It gives me great joy to welcome you all Women traders, fish sellers, garri sellers, seamstresses, yam sellers, etc Women of different trades and merchandise and interestingly also, women mostly from divers local communities at the grassroots who are gathered here today.
When the U.N in its wisdom set the Theme for this year’s International Women’s Day as “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for Gender Equality”, they struck essentially at an issue that is of pivotal importance; involving and integrating Women with modern day digital innovations.
This has been one area where Africa and particularly Nigeria has fared very weakly, the foundation for this being the internet where about 65% of Women in Nigeria do not have access to affordable and reliable internet connection. This acts as a major enabler to digital illiteracy and exclusion of Women in this aspect of economy.
When therefore the Central Bank of Nigeria announced sudden new monetary policies in Nigeria to usher in a near-total cashless economy, it was not surprising that it hit majorly and more devastatingly at Women, particularly those in the lower scale of trades and artistry. Many of these categories of Women had neither effective bank accounts and operations, nor sufficient knowledge and understanding of the processes of the digital procedures that back up the cashless policy mandated by the Apex Bank. They were thus thrown into not only quagmire of confusion but also into hardship as many watched as customers thinned and sales dwindled drastically. To remain afloat, many resorted to improvising or channeling their transactions and inflows to any available individual who has knowledge of the digital process and perhaps also has the devices. Needless to say they made a fortune from these women who are made to either part with exorbitant amounts as charges or risk loosing sales. Of course faced with mostly no other choice, they accede to such. It is on record, that Nigeria remains among the top seven countries in the World with unbanked population. According to the World Bank’s FINDEX Report of 2021, over 64 million of the about 200 million Nigerian population does not have account with a financial institution or Mobile money platform.
Within this period of months that the cashless policies have been in place, the economic capacities of Women have been seriously hampered arising from severely reduced economic activities and this has had negative effects on families and children which are dependent on the proceeds of these Women’s ventures for a living and survival.
The Vivian Bello Foundation and its partner the Girl-Child Freedon at the Grassroots GCFG, being organizations that are focused on issues that promote and protect gender rights and social inclusions of vulnerable populations, and having done assessments and identified these challenges to Women in the Cashless policy have set out to synergize with relevant institutions, (as we have here today, FINTECHS etc), to work at combating these challenges for Women.
This is important now because, even though there seems to be some relief in the cash cruch, we must not loose cognizance of the fact that the Policy is still in place and will in no distant time kick in again in full force. Besides, it is important that we do all we can to bring Women fully on board digital financing because the world generally is moving away from analogue financial process and so it is no longer even a matter of choice for Women to embrace it, it is simply imperative.
We are therefore most delighted today, that we have Digital Financial Institution, (Opay and Wired Banking Africa), who rightly bought into the idea of supporting Women Inclusion in the digital financial process and made themselves available for this program. We indeed thank them and want to believe that they will continue to partner in this process. They will have the opportunity to speak to our Women (and indeed men too), interact with them, take them through some of the channels, platforms, avenues, devices and methods that will enable them become fully cashless-active and transact their businesses smoothly without much difficulties with any aspect of business transaction. Fintechs have emerged as very significant and dependable hands in Nigeria’s economy and only recently, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emiefele did single them out to praise them for facilitating smooth transactions for Nigerians and their role in reducing strain on the conventional Banks.
I therefore once again warmly welcome you all here to this event, and even though it is the Foundation’s inaugural event, we will however continue to liaise with these great organizations here and every other relevant ones towards finding solutions to any issues or challenges that arise for Women. I therefore urge you to feel free to speak with them (in the language you know how to speak), share your challenges and issues etc and it is my hope that in no distant time, all the Women in this Dutse market and indeed across other places will be well integrated into and acquainted with digital financial processes and will be transacting their businesses freely and with ease.
I thank you all.