Access Bank, Collaborating With the Industry to Drive Gender Equality in the Financial Services Sector

Access Bank, Collaborating With the Industry to Drive Gender Equality in the Financial Services Sector

Gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making – when the aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured.

According to the United Nations (UN), “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world”. Statistics from the UN also indicates that globally, 750 million women and girls were married before the age of 18 and at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); while women have made important inroads into political office across the world, their representation in national parliaments at 23.7 per cent is still far from parity; globally, women are just 13 per cent of agricultural land holders; more than 100 countries have taken action to track budget allocations for gender equality, women in Northern Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector; the proportion of women in paid employment outside the agriculture sector has increased from 35 per cent in 1990 to 41 per cent in 2015.

Unfortunately, today, women have fewer opportunities for economic participation than men, less access to basic and higher education, greater health and safety risks, and less political representation. While progress has been made towards gender equality around the world, there’s still much further to go – particularly in some countries, where governments have been trying to roll back women’s rights.

In Nigeria, the problem of gender inequality has existed for decades. Patriarchy and gender inequality is always a touchy topic in Africa because it is largely influenced by religious beliefs and the diverse cultures. In the Northern Part of Nigeria, women are still largely considered to be lowly to men, as women are only seen fit to be home keepers and child bearers.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) appreciates the fact that financial access, inclusion and literacy are cornerstones for reducing poverty. To this end, we have taken the lead in developing Nigeria’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy to ensure that a clear agenda is set for increasing both access and usage of financial services within a defined timeline for excluded groups including women. Indeed, the financial inclusion strategy provides for reducing the exclusion rate of women from 54 per cent to 20 per cent by the year 2020. To achieve this, special incentives and provisions would be made available to financial institutions to develop products that would meet the needs of Nigerian women. The CBN as part of its developmental efforts supports Entrepreneurship Development Centres (EDC) in the six geo-political zones of the country. The bank would endeavour to place more of a focus on women in the implementation of these centres.

In 2012, the Bankers’ Committee, which comprises of the CBN, Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Deposit Money Banks and Discount Houses declared the year of ‘Women Economic Empowerment’, after which the Bankers’ Committee developed a dedicated sub-committee focused on women economic empowerment. One of focus areas of this sub-committee is to facilitate the decision of the Bankers’ Committee to ensure that women occupy more leadership positions in the industry with a target to increasing women representation on Boards to 30 percent and that of senior management level to 40 percent by 2014. As a result of this initiative, we have witnessed improvements in the number of women appointed as Board Chairs, Bank CEOs and women in management positions. However, despite this progress, it is clear that the industry is far from achieving the set goal.

Furthermore, in 2012, Access Bank initiated and championed the process that led to the development of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBPs), working with key stakeholders of the banking industry including: the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), International Finance Corporation (IFC) amongst others. The NSBPs are a set of nine (9) principles that now guide the entire banking industry to embed sustainability in business operations and practices. Today, Access Bank serves as the Chair of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles’ Implementation Steering Committee set-up to guide, support and drive the banking industry to embed the nine NSBPs in the industry.

One of the principles of the NSBP’s (Principle 4) is hinged on ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment’ and aims to “promote women’s economic empowerment through a gender inclusive workplace culture in our Business Operations and seek to provide products and services designed specifically for women through our Business Activities”.

However, despite the strategic efforts and progress made by the Banking industry to drive gender equality and women economic empowerment, the industry is still well on its way to achieve the set goal. It is therefore imperative that the industry continues to adopt new and innovative strategies that will enable the achievement of the overall goal for gender equality in the sector.

To this end, as part of the activities to commemorate the Fifth Anniversary of the Implementation of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles (NSBPs), the NSBP’s Implementation Steering Committee under the Bankers Committee of the CBN, and chaired by Access Bank, organised a capacity building session titled: “Gender Equality in the Financial Services Sector”, on Wednesday, September 19, 2018. This session which was hosted by Access Bank aimed to promote the empowerment of female employees and drive gender inclusion in the leadership of Nigerian Banks, stressing the need to identify and address the socio-cultural barriers sustaining inequality so as to increase women participation in the financial services sector and drive economic development.

The event featured keynote speakers including Dr. Herbert Wigwe, GMD/CEO, Access Bank Plc; Ibukun Awosika, Chairperson, First Bank of Nigeria; Victoria Mojekwu, Director, Capacity Building, Central Bank of Nigeria, amongst others. The event also featured a panel discussion on the theme “Driving Gender Equality in the Workplace”, with panellists including Foluke Aboderin, WIMBIZ; Ken Egbas, CEO, TruContact; Adebola Williams, Co-founder, Red Media; Bekeme Masade-Olowola, Chief Executive, CSR-in-Action.

L-R, Adebola Williams (Co-founder, Red Media), Chizoba Mojekwu (Director, Capacity Building, CBN), Ken Egbas (CEO, TruContact), Foluke Aboderin (WIMBIZ), Bekeme Masade-Olowola (Chief Executive, CSR-in-Action)

Speaking at the session, Hebert Wigwe, Chief Executive Officer, Access Bank said:  “The session is about strengthening gender equality as far as financial institutions are concerned but I would urge us to take it to a different level. Let us get people in manufacturing and other fields to basically embrace what is good for the entire world which is about gender equality. The Nigerian Sustainability Banking Principles has come a long way from where we started from five years ago. But there are still several institutions that have not attained the level of compliance that we would expect particularly as it pertains to gender equality”.

L-R, Ibukun Awosika (Chairperson, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd), Herbert Wigwe (GMD/CEO, Access Bank Plc)

Also speaking at the event, Director, Capacity Building, Central Bank of Nigeria, Chizoba Mojekwu, said that “Socialisation has been so concretised that it is holding a lot of things back for both men and women and that socialisation extends into the work place. Organisations are still largely patriarchal and regulations do not work.  So my views are that we are dealing with a major transformation issue than a technical challenge. We haven’t been engaging the rest of the body but only the neck. Until we take a holistic view and engage below by the neck we will continue to apply back aid to a problem that is largely sitting in the heads and the minds of the people.”

Mrs Ibukun Awosika, Chairperson, First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) Ltd, said that “to improve gender equality, financial institutions need to have better understanding of the life and things that influence the ability of each gender to deliver and thus, create an environment to support such”

L-R, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan (Head Sustainability, Access Bank Plc), Ibukun Awosika (Chairperson, First Bank of Nigeria Ltd), Herbert Wigwe (GMD/CEO, Access Bank Plc), Osayi Alile (CEO, ACT Foundation)

The programme reached over 150 key stakeholders of the banking industry directly and over 100,000 online, creating awareness and empowering stakeholders with information, knowledge, tools and strategies to drive gender equality and the economic empowerment of women in the Nigerian workforce.

CSR-in-Action

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