Gender barriers to financial inclusion

Addressing Gender Barriers in the ID Acquisition Process in Tanzania

By Anna Jubilate Mushi, Head of Gender & Youth, FSDT

“IDs represent a huge opportunity for low-income women to realize their full potential, and are enablers of bridging the existing gender gap in political, social and ecnomic spheres; however, if the ID acuisition process is not gender responsive it represents a huge threat to gender equality”

In all financial transactions, an ID is needed. To open an account, pay a utility bill, start a business or even access a phone, one needs to have a valid ID issued by the government. Yet, access to identification still remains a challenge for many, especially in rural areas. Take the case of Zainab. Zainab is a young lady with a grade 4 education. She is a breadwinner for her family, and her main economic activity is buying and selling second-hand clothes. She buys clothes on credit from a wholesaler once a week and pays back once she has sold the batch. Since she doesn’t hold an ID, the wholesaler had to visit her place of domicile in order to get a letter from local authorities, who guaranteed her true identification. Zainab also has to use a sim card that was registered for her by a friend, as she had no ID to register under her own name. This can pose potential risks for both Zainab and her friend in the future; especially if Zainab was to access and default on a mobile loan. Such cases are a reality for many women living in rural areas.


According to the 2012 Population and Housing Census, women account for 51% of the Tanzanian population. FinScope Tanzania 2017, indicated that women lag behind men in their abilities to read and write in Swahili (67% vs. 78%) and English (22% vs. 31%), their numeracy skills were significantly below the national average (37% for division skills against the average of 46%). 70% of women are active in the economy, with 36% in farming (which is the main income-generating activity for women), closely followed by 16% in casual labour, 14% in trading, 4% informal employment and about 2% are surviving from support such as social safety nets. Yet, 28% of women remain mainly dependent. The median monthly income for women who are involved in revenue-generating activities stands at TZS 36,667; half that of men. Only 28% claim to personally own land, 7% have some form of proof of ownership, while only 2.3% have an actual Certificate of Occupancy (CRO). In 2017, the main form of identification for many women was the voters’ ID. However, recent measures by the National Identification Authority (NIDA) and Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to ensure that every sim cardholder has registered their sim card(s) with the National ID might have significantly increased the number of women holding a National ID.

Looking at the above data, despite the opportunities it presents, it clearly indicates that women face considerable challenges in accessing services related to ID acquisition. These barriers include low literacy levels; lack of decision making in the household- leading to lack of freedom as they are even restricted from travelling far away from their homes, which can be detrimental if ID registration offices are far from their localities; lack of financial resources to pay for transport and other ID acquisition costs; time constraints, as women spend a significant chunk of their time doing unpaid work; and lack of information and awareness on the importance of IDs and how to acquire one. Furthermore, due to a number of prevailing gender inequalities many women are unlikely to have birth certificates and sufficient background information about the origin of their families, which is key in the registration process.

On the other hand, global evidence has proved ID to be a key enabler to women ’s economic empowerment and improved well-being. IDs provide women with the opportunity to access, control and own resources such as land and inheritance rights; access to the justice system, government services and benefits such as social security protection, education, and health care. In other words, legal identity emancipates a woman, improves her legal status, increases her movement and autonomy, and is a stepping stone towards empowerment, freedom, and agency.

Looking at it from an inclusive finance perspective, ID serves as a key driver to bridging the existing gender gap in financial inclusion and promoting women’s access and usage of formal financial services. Globally, no significant improvement has been recorded since 2011- the gap is still at 7%, and in developing countries, it stands at 9% (WB 2017). In Tanzania, progress has been made towards financial inclusion of the overall population, with 65% inclusion in 2017 compared to 44% in 2009 (FinScope Tanzania 2017), which was largely achieved by mobile money usage. Nevertheless, the gender gap persists. We still have an 11% gender gap in mobile money usage and 9% gap in bank account ownership. Many women are concentrating on informal financial intermediations, borrowing money from friends, families and community-saving groups.

When ID is linked with the financial ecosystem, it provides an opportunity to transform the lives of women, especially low-income women. ID serves as a commanding Know Your Customer (KYC) tool to help financial service providers design and roll out financial solutions and products for women that are served with dignity, which in turn will increase women financial freedom and privacy of their money. With digital footprints, ID provides an opportunity to design digital wallets with use cases that promote low-income women to make savings and absorb shocks through products such as health insurance. ID also increases women’s visibility and establishes their financial history, which unearths future possibilities of using the information as alternative collateral, since many women do not have assets.

Considering the potential ID has in transforming lives and boosting economic growth for women, the Tanzania National Identification Authority (NIDA) needs to ensure that a gender intentional ID acquisition process is put in place. A deeper understanding and consideration of the realities women are facing is of paramount importance in informing a gender-responsive approach. Characterization of these women will lead to the design of less cumbersome registration processes, which includes: simple registration forms and support to fill when necessary; bringing the registration services closer to women, since distance and permission to travel have been noted among barriers; women responsive awareness and capacity building campaigns using relevant channels such as women leaders and influential leaders; female-driven use cases that will promote more uptake of ID; and implementation of a strategic male engagement approach to support their partners to obtain the legal identity.

Lastly, working with other stakeholders in the ecosystem, such as banks and mobile network operators to develop an easy ID registration and acquisition process is key. For ID to serve as a powerful KYC tool for women and girls, constantly updating information is critical to help introduce tiered-KYC for bank accounts and mobile wallets.


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