Across Africa, Savings Groups have been incorporated into social protection policies and programs in at least 15 countries. Governments across the continent are promoting Savings Groups to support beneficiaries of social protection programs to save, build resilience, access formal financial services, and ultimately reduce dependency on public support.
Despite the encouraging results of pilot projects, experience is fragmented and pathways to scale remain unclear. In 2019, the SEEP Network facilitated a Peer Learning Group (PLG) on The Role of Savings Groups in Supporting Graduation from Social Safety Nets – composed of representatives from the Governments of Kenya, Malawi, Senegal, Tanzania and Rwanda. Through a yearlong, collaborative learning process, the PLG supported member governments to mobilize knowledge, learn from each other, and improve their ability to effectively integrate Savings Groups within social protection policies and programs.
Building upon this experience, this session will explore the opportunities and challenges of integrating Savings Groups in social protection programs, the role of government, and how successful initiatives can be expanded and replicated within and across countries.
Aisha Rahamatali, CARE International | Erin Lewis, The BOMA Project | Kadi Aboubacar, Office of the Prime Minister, Government of Niger | Sintayehu Demissie, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Ethiopia | Sybil Chidiac, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Transforming Norms for Women’s Economic Empowerment: The Role of Savings Groups
Social norms refer to the rules and accompanying behaviors that govern social behavior, perceptions, and conduct. Social norms shape how people behave and how people expect others to behave. These informal rules are often highly gendered in that different norms apply to men, women, boys and girls, and they impact and resonate in varying ways. While some norms can be protective or empowering, other norms exacerbate the barriers for women to access and use financial services. Because norms shape women’s access to and control over resources, in many contexts they limit their ability to hold land titles and assets, reduce their mobility in public spaces, and increase their unpaid care burden.
There is growing recognition social norms are a critical driver of the global gender gap in financial inclusion. To close this gender gap, financial inclusion stakeholders need to make an effort to systematically understand what social norms are at play within a context, how they impact inclusion and empowerment outcomes for women, and then design strategies to shift norms.
Collective action approaches such as Savings Group can be an important element of designing norms transformative programs. Recent research on Savings Groups provides evidence of strong changes in economic independence, and confidence and self-worth, as well as gains in decision-making and leadership for women SG participants. They can be a tool for increasing woman’s agency, changing intra-household relations and her ability to negotiate with her husband for increased role in decision making, and ultimately transforming structures including discriminatory social norms, so that others respect her financial autonomy.
This session will start with an overview of the process of diagnosing social norms that impact financial inclusion and some key research findings from CGAP and the MetLife Foundation. Drawing on these findings and other experience, speakers will discuss how Savings Group interventions provide an effective platform to address normative barriers and create opportunities for transformative change. They will share examples of successful interventions from engaging men as agents of change in Saving Group programs, to the experience in Sierra Leone where Savings Groups have provided a platform for increased political participation for women, thus creating opportunities for transformational change at the household and community levels.