ABUJA — African financial leaders say despite some reforms, women are largely left out of economic growth on the continent because they often don’t have access to financing. At the 2nd African Women Economic Summit in Lagos this month, organizers called for poverty reduction through investment in female entrepreneurs.
It’s not just about women, says Nomsa Daniels, the executive director of New Faces New Voices, the women’s financial organization that hosted the summit along with the African Development Bank
She says increasing women’s ability to do business helps everyone. And for female entrepreneurs to thrive in Africa, she says, they need to be able to take out loans and access credit.
“Research shows that by investing in women you actually improve the health and the education and the income levels of your society,"says Daniels."Currently at the moment there are disparities in Africa in terms of access to capital.”
According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, women in most developing countries produce 60 to 80 percent of the food despite having little access to agricultural credit.
Daniels says that billions of dollars are invested in private companies in Africa, but only 9 percent of the funds go to female-owned businesses.
And women’s contributions to African economies, she says, is largely unknown.
“The majority of African women operate in the informal economy," explained Daniels. And because there is very little data on the nature of the activity and it hasn’t been quantifiable, it’s often times not really recognized and it tends to be minimized.”
The solution is not simply providing loans and lines of credit, she says. African financial institutions and female entrepreneurs need training, technical support and progressive policies.
The African Development Bank says many women can’t get credit because the vast majority don’t own property and therefore have no collateral.
Ginette Yoman, head of gender and social development at the bank, says conferences like the African Women Economic Summit could help solve technical problems, like French-speaking African women generally having less access to finance than women from English-speaking countries.
“By sharing reforms and sharing ideas, global innovative ideas, we can change the behavior of people,"says Yoman. "We can build some networks in order to move forward. It is clear that in French-speaking countries the institutional environment of the financial sector is not so deeply developed.”
Daniels, from New Faces New Voices, says Nigeria was chosen to host the conference because it is expected to be Africa’s largest economy within the next 10 years and has many powerful women in the finance sector, including bank heads and the minister of finance.
But still, she says, less than 20 percent of women in Nigeria have access to financing.