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Ethiopia’s all-female bank branch and the newfound role of women

June 28th, 2019
topics:Humans, Economy
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Ethiopia, Nigeria
tags:Africa, Ahmed Abiy, banking, Ethiopia, Gender, women's rights

In a rare and historic development, Ethiopia’s largest bank has opened a branch that is run solely by women, as it seeks to empower more women to drive the financial inclusion agenda.

There are an estimated 55 million women in the country who have traditionally struggled to access key services, among them finances and credit.

But the recent wave of political reforms is increasingly placing more women in the front seat of both public and private sector businesses. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia now hopes that the new all-female operated branch will deepen financial inclusion among women across the country.

“Empowering women to take part in all economic sectors is essential to achieve development objectives,” the bank’s President and CEO, Ato Bacha Gina, said in a statement during the launch. He added that women in Ethiopia have remained largely under represented across various facets of the economy despite their dedication and contribution.

The bank has further announced plans to open more female-operated branches across key regional states in the country, while also launching an exclusive credit facility for women as it seeks to bolster women entrepreneurship.

The bank follows in the footsteps of Enat Bank, Enat is an Amharic word meaning mother, that officially opened its doors six years ago as an institution for women seeking to bridge the financial access gap in the banking sector. With women forming the bulk of the management team and most branches named after key female figures, (such as the main branch after Itegue Taitu, the wife of Ethiopian emperor Menelik II), these female-focused banks have been hailed as key in uplifting women out of poverty and building a pool of female entrepreneurs that are propelling the economy forward. “We are talking about targeted and niche financial products like collateral free loans, financial literacy programmes and a dedicated focus on women-led businesses and women saving groups. The success of, for example Enat Bank, is now seeing an appetite among other banks to dedicate more attention to financing women,” said Beshadu Adisu, a lecturer at the Center of Gender Studies of the Addis Ababa University, further noting that the lack of financial security like land or property had traditionally seen many financial institutions shy away from courting women borrowers; a thing of the past as women continually demonstrate discipline in repayment.

But the investment in women empowerment in the financial sector is a small part of a larger campaign to bring women to the nation-building table across the private and public sectors. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was actually elected last year on a platform to empower women. Months in office, he oversaw the election of the country’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, a venerated diplomat who had previously served her country in various countries and international bodies. She became Africa’s fourth female president and is the only serving woman president in the continent.

In creating his cabinet, Abiy also ensured it had a 50 per cent gender representation with 20 ministerial positions being given to women.

Birtukan Mideksa a former judge who had fled to the United States after having spent time in prison for being accused by the previous regime of trying to overthrow the government following a 2005 contested election that sparked an orgy of violence was also last year named the head of election body, a first for a woman. Mr. Abiy would also appoint Meaza Ashenafi, a celebrated women rights activist the first female supreme court president. In various addresses the Prime Minister defended his choice of women for high government offices arguing that ‘women are less corrupt than men,’ and he counted on them to help him run the country.

And in another first, the national carrier Ethiopian Airlines during this year’s International Women’s Day had its flight from the country’s capital Addis Ababa to Stockholm operated by an all-female flight crew from flight deck, dispatch, operations and air traffic control in a bid to celebrate and showcase the ability of women.

“Ethiopia is teaching the world that what a man can do a woman can do better. The political will is to be credited for this unprecedented move that is setting the bar for Africa and the globe on the need to create a platform that levels the playing field for both genders. It is a move to watch,” Ms. Taitu said.

Article written by:
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Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
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There are an estimated 55 million women in the country who have traditionally struggled to access key services among them finances and credit.
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“Empowering women to take part in all economic sectors is essential to achieve development objectives.”
Embed from Getty Images
The bank has further announced plans to open more female-operated branches across key regional states in the country.

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