Historically, women in Afghanistan have had limited access to financial products and services, but the expansion of mobile money services across the country is changing that. How does mobile money work? Individuals register their phone numbers with mobile money agents and activate an account, which allows them to quickly send and receive money on their phones. To withdraw or send cash, users visit an authorized agent who either converts money from the account to cash or deposits the cash into the specified user’s account.
Ever since it was piloted in 2009, mobile money has become increasingly popular across Afghanistan. Starting in 2012, the USAID-funded Financial Access for Investing in the Development of Afghanistan (FAIDA) project began awarding grants to Etisalat Telecommunication Company and the Afghan Wireless Communications Company to help them develop mobile money products. FAIDA has also worked with Afghan companies to develop and install hundreds of mobile money kiosks and to train hundreds of mobile money agents and service providers nationwide.
A central part of these initiatives has been to improve Afghan women’s access to financial services. In 2014, less than 4 percent of Afghan women had a bank account in a formal institution. They often lacked the identification required to open an account, were discouraged or barred from paid work, faced cultural barriers for interacting with male bank staff, and had limited access to transportation, which prevented them from traveling to a bank. Given these obstacles, in January 2016, FAIDA launched a yearlong national campaign to encourage mobile money use, with an emphasis on women.