CBE advances economic empowerment of women

Shaimaa Raafat
11 Min Read

In its quest to achieve economic empowerment and enhance financial inclusion across all societal segments, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) is dedicated to improving women’s access to financial services and products. This commitment is reflected in the establishment of a supportive regulatory and supervisory framework, and the launch of various initiatives and projects in partnership with ministries, stakeholders, and international bodies. Additionally, the CBE is focused on promoting financial literacy and enhancing the banking sector workforce’s ability to offer financial products tailored to women’s needs, aligning with global best practices.

Since 2019, coinciding with International Women’s Day, the CBE has been organizing the annual ‘Women’s Financial Inclusion” Event, starting on 8 March and continuing until the month’s end. This initiative is part of the CBE’s broader strategy to foster financial literacy among women, encourage their engagement with formal financial services, and underscore the significance of these services in elevating women’s living standards. During this period, banks are permitted to operate beyond their branches, setting up public spaces to educate citizens, particularly women, about financial matters and facilitating account openings without administrative fees or minimum balance requirements.

The CBE’s endeavors align with the Sustainable Development Goals and Egypt’s Vision 2030, aiming to economically empower women through the following pillars:

CBE advances economic empowerment of women

First – Establishing a Conducive Regulatory and Supervisory Environment

The CBE is committed to creating a conducive regulatory and supervisory environment that eases women’s access to banking services and products by addressing potential obstacles. To this end, the CBE has enacted several key regulations:

  • Simplified KYC procedures for financial inclusion products:
    • For Individuals: The new regulations permit any individual, particularly women, to access banking services and products using only their National ID, eliminating the need for additional documentation. This has led to a marked increase in the number of financially included women.
    • Economic Activity Account: This account type enables business owners to open bank accounts and conduct commercial transactions with just their National ID. This has significantly supported women entrepreneurs, many of whom run their businesses, such as handicrafts or micro-enterprises, from home.
  • The CBE has introduced regulations that allow mothers to open bank accounts or certificates of deposit (CDs) for their minor children, mitigating the difficulties encountered by women, especially those who are divorced or widowed, in interacting with the banking sector. The CBE also provided clarifying guidelines for banks to assist mothers in opening accounts or CDs for their minor children, with the stipulation that the funds are a gift from the mother, in line with Article (3) of the Law on Guardianship over Money, enacted by Decree-Law No. 119 of 1952.
  • A standardized definition of women-owned and led businesses has been established by the CBE, adhering to international standards for data gathering and analysis.

Second – Projects and Initiatives

The Central Bank of Egypt has initiated several projects aimed at enhancing the financial inclusion and economic empowerment of women. These efforts are in collaboration with national stakeholders such as The National Council for Women, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, and the Ministry of Social Solidarity, alongside various international developmental institutions.

1- Digital Saving and Lending Groups Project “Tahwisha”

Launched during the national ceremony honoring Egyptian women and mothers in 2022, and graced by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, this project seeks to integrate rural women into the formal financial sector. It encourages savings, loan applications, and the initiation of small-scale enterprises. Transactions are facilitated through “Tahwisha,” an electronic app that eliminates the need for bank branch visits.

The initiative is based on savings and lending group models, where women aged 15 to 25 agree to save regularly. These savings are transferred via the app to a joint bank account, managed by three elected group members. The CBE’s Board of Directors has funded the project, and a partnership with the National Council for Women has been established to reach 100,000 women across 9 governorates, utilizing the “Meeza” card scheme.

2- Decent Life Initiative

Supported by the Central Bank of Egypt and the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, this presidential initiative aims to uplift infrastructure and living standards in marginalized areas, covering 1,413 villages and 52 towns across 20 governorates.

Banks have devised a plan to foster financial inclusion and economic empowerment, particularly for women, who make up half of the populace. This includes upgrading financial infrastructure (bank branches, ATMs, POS, and QR codes) and offering banking services and microfinance opportunities conducive to small business development, with a focus on female-owned enterprises. Additionally, efforts are made to raise awareness about the significance of financial inclusion.

