Assessment of the Gender Gap in Access to Digital Financial Services in Burkina Faso
This research project, carried out in collaboration with the USAID, explored 1) the role DFS plays in making female entrepreneurs more resilient and 2) the conditions that permit greater DFS access and use among women.
The analysis of the interviews and FGDs shows a clear and significant gender difference in DFS use, barriers, and perceptions. Use patterns are gendered. Unease and lack of confidence concerning proper DFS use make women more likely to express needing assistance from friends, family, or DFS agents, despite voicing anxiety about easily being taken advantage of. DFS use among women is typically for personal use only, and to receive funds as opposed to send funds, which many women considered more difficult. Lack of means, education, and awareness are the main barriers to women’s DFS use. Trust is identified as another key barrier hampering DFS uptake among women, whether it is between a wife and her husband or between a woman and a DFS agent. Finally, the link between entrepreneurship and resilience and DFS as a tool to enhance resilience, was not well understood by the research participants. The weight placed upon different DFS barriers and benefits vary by gender as well as geography. This points to 1) the danger in assuming broad-based similarities in the ways people evaluate DFS and the need for gendered understandings of technology use; and 2) the particular challenge of reaching last-mile customers concentrated in rural areas, who generally specified more barriers to DFS use as well as more benefits, which can be interpreted as greater demand or need for DFS.
These barriers, which rest on gendered norms related to the power and role of women, operate at the societal level and will take time to modify, requiring long-term and sustained advocacy, policy, and programmatic efforts by donors, governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders. Serious thought should be directed toward designing a coherent, integrated DFS strategy that lays out the timing and sequencing to address key issues that would disrupt barriers and reinforce benefits to facilitate Burkina Faso’s realization of women’s resilience and financial empowerment. Key issues include women’s formal education, control over financial resources, ability to earn income, level of digital literacy, and belief in the convenience and safety/security of DFS.
We can, therefore, begin to provide initial answers to the two main research questions that drove this study:
- Research question 1 – The role DFS plays in making female entrepreneurs more resilient: At present, DFS has a rather limited role in fostering resiliency among female entrepreneurs. Two main reasons account for this. First, female entrepreneurs believed that their professional financial transactions, high in volume but low in monetary amount, did not make DFS attractive due to transaction fees. This meant that women did not often use DFS for their day-to-day entrepreneurial activities. Second, resilience was largely understood in personal terms, dealing with unexpected shocks such as fires or sudden health issues. Mentions of any entrepreneurial-resilience link were largely absent from focus group discussions. However, women did understand the benefits of DFS and did express interest in using it more, indicating a real opportunity to meet that demand with targeted supply. The recommendations in the next section speak to these opportunities in more detail.
- Research question 2 – The conditions that permit greater DFS access and use among women: Our study supports earlier research that household dynamics play a key role in DFS use, and FS use more generally. On the one hand, power dynamics between wives and husbands often means that women lack the agency to make independent financial decisions. In some cases, women have hidden their financial activity—opening bank accounts, saving money—from their husbands, to reclaim some sense of independence. On the other hand, access to trusted friends and family, often younger individuals with greater digital literacy, can help facilitate indirect DFS use by completing digital transfers and payments on behalf of women. This is a seemingly common practice that is not fully captured in current academic studies on DFS. Further, women often expressed fears that, because they were not well-educated, they could be easily taken advantage of by agents whom women did not always trust to faithfully execute transactions. This suggests numerous strategies to improve women’s DFS use: improving digital literacy, promoting trust between women customers and agents, and/or creating new monitoring and customer protection mechanisms that give women the means to verify digital transactions or contest them meaningfully if needed. Women also expressed having many responsibilities which hinder their ability to use DFS, even if they wanted. Colocating DFS access points in places and spaces that women frequent could help integrate DFS easily into their lives by building on their existing routines.
Additional results will be shared in subsequent publications.
Kendra Leith, MIT D-Lab Associate Director for Research