I recently spoke to Agnes, a colleague working for our partner in Uganda about how financial inclusion is increasing gender equality in the Nakivale refugee settlement. This is our conversation...
Agnes, please tell us a bit about how you ended up working with Opportunity International.
“I am a Senior Relationship Officer in charge of Refugee Financial Inclusion at Opportunity Bank Uganda Limited. I manage the bank’s business within the refugee settlement, local government and other NGO’s. I lead a field team that delivers financial literacy in the settlement. We help refugee clients open up bank accounts and process their applications for loans.
I have passion and desire to serve and uplift the underserved, especially women and youth. I’ve worked with many different groups of women in rural and urban areas through financial literacy trainings. This is how I ended up in this job - my love to financially include the underserved. When asked - I took up the challenge."
Opportunity International’s work with refugees in Uganda began in May 2019. When Agnes accepted the job she had no idea what life would be like. She left her city job, family and friends for a new opportunity six hours away from home.
Image: Helen Mason captures women walking in the Nakivale refugee camp, Uganda.
What are you hoping to achieve through the Refugee financial inclusion project?
"My hope is to see more refugees become self-reliant and resilient. To work their own way out of poverty through access to financial services.
So many women became refugees after losing their partners leaving them as widows with many responsibilities. Through financial literacy we strive to increase their self-esteem and confidence to gain control over financial matters to sustain their families."
Has anything surprised you in your move to Nakivale?
"I imagined I was moving to a completely detached place with miserable people, no business, no buildings, however, this was totally different. I found thriving businesses, and optimistic people who are purposing to change their lives economically and socially.
People have lost their loved ones, their riches. I imagined that they might be hostile. How will I handle them? But when I got here, I realised they are very peaceful people."
There’s a cultural assumption that men provide for the family. But both men and women turn up to the financial training that Agnes and her team teach. Agnes says that the women are more committed to the training. Why does Agnes think this is?
"A lot of the women who attend training are widows. They have lost stability. They are seeking a way of improving their lives, but also seeking wisdom when a grounding presence in their lives has been taken away from them.
The women we work with are clever, opportunistic, making the most of what is around them. They come to the trainings because they are looking for resources for their children."
Our research shows that when women have more financial understanding their lives improve. It’s not just about having money, it’s about confidence and self-respect to make decisions and influence their families and communities. Agnes sees this in action every day and her outlook on gender equality is enlightening:
"In many societies women face discrimination and are regarded as disproportionately vulnerable. This has made many women lose self-determination, dignity and freedom. Financial inclusion provides women the tools for accumulating assets, generating income, managing financial risks, and fully participating in the economy."
A group of women traders in Nakivale.
What changes in a woman’s life when she can access financial services and earn money?
"She feels empowered and this greatly affects decision making at household level, employment level and as well personal level. Women are active and agile in investing their money in ventures that are income generating and this leads to improved social and economic development."
Why do you think it is important to have women in positions of leadership?
"Women advocate for the underprivileged women in their communities, which reduces the financial inclusion gap, unemployment, and enhances economic and social opportunities. Women in Leadership positions are role models to the society that look up to them. The contribution women have brought to society has been of great importance and value."
Agnes is a role model herself to the clients she works with. The partners and staff at other NGO’s working in the camp recognise her as a woman who has moved her life and career to take a risk to help others.
“People who see me going to Nakivale ask, but you’re a woman, how are you doing that?’
Agnes started the work of Opportunity International in the Nakievale settlement from a temporary tent in the refugee settlement. Without a physical building she’s still running a bank branch and serving hundreds of people.
So why does she do it?
"I believe in the potential of the people we serve. Especially the women. Women often reinvest back into their families and communities. They prioritise nutritious food, good education and healthcare. Women also advocate for others in their communities – enabling more people to have a voice and thrive. It’s a privilege to be part of their journey."
Agnes at work in the temporary bank branch structure at Nakivale refugee settlement.