3- The National Project for Development of the Egyptian Family (NPDEF)

In partnership with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, the CBE supports the “Egyptian Family Development Project,” a presidential initiative addressing population growth through five main pillars: women’s economic empowerment, service interventions, cultural and awareness campaigns, digital transformation, and legislative development.

The banking sector is instrumental in implementing these pillars, particularly those aimed at economically empowering women between 16-45 years old, by:

  • Conducting entrepreneurship and financial literacy workshops.
  • Offering tailored financial products and services.
  • Supporting women’s microenterprises financially.

4- Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program (WESEP)

The Central Bank of Egypt is a key participant in the Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment Program. This initiative is a collaborative effort with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is executed by Pathfinder.

Coordinated alongside the Ministries of International Cooperation and Social Solidarity, WESEP is dedicated to enhancing women’s economic opportunities through improved financial inclusion and addressing the social and economic repercussions of violence against women.

5- Enhancing Smallholder Farmers’ Livelihoods

The Smallholder Farmers Support project, initiated by the World Food Programme (WFP) in collaboration with the National Bank of Egypt (NBE) and Banque Misr, and supported by the Central Bank of Egypt, focuses on women’s economic empowerment. It aims to elevate financial literacy and awareness among women.

Targeting 50 villages in Upper Egypt, the project seeks to boost small farmers’ productivity and improve their economic and social well-being. This is achieved through a comprehensive strategy encompassing:

  • Land consolidation to enhance the productivity of small plots.
  • Implementation of modern irrigation methods for better water and land utilization.
  • Diversification and growth of income sources.
  • Fostering ownership and developing institutional capacities for long-term sustainability.

Additionally, the initiative includes financial education sessions about available financial services in livestock and agricultural processing, aiming to empower women economically and socially and reinforce their influence over family financial decisions.

6- Digitization of International Remittances for Egyptians Abroad

In an effort to advance digital transformation and incorporate women into the formal financial sector, the Central Bank of Egypt introduced the Digitization of International Remittances Project for Egyptians working overseas. This project is designed to offer banking products to remittance recipients, predominantly women, accounting for 85% of the demographic. It also entails collaboration with banks to focus on governorates receiving the most remittances. Incentives are provided to motivate the use of various banking and savings products, including transactional accounts, prepaid cards, mobile wallets, and foreign currency offerings. Moreover, partnerships with banks and currency exchange firms in Gulf countries have been established to engage expatriate workers.

Third – Financial Literacy and Capacity Building

The Women’s Financial Inclusion event, held annually starting March 8th for three weeks, is pivotal in promoting financial literacy and awareness. The event’s goal is to spread financial knowledge and motivate women to utilize banking services, achieved through collaboration with a network of stakeholders and government bodies, including various ministries and the National Council for Women.

Additionally, initiatives are in place to build the capacity of employees within these organizations to impart financial literacy effectively to a broad audience and to inspire banks to actively engage with women, leveraging partnerships with institutions that have extensive outreach capabilities.

Fourth – Notable Advancements in Women’s Financial Inclusion

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has made significant strides in advancing women’s economic empowerment. By December 2023, the financial inclusion rate among women reached 62.7%. Out of 32.3 million women aged 16 and above, 20.3 million now benefit from financial services and have bank accounts, marking a 244% increase since 2016.

From March 2019 to March 2023, the CBE’s initiatives for women’s financial inclusion have facilitated the provision of approximately 1.2 million financial products for women. This includes opening 630,000 bank accounts, creating 175,000 smart wallets, and issuing 420,000 prepaid cards.

The CBE remains committed to furthering women’s economic empowerment and enhancing financial inclusion, aligning with international trends in legislative and regulatory frameworks, as well as banking service and product quality. These endeavors will continue in collaboration with all pertinent entities.

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