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EMPOWERING WOMEN AND YOUTH THROUGH EDUCATION AND SAVINGS

By Caroline Pulver

How can we realise the potential of young people and women to benefit the whole economy? I have been reflecting on the power of education and the effectiveness of payment and savings tools like mobile money.

If the youth and women are supported to reach their potential, there are economic dividends to be gained for the whole of society. Supporting the capabilities of young people and women will also help us to achieve Vision 2030 that aspires to higher incomes and better quality of life for all.

THE BEST IDEA EVER…

Educating girls has proven to be one of the worlds’ best-ever ideas. Girls’ education leads to a virtuous cycle of change for the whole of society.

Educated mothers decide to have children at a time suitable to them and when they can provide for them. Women with fewer childbearing responsibilities have more time to invest in the labour market which in turn increases household resources thus more can be invested in each child, allowing more children to reach their potential.

More women entering the workforce also results in greater household savings being available for old age.

Women who have knowledge of and access to family planning methods have the potential to transform their economies from a state of high birth and death rates, low education, and sluggish economic growth towards a sustainable birth rate, higher education and fast economic growth.

EDUCATION – THE KEY TO A BRIGHTER FUTURE

This is all to the good but at the moment we’re missing a powerful development tool – education.

Around the world up to per cent of children are out of school because of the coronavirus response. Here in Kenya the school year has been lost, with primary and secondary pupils not returning to class until (possibly) January.

Meanwhile, the government has been relying on another power development tool – Social Protection. This has led the National Treasury to appropriate an additional Ksh10 billion (equivalent to $100million) to further support the elderly, orphans and other vulnerable citizens with cash transfers.

LOCAL CASH TRANSFER SCHEME

In my local community of Mukoma-Hardy we have established a small cash transfer scheme for 300 needy families to support them during the coronavirus crisis. As we try to raise more funds to support more families for a longer period, people have been asking questions about our approach. Why are you sending mobile money rather than food or hard cash? And why do you pay the funds to women?

Firstly, we want contact-less transactions to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Secondly, fee waivers on person-to-person mobile money transactions on M-PESA make the service more affordable. Most importantly paying money to a woman’s account has its own benefits. In Kenya access to mobile money lifted two per cent of Kenyan households out of poverty.

The impacts were greatest for women – increasing resilience and savings. Women headed households adopted mobile money, and the country saw a 22 per cent drop in extreme poverty and a 20 per cent increase in savings between 2008 and 2014.

SOCIAL TRANSFER SCHEMES WORLDWIDE

This pattern has been seen in other countries across the world.

In Niger, women who received their social transfers into their mobile money accounts were better able to control this income and to prioritise household spending. Their families had more diverse diets and their households were more likely to grow cash crops than those who received the benefit in cash.

In Nepal, households headed by women increased their spending on education by 20 per cent when given access to a digital savings account.

In Peru, women receiving the subsidy together with financial awareness and financial education increased the use of their savings account significantly, from 3 per cent to more than 20 per cent. This is more than double the average financial savings rate of Peruvian adults, and these women are the poorest women in the country.

Globally, the stresses of the shuttering of economies have also led to an increase in gender-based violence. Cash transfers significantly reduce physical violence against women (by about 20 per cent), and this effect appears to be associated with reduced financial stress in the household. They also lead to better psychological wellbeing, such as increased optimism and happiness, at the individual-and relationship-levels.

A study in South Africa looked at the use of digital cards for government safety net payments. Findings showed enhanced women’s decision-making power in the household, and led to a 92 per cent increase in women’s likelihood of labour participation.

A VIRTUOUS CYCLE…

Receiving regular financial support can reduce household poverty and allow for investment in children and women. Here too a virtuous cycle of investment by women in their children can be established.

Access to an account with a bank or a mobile money provider can economically empower women and their families. The ability to accumulate savings has translated into increased assets and investment, improved living conditions and reduced vulnerability to financial emergencies. Education supports the youth and women to achieve their potential and savings support household resilience in the face of a crisis, such as we face today.

Caroline Pulver is a specialist in poverty reduction through financial inclusion.

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