This article is part of a five-part series exploring the role of mobile financial services in developing countries and is based on work being done by the GSMA mWomen Programme, Visa Inc. and Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) in five key countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. The research will provide a deeper dive into how best to reach underserved women and what services and products will directly meet their needs – offering important lessons for mobile operators, financial institutions, governments, and other partners.
First impressions of barriers to women’s money management in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is not without its challenges: there are high levels of crime and a lack of security, especially around the capital Port Moresby. But it is also inspiring: it is a vibrant, energetic place, and the people, especially the women, display high levels of tenacity, strength and ingenuity.
In our early conversations, three key characteristics to women’s financial management emerged: the distinct roles between men and women for managing money, the communality of life in both rural and urban areas, and the general lack of control women have over their own finances.
Money-related gender roles are clearly defined; women play a critical function. If a husband is working, his role is to bring home the salary and give the women in the household an allowance to contribute to household expenses. However, it is the woman’s role to manage all household expenditures and make up any shortfalls in this allowance in whatever way they can. And the shortfalls are real and regular: the cost of living is high, even by developed world standards. Therefore, many women are motivated to establish their own micro-enterprises in the informal sector, such as setting up stalls selling home-made produce. These women are skilled at planning and budgeting, as well as energetic in their sales and marketing.
The communality of life in the villages and urban centres is characterised by the “Wontak” system. Wontak is loosely defined as everyone in your circle, the size of which depends on your physical location. If you are in your own village, this can be restricted to your family or those that speak the same language, or it can mean the whole village. In an urban area, it may be those that speak your language. When you are in need, you can reach out to anyone in your Wontak and they will help you, and the same is expected in return.
Therefore, money and goods float fluidly within the Wontak and whenever a payment or remittance is made, it is public. Many people see the money changing hands and some of the women I spoke with resent the pressure to share whenever money appears. Several women felt tired of providing for “everybody else” and just wanted to concentrate on their nuclear family. Others rebel and hide their cash. For example, one woman reported stashing money secretly in a hidden suitcase in order to save to purchase her own house. It’s not a surprise then to see that, amongst the women I met, there is great interest in raising the level of privacy regarding financial transactions.
While these are merely first impressions, these initial observations of the realities women face to manage their money suggest opportunities for mobile financial services, including mobile money and private savings products. The final report will address how mobile financial services can play a part in easing some of these burdens.
Niketa Kulkarni, Associate, Bankable Frontier Associates, conducted focus group interviews in Papua New Guinea. A video of Ms. Kulkarni discussing her experiences is also available.