The insect-eaten money fluttered in pieces to the floor. For global music star Angelique Kidjo, that image of her grandmother having to use a closet as a bank is driving her desire to see African women leap the many obstacles to obtaining credit — and respect.
The Benin-born singer, one of Africa’s iconic artists and a collaborator with Philip Glass and others, is the voice of a new project aimed in part at rewriting laws across the continent that prevent millions of women from becoming a more powerful economic force.
Kidjo described what she has seen over decades of travel in Africa during which women in vibrant marketplaces wished they had the means to do more.
“Why do banks give more loans to men versus women? That’s the question I have,” she said. “Millions of women entrepreneurs in Africa, they lack loans versus the men. Once again, we come back to this patriarchy. And we know men pay less back than women.”
Every time credit is refused to African women, who invest some 90% of what they earn in educating their children and supporting families and communities as opposed to about 40% for men, it’s a disaster, Kidjo said. “We’re taking up reducing the poverty rate in Africa to the smallest number ever. That’s my passion. That’s why I’m here.”
She will help the African Development Bank next week launch AFAWA, or Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa. Already the G-7 group of the world’s major democracies has committed $250 million, and the bank is providing $1 billion for the project that will be deployed across all 54 countries.
The goal is to raise $5 billion for efforts that include helping to guarantee loans, training women on financial matters and eliminating laws and regulations that make accessing credit more difficult. African women face a $42 billion financing gap even though one in four starts or manages a business, the highest percentage in the world, the bank says.
In some African countries, women can’t open a bank account without their husband or father, or inheritance laws leave them with little or nothing. That means no collateral.
But reforms are catching on. In the World Bank’s latest Women, Business and Law report in 2018, 32% of reforms tracked in sub-Saharan African countries addressed equal treatment for women and men in accessing credit and financial services. Angola, Congo and Zambia joined others in prohibiting gender-based credit discrimination, it said.