Labour Pains: What Zambian Mothers Can Teach Us About Building Equal Economies

  • June 24, 2021

  • Brussels, Belgium

Nandini Harihareswara

Senior Advisor, Inclusive Digital Economies

UN Capital Development Fund

Rose Payne

Knowledge Management and Communications Consultant


Across the world women have lower levels of access to formal financial services. In the least developed countries women are 9% less likely to be financially included*. In Zambia this gap is even wider - only two out of five women have access to any type of formal financial service.

There are many reasons behind this gender gap in access to finance. In 2018, we spoke to Zambian mothers to understand the financial challenges they faced. Their stories can help us to understand some of the barriers which keep women from participating in the formal financial economy and why it is so important that they get access to the financial tools they need.

Phales Soko, a mother and tailor in Jay village in Zambia shares, “I am married and have six children. I use Airtel Money and it helps me a lot to pay my children’s school fees, because the school is far away from here. I would need money for transportation to get to the school. I can’t afford that so I send the money through Airtel Money.”

Mothers like the women in these videos face complex financial decisions that are pivotal not only to their own lives but to their children and families. Women bear the burden of unpaid care and domestic work, and this has only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite how central mothers are to our families, our communities, and our economies, their financial needs are often not prioritized.

Priscilla Musonda, a mother from Jay village, explained: "The reason why we save money in the village bank is because we have no other facilities with that service. It is risky to save with the village bank (an informal savings and loans facility) because it is not very safe. We would be happy if we had safer financial facilities."

That is why UNCDF is committed to creating equal economies in which women play a central role - having equal access, equal agency and equal leadership. In October 2020, UNCDF was named as a co-lead of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights. With our public and private sector partners we are advocating to ‪increase women’s economic empowerment by increase women’s access to and control over productive resources, and promote gender-transformative economies.

Mirriam Mwaba, who also lives in Jay village, said “I have seven children. When we harvest our crops, we sell them and use the money to send the children to school. When we want to send money we use Airtel Money or MTN Money.”

Join us at Generation Equality Forum on the 1st July as our Executive Secretary makes concrete commitments to work in partnership with the public, private and civil society actors to unlock the capital required – both financial and human – as well as promoting enabling policies that help women like these Zambian mothers.


*World Bank, Global Findex Database 2017, World Bank Publications, 2018

**Kate Power (2020) The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the care burden of women and families, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 16:1, 67-73, DOI: 10.1080/15487733.2020.1776561