How mobile money could drive financial inclusion for Pasifika women

For mobile money to successfully progress in the Pacific, mobile money providers (MMPs) should make a concerted effort to reach Pasifika women as they tend to be the most unbanked demographic in the region due to social norms, geographic, and economic constraints. Pacific small island developing states (SIDS) have high levels of gender inequality in their society alongside high rates of gender-based violence, which collectively impact women’s employment opportunities and outcomes. On top of limited incomes, large distances to reach financial institutions or their agents limit access to formal financial services for Pasifika women.

Mobile money services that can reach women and meet their financial needs can be more commercially viable and lead to real change in the lives of women and Pasifika communities at large. Mobile money offers Pasifika women the benefit of time and opportunity savings, increased ease of doing business, and the ability to better protect themselves, their communities and livelihoods against climate change and natural disasters.

There are significant barriers to women’s financial inclusion in the region

Pasifika women face several barriers when accessing finance: a lack of formal identity documents, restrictive social norms, low financial and digital literacy rates, limited access to formal employment, and low access to financial institutions. Restrictive social norms mean that gendered expectations can burden women unequally. For instance, women spend more time working in the home and have lower access to assets like land that can be used as collateral to gain secured formal sources of funding like loans.

The barriers that women face often compromise their potential as mobile money customers. Many mobile money providers (MMPs) are not yet designing or advertising products with women in mind, nor are they running campaigns to teach women about their services. As a result, many Pasifika women see mobile money and similar digital financial services as irrelevant to them.

Women’s increased usage of mobile money presents opportunities to users and providers

Low use of mobile money by Pasifika women is a missed opportunity for both women and mobile money services providers. The ability to transact from anywhere via mobile money can save women time and money, eliminating the need to travel long distances to deposit or receive cash. This is likely to increase the ease of doing business, for instance, for women agricultural or handicraft producers as they don’t have to travel to town centres to deposit their revenues.

Mobile money can increase savings too, providing customers with an accessible tool to store and manage their money. For instance, women in Papua New Guinea use MiCash primarily to save money. Increased savings improves the ability to better respond to financial needs and exogenous shocks, allowing women to invest in their livelihoods and futures, and increasing their economic agency.

Mobile money can improve women’s resilience to the impacts of climate and natural disasters. Many Pacific Islands are low-lying, putting them at risk of the effects of climate change, such as rising seas and storms, and the increased incidence of natural disasters like cyclones. By being able to save digitally and send and receive funds instantaneously, using mobile money could enable Pasifika women to manage the impact of disasters and lower the risk of undoing any development progress.

Four steps mobile money providers can take to reach more women

  1. Set realistic targets to reach women.  This can focus on company-wide approaches and efforts to reach women and celebrate successes. For instance, in Fiji where mobile money awareness is high but usage is low, MMPs would benefit from an organisational-level target to help women move beyond awareness and into account ownership.
  2. Increase awareness of the benefits. Prioritise investment in awareness raising on mobile money and its benefits, focusing on the financial needs of women, including how it can save customers time and money. Investing in digital and financial literacy programmes can also improve the adoption and impact of mobile money services, for example by using GSMA’s free-to-access Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT).
  3. Employ more women mobile money agents and make their presence known to female customers, which may lead women to use mobile money more often. As women tend to be more comfortable being served by and learning from other women, this action could encourage more Pasifika women to use mobile money services and increase their confidence in the service too. Having more female agents could also combat a common trend where women abandon mobile money due to poor understanding and not being comfortable with the service.
  4. Make products relevant to women. This may include products that meet women’s financial needs but also intentionally featuring ordinary women doing everyday things in advertising campaigns, that women can relate to and see how mobile money is relevant to their lives. Products that might be particularly useful to Pasifika women include savings products, climate and natural disaster-related products, remittances, and products to ease their agricultural and handicraft production sales.

While all Pacific Island countries have distinct cultures and populations, many of them suffer from similar structural, geographical and economic challenges when it comes to accessing mobile money.  Overall, coordinated multi-stakeholder efforts are needed to increase Pasifika women’s digital financial inclusion. Governments and civil society have a role to play in building women’s financial and digital literacy, as well as harmonizing efforts and sharing lessons on what is working among all stakeholders in this space. For example, governments can implement initiatives and policies to overcome the barriers that women face and that disproportionately benefit women, such as digital skills training in schools and lowering mobile money-specific taxes. Additionally, improved coordination between mobile money providers and social security and welfare programmes that target women may lead to a rise in the use of digital payments. This may also lead to more women using mobile money to transact.