UNCDF is working in Ethiopia with the goal to improve women (aged 25+) and girls’ (aged between 10-24) awareness of, access to, use of and control over appropriate financial products and services responsibly provided by diverse and sustainable service providers in a well-regulated environment. Further, to strengthen the enabling environment and the socio-cultural context for greater access and agency for women and girls. This is intended to contribute to more inclusive financial markets that drive women’s and girls' economic empowerment and participation in the country.

To deliver on this vision, UNCDF will be working directly and through partners to address financial inclusion supply-side, demand-side and enabling environment constraints and enablers, and cross cutting socio-cultural context, adapted to women’s life cycle needs and economic roles.

UNCDF is operationalising its global strategy on women’s economic participation and empowerment at country level in Ethiopia through implementing strategic interventions to deliver on three country-level objectives:

  • Promoting gender sensitive financial products and services and supporting non-financial services;
  • Advancing a gender-sensitive enabling legal, policy and regulatory environment for financial inclusion;
  • Enhancing women and girls’ capabilities, voice and demand for finance and control over the benefits from use of financial services.

The Scale of the Challenge

Women and girls in Ethiopia face barriers in the supply of and in their demand for financial products and services, the wider enabling environment as well as in their socio-cultural context.

On the supply side, mobile and agent banking are in the nascent stages and the low number of and distance between formal bank access points poses a challenge, more so for women than men who have limited time and freedom to travel and lower levels of mobile ownership – with more than half (53%) of rural women not having access to a mobile. Indeed, they on average have 16 hours less free time than men per week once unpaid household and market work are considered. The collateral requirements of up to 200% imposed by banks for loans are a barrier, as on the demand side women have lower level of assets to use as collateral – with only 11% of women owning a house, compared with 26% of men, due to customary practices. This is in a context of the wider enabling environment, where women are less likely to inherit land, furthermore, although polygamy in Ethiopia is illegal about 14% of women are in polygamous relationships and they face a gap in their legal rights to land.

53% of Rural Women

do not have access to mobile devices

Constraints such as these, collectively limit women’s access, usage and agency over financial products and services in ways that constrain their economic empowerment. Consequently, women remain disproportionately excluded from the formal financial system, with the gender gap in bank access – the main financial access points - between women and men standing at 4% points, which increases to 21% points in rural areas.

constraints faced by women & girls


While MFIs are more likely than other FSPs to make efforts to target women, institutional orientation is not always reflected in appropriate client-facing attitudes and behavior, where predominantly male (90%) MFI loan officers often bring biases.


Currently the National Bank of Ethiopia does not mandate the collection of sex-disaggregated data, limiting their ability to make policies and regulations that take gender into consideration.


Women’s financial literacy is weaker than men’s. General literacy is another key barrier to financial service usage, and is a result of limited educational opportunities for girls and women.


Access is a constraint as there are only 3 bank branches and 0.46 ATMs per 100,000 adults, compared to an average of 8 branches and 15 ATMs per 100,000 adults in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Payment infrastructure is lacking and the economy continues to be cashed-based. Limited network connectivity prevents financial infrastructure from working efficiently, which hampers innovations that could bring women suitable financial services.


Many women do not have the skills and capital required to scale their businesses. Furthermore, their awareness of financial products and services is lacking.


There is neither a credit information system nor a collateral registry (though the latter is being developed), resulting in heavy reliance on collateral, disproportionately affecting women.


Ministries lack capacity and expertise to effectively implement non-discrimination strategies. Additionally, customary laws, which allow for settlement of disputes by elder men, discriminate against women.


Traditional, patriarchal divisions of labour typically lead women and girls to spend more time on unpaid household duties; women spend 69% of their total time a week on household work.

By the Numbers

Our Team

Beth Porter
Policy Advisor, Financial Inclusion

Katherine Miles
Consultant, Financial Inclusion

Eyob Tesfayi
Program Director, Financial Inclusion