Expanding banking services, savings and loans for rural women

According to the Global Findex database, 27 per cent of Egyptian women held bank accounts in 2019, up from only 14 per cent in 2014, yet still below 39 per cent among men.[1] Having access to savings or credit allows women to manage their own income, control their own assets and contribute to productive activities. It helps women meet unexpected expenses, reducing their vulnerability and/or dependency on male family members and increasing women’s bargaining power and ability to make household decisions. Greater financial inclusion is thus essential to bolster women’s resilience amid the COVID-19 crisis.

In support of the Presidential initiative Haya Karima and the National Family Development Programme, working in Assiut, Beni Suef, Sohag and Minya, UN Women is a key partner under the Central Bank of Egypt and the NCW’s “National Digital Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs)” programme. Through this partnership, supported by the European Union and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 120,000 rural women and women living at risk of poverty will receive access to strengthened, formally registered and digitized VSLAs; establish individual and group bank accounts, increase access to Meeza national e-payment cards, improve their integration into profitable value chains and markets; and boost women’s business and leadership skills as well as digital and financial literacy.

In doing so, VSLAs will not only become the vehicle for linking women with formal financial services but will also become a platform for rural women’s significantly increased participation in the local economy in different value chains and markets, through micro-enterprises.

Work includes developing the optimum digitization model for the VSLAs, which builds on the widespread use of Meeza cards in Egypt to accelerate rural women’s financial inclusion. The programme aim is to open an individual bank account for each woman with a Meeza card and register a group bank account for each VSLA.

The work aims to increase the resilience of Egyptian rural women amid COVID-19 through socioeconomic interventions focused on protection from violence against women as well as economic empowerment through financial inclusion and livelihoods support. The on-going work will ease women’s access to formal financial services and products, while supporting VSLAs and women-led enterprises through in-kind grants, electronic registration, and their better integration into value chains and markets. Women will also receive business-skills and leadership training and improve their digital and financial literacy, including through animations on how to make e-payments and through ‘gamification’. A national database with services available to women will also be developed.

UN Women previously supported the VSLA initiative through the EU-funded “Securing Rights and Improving Livelihoods of Women” programme, from 2013–2017, which provided more than 10,000 women with financial literacy training and access to loans or credit. Many women went on to establish small businesses and, from 2014–2017, VSLA members increased their weekly savings three- to four-fold.

Multimedia: The Village Savings and Loan Associations Methodology


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