Women and DFS Inclusion in Kaduna State: Findings from a brief qualitative study

Women and DFS Inclusion in Kaduna State: Findings from a brief qualitative study

In early 2022, we explored the experiences of urban and peri-urban women in Kaduna when interacting with DFS (digital financial services). We spoke with over 40 women (through focus group discussions and in depth interviews) from lower-income demographics, including a student, homemaker, trader and businesswomen, as well as a group of men. We also interviewed gender and DFS experts in Nigeria.


Our aim is to build more gender-inclusive DFS solutions in Kaduna. Here we outline some of the findings. A related blog puts forward how CoLab will be building on these findings.


Background: why Kaduna

To many, Nigeria appears as a leading country in the African fintech revolution with an estimated 200 fintech companies, and success stories of Flutterwave, Bankly and Paystack. One could say that the COVID-19 pandemic, with its twin forces of disruption and acceleration, also played a key role in fast-tracking fintech adoption as physical payments were more challenging.

In December 2021, the Central Bank approved the country’s biggest MNOs, Airtel and MTN, to operate payment service banks (PSB) to serve customers better (9mobile and Globacom were granted approvals two years ago). But where are women in this pool of customers and how many women owned businesses will this be serving?In Nigeria and more particularly the north of the country (including Kaduna), the digital gender gap not only persists,it has grown. The 2021 EfiNA report highlights that the the financial inclusion gap persists with 68% of the population in the North West region being financially excluded that’s a 5.4% increase since 2018. And while 50% of business owners in Kaduna are women, 62% of them are financially excluded. 

In this context, the Kaduna State Government together with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is prioritizing financial inclusion (including digital financial inclusion) across state government programs. As stated by the founder of a Nigerian digital pension company interviewed for this research: “This is the paradox …  the people who are more engaged in physical and economic activities are the women but those either going to the POS [point of sale] or going to a bank are usually men.” 



From our research findings in Kaduna State, we summarize six key gender-based considerations for any financial service or product designer. These considerations can also largely be applicable to the other regions of Nigeria and   indeed, the world. 

We also realized the key role played by social norms  in determining the extent to which women adopt DFS. According to the 2021 EfiNA report, only 21% of women in the state have the final say on whether they can work to earn and income, compared with 87% men.In Kaduna, religion is a consideration for some Muslim women who may be further restricted in their owning and using DFS products, without the support of a male relative. 

“Religion has a huge role to play especially here in northern Nigeria. Some men want control over everything, and you have to ask, what will your wife be able to do when you die?” (Vera, student and blogger, ~20 years)

Beyond social norms, KYC [know your customer] and onboarding emerged as barriers in the research. Owning a bank account (a frequent prerequisite to DFS) requires a certain level of KYC, including the need not only for an ID card but also a proof of address, usually a utility bill that often is in the name and custody of the man, and as such creating a situation where, by design, a man’s consent was required to open an account. These requirements add barriers to women’s financial inclusion thus the suggestion of easy onboarding. However, the solution is not to simply open bank accounts on behalf of the women as they may end up dormant. An interviewee from the Government’s National Social Investment programme stated: “You make them open bank accounts but they don’t know what to do after that.” Some of the interviewees mentioned taking money out of accounts as soon as it was deposited – either because they needed it, or they preferred cash with them. Therefore ownership of accounts is also important. They also mentioned distance from banks, and feeling unwelcome at banks as reasons for not leaving money within the banking system.

Many of the interviewees mentioned still prefer the use of  USSD for ease of interface and comfortability.  They also considered it cheaper and safer than mobile apps. However, every woman’s financial and DFS needs differ. Age, skills (literacy, digital), cost of device, access, and agent access are all critical variables in DFS adoption. The journey to financial inclusion will start at different places and so will the need for support to continue on that journey. We created three customer journeys to reflect this.


Persona 1 : Aisha, ~40, is yet to fully embark on her financial inclusion journey 
Until she joined a government program, Aisha did not see the need for a bank account. She opened an account, with her own ID, only after she joined that program.
Like most of the respondents in Aisha’s group (excluded but high potential), she only uses USSD to make digital payment transactions. It feels safe, familiar and cheap. 
She has begun using mobile banking for other payments to suppliers, beyond just receiving government cash transfers.
The challenge is to get her to gain more confidence in her ability to safely use digital payments and trust in the system.


Persona 2 : Felicia is at the beginning of her financial inclusion journey
A middle aged urban woman, Felicia calls herself a ‘housewife’ but she trades and ‘hustles’ to take care of her family’s needs.
At present, she earns money through her various business activities.  She has a bank account but mostly relies on cash for her daily activities. She also uses an asusu (community group) for her savings. 
Felicia is familiar with DFS solutions and understands their convenience. She seems interested in adding digital personal savings to her existing community saving group, an area to investigate further as responding to women’s needs.


Persona 3 : Mary’s journey to economic empowerment
A young urban female student, Mary goes to university but also has a side hustle to provide her with some income, in addition to her parents’ allowance. She has a bank account.
She has learnt how to use digital payments through friends and social media. Her main usage is to pay for school fees as well as small supplies for her small business.
Mary is tech savvy enough and would like to find out how DFS can support her to make, save and invest money online.  She’s willing to gradually grow her financial knowledge and learn how to safely take loans.



The next steps will be for CoLab to apply these findings, some of which has already begun. For example, with USSD preference, CoLab is experimenting with USSD-based interfaces, particularly in Hausa. A following blog will go into more details on how CoLab will be picking up these findings more broadly and applying them in DFS pilots so we can ensure they are gender-inclusive. 


The primary research for this post was conducted by Dr. Savita Bailur, Hélène Smertnik, and Chioma Ogwuegbu who also contributed to the authoring of this post.

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