Mobile Money Usage in Sub-Saharan Africa has Complex Gender Dynamics

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Understanding the complexities of mobile money is a challenge that is still undergoing investigation by several scholars. While that might be the case, a few points have been brought forward to showcase what these dynamics are, although there is no easy way to paint them in black and white.

That aside, research done by the World Bank in 2014 indicated that financial inclusion is on a spike as people continue to get banked on formal institutions and mobile money services. At that time, up to 2 billion Earth dwellers remained unbanked, although that number may be different by now. Another crucial point is an emphasis on mobile money accounts that are associated with the power to boost financial inclusion. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, up to 12 percent of adults have mobile money accounts, which is higher than a global adoption of 2 percent. Looking at these numbers from the gender angle, mobile money accounts still falls short of formal accounts where women have 7.6 percent less access than men in these institutions at 32.7% versus 25.1%. On mobile money, access falls at 2.5 percent at 12.8% and 10.3%.

In Kenya, evidence has backed up the idea that gender does not significantly influence access to mobile money accounts, although it does on formal accounts. Ideally, this may be conflicted by World Bank stating that women are 50% less likely to use the internet in Africa and access mobile devices. There is no direct answer to this divide, although it can be said that mobile money is alleviating financial constraints of formal financial inclusion. This is because mobile money accommodates small payments with lower or no transaction costs, in addition to technological benefits where money can be kept safely in mobile money accounts at your fingertips.

“The proximity of agents to women whose domestic constraints render them less mobile than men… and that digital offers a level of privacy and confidentiality that having to travel and walk into a bank does not,” says the report.

While taking into account of the gender gap, it cannot be assumed that mobile money is widely adopted by tackling these setbacks based on women’s financial inclusion constraints. In fact, some of these assumptions are a top of the iceberg on explaining why mobile money gender gap is closing in. The difference is explained by understanding how men and women use the solution and in what context and how the process affects policymaking in the end.

Of crucial importance is gender dynamics. For example, Safaricom’s ‘send money home’ campaign slogan for M-PESA has been attributed to include only men. Apparently, it represents young, educated men in urban centers with consistent cash streams – and can send funds to their moms in rural homes.

“Mobile money is a network technology that connects people and fits into a pattern of gender relations in which urban-based men earn and remit to rurally based women. So far, so apparently straightforward,” says one ethnographic study.

It has also been noted that family ties pay dividends, access to extended family resources is based on flows within siblings, mothers, and cousins. These interactions are centered on mothers, and contributions from men ‘more often come from brothers and mothers’ brothers than fathers. Interesting.

More studies have ascertained that mobile phones have heightened the value of resources received by women via mobile money solutions. What is more, the same women receive more money when their ties have more women than men, which means that men send less money than women, a feat that reinforces woman-to-woman relationships in families. Contrastingly, men send higher amounts when their circles have more women. Furthermore, the importance of more male relatives in an extensive family network boosts the amount of funds women receive. Both genders give to women in their ties in a reciprocal dynamic.

In sum, these dynamics are compelling and must be understood to ascertain what men and women do with their money as well as how it connects them to financial services and general financial inclusion.

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