic gender inequalities that affect access to economic opportunities.
  • Digital financial services (DFS) have been lauded as a powerful solution to build post-COVID 19 macroeconomic resilience by ensuring that basic financial services as well as financial assistance are available to mitigate the ongoing triple crisis (health, economic and societal) created by the pandemic.
  • But there are vulnerabilities to consider when deploying digital solutions, including other dimensions of inequality that cannot be mitigated solely by digital financial inclusion or the introduction of new digital technologies. These inequalities are multidimensional and have a decisive impact on who actually benefits from DFS.
  • There needs to be well planned holistic interventions in Africa that are fit for purpose, contextually relevant, and facilitate greater cooperation across seemingly unrelated policy areas to make a difference in African women’s lives, including and especially regarding financial inclusion.

This research was conducted under the auspices of our Covid-19 Responses for Equity (CORE) Project, which is generously supported by the IDRC.

Suggested citation

Ahmed, S., & Chinembiri, T. (2021). Navigating COVID-19: African women and digital financial access in South Africa and Nigeria (Policy Brief No. 2; Covid-19 Responses for Equity Initiative). Research ICT Africa.