By: Dina Eid
In an effort to boost the number of women who receive loans, run businesses and own bank accounts, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) is considering requiring all banks to classify their loans and deposits data by gender.
“This [decision] is one of the aims of the Women Empowerment Strategy issued by National Council for Women (NCW),” Mona Ezzat, labor and women project manager at New Women Foundation, told The Caravan.
This proposed policy, first revealed by Deputy CBE Governor Lobna Hellal to financial newspaper Al Mal, falls in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were set in the Third Interntional Conference on Financing for Development in Ethiopia in 2015.
“This way you can track the numbers [of women in the financial system] given that the Sustainable Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals are all based on numbers and this way you can track the social profile,” said Martina Rieker, assistant professor and director of the AUC’s Cynthia Nelson Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies.
Rieker said that by requiring banks to classify their data by gender, it would make it more efficient and less costly for international organizations, such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which monitors the SDGs, to keep track of Egypt’s social profile.
Hellal added that this extra classification would improve the data and support necessary to promote the financial inclusion of women.
CBE Governor Tarek Amer was cited in the local press as saying that 9 percent of women in Egypt hold bank accounts.
Only 32 percent of Egyptian adults own bank accounts.
But Nada Nashat, advocacy coordinator at the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), remained skeptical of the initiative.
“Are they actually going to create a true gender-segregated data scheme that includes age, marital status, social status, economic status and everything or is it just going to be, like they do every time, ‘x number of women got x number of loans equalling to x amount of money’?” said Nashat.
“If that’s the case, then this is not gender-segregated data by any means. They’re just silencing the international community when they ask them what have they done for women.”
Nashat also said that the government should be able to implement laws and policies that would protect women financially within both the public and private sector.
“To empower women financially and economically, there needs to be certain policies and laws that protect women,” she said.
“Protect them from all types of violence and the [financial] cost of that violence.”
Some say that CBE’s policy needs to be supplemented with other initiatives to yield any positive results.
Ezzat explained how banks, national associations and the government have to cooperate in order to ensure bank branches and ATMs are available and easily accessible to women across Egypt.
She also added that financial education for women is required, especially given the high illiteracy rates in the country.
“These women should know how to issue a card, what documents they needs for the bank, whether or not they have national IDs.”
“They must get educated in financial transactions through banks because most of these women do not have knowledge in this area,” Ezzat added.
Nevertheless, this shift in the government’s focus towards helping empower women financially is very critical in Egypt given the number of families that females support.
President Abdelfatah El-Sisi has previously declared 2017 as the “Year of the Woman” in response to a proposal submitted by the NCW.
The government has announced that it would dedicate more of its energies toward increasing the socio-economic presence of women in Egypt.
“Thirty percent of families are supported financially by women and the majority of these women are poor and do not have the skills to enter the official labor market,” Ezzat added.
“Thus, getting the opportunity to receive funding to operate their own business on its own is a positive idea and provides job opportunities to these women and help support their families.”
In addition to the new policies and encouraging a general trend within the state to empower women economically, the NCW is also trying to raise awareness among its target audience.
“The NCW recently announced that they are starting an awareness campaign in collaboration with female leaders and national associations in governorates on financial literacy and how to manage small businesses,” said Ezzat.