To mark International Women’s Day 2017, MEDA is highlighting important issues and voices around women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the area of economic development. This is the second in our “Be Bold for Change” blog series celebrating the power of women entrepreneurs and their partners around the world.

How do you effectively reach a majority of people to discuss financial inclusion in Nigeria? Mark Akpan Program Manager Financial InclusionMark Akpan, Program Manager Financial Inclusion

Radio is the main source of news and information in Cross Rivers State, Nigeria. During my January 2017 visit to the YouLead project, implemented with Cuso International, Mark Akpan and I had the opportunity to visit Hit FM Cross River State to talk about Access to Finance for youth. We shared our understanding and approach towards addressing gender inequalities in this sector.

During the interview, the host raised questions related to women’s access to finance and the issue of the inherent bias for the male child. The male family head makes decisions around household expenditures and the voices of the wife or the daughter are unheard. If a family has savings, they will invest in a son’s business rather than a daughter’s. None of these issues are new to MEDA, and it is these issue that we focus and work on Nigeria. In 2015, MEDA conducted a survey of youth and their financial needs. Although the survey sampled a small group of 99 youth, it did confirm that male family members make many financial decisions.

However, it was interesting to realize that the disparity in decision making between men and women is not as wide in categories such as running one’s business and children’s education. There was also an unexpected disparity in decision making around food consumption — opposite of the norm from other MEDA surveys. Below is a summary of the results of our survey:

Financial Decisions by Gender

A key challenge voiced by survey respondents and raised by the hosts of the Hit FM radio program is the need for female friendly access and services, and more loan collateral leniency. Over the last three years of programing with YouLead, we have discovered that women are just as active in being entrepreneurs as men, but there are less of them due to the challenges they face when seeking financial assistance. These challenges range from sourcing the amount or type of collateral required for a loan — to which they do not have access — and/or harassment or discouragement by banking staff. Both of these challenges intimidate both prospective and existing female entrepreneurs, thus leaving potential start-up businesses unfounded. Survey results on asset ownership also confirm this issue related to the lack of collateral for women.

Asset ownership by gender

Since the youth survey in 2015, the YouLead project has administered small grants to young entrepreneurs in Cross River State through a business plan competition. The overwhelming interest of women and the fact that more women than men applied during the first cycle of the Grants confirms that women entrepreneurs are very active and that they see grants as a more viable option for start-up capital than loans. The lack of sufficient collateral is no longer holding back as many women of Cross River State from starting their own business and this is something to celebrate!