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The Unheard Cry of a Female Mobile Money Agent in Zambia

Walking along the streets of Lusaka Zambia, you see mobile money kiosks on almost every corner of popular streets. The roads are filled with numerous kiosks that offer various mobile money services to people around the premises. The kiosks are usually manned by friendly young women who are always ready to offer money transfer, deposit and withdrawal services, to mention but a few options for clients.

Being a mobile money agent increasingly becoming a female affair!

As a mother of three girls, I cannot help but observe that being a mobile money agent has become a popular vocation for many young women between 18 and 25 years old.  Many of these women are at a point where they have stepped out of secondary school and are in the “gap period”. These young women are navigating financial hardships, life decisions and other complications that might hinder them from finding their new place in society.

Becoming a mobile money agent is one way a young woman can raise funds for college, but also to earn money while taking time to think about what to pursue as a life career. Many girls choose to get a job as a mobile money agent in a kiosk for any service provider. The money paid as a salary is not much, but it is better than nothing.

Here starts the plight of a female agent!

Other than a paltry salary, the conditions of operation in a kiosk are very limiting.  Most kiosks’ operational hours range from eight to ten hours per day. Some kiosks open around 08.00 hours and close as late as 19.00 hours, which means girls have to work for eleven hours! Standing in a kiosk is very limiting, especially as some are barely one meter tall. One is lucky to find a stool to occasionally rest on. Also, you have to condition yourself to “not feeling like answering the call of nature”, or can YOU??? If you do, especially if you had a little too spicy foods in this summer weather you will be in a mess and risk all the money you have on you. In Lusaka central business district, there are only two places with public toilets – City Library and town centre! Now imagine if your kiosk is at Findeco House and you feel like using a washroom!!! You are dead meat. Let us take the matter further, really out of our usual Zambian cultural context – MENSTRUATION! What if a girl is having her periods? What then? How will she conduct her affairs for 3 to 7 days? What on earth is going on during those times?

 A caution from Government

No wonder the Lusaka Province Minister Mr Bowman Lusambo was cautioning mobile money service provider heads some seven months ago as reported by Lusaka Times. The Minister reiterated the need for mobile money kiosk owners to ensure they provide for a clean and conducive environment for rolling out kiosks in their business plans.

A call to mobile money operators

Mobile money operators should consider the female agent who spends her whole day in a kiosk and has to answer all necessary sorts of calls of nature. As she serves as the bridge for both the client and the mobile money operator, she should be provided with life basics to enable her to do her work better.

Responding to calls of nature is not only a problem for women, but also for men!  So we believe it is important for women, but men will also benefit from public toilets and related facilities.

Bringing it back home……what does all this mean for financial inclusion?

Mobile money agents put banking within reach for a cross-section of people, thereby also serving low-income communities. With 46,747[1] active agents having processed USD 589.9M in transactions in 2018, this is no mean feat. In all this, female agents are considered to be a good investment for mobile money operators. Hence, they are a critical factor in the quest for financial inclusion and their welfare should be put into consideration if we are to maintain the promising rapid rise of financial inclusion in Zambia.

Mobile money operators and their kiosk owners should consider revisiting the kiosk model if the mobile money ecosystem is to be duly balanced. Unfortunately, diseases such as cholera also tend to be fueled by the lack of conveniences around this clutter of kiosks as human waste is offloaded in undesignated places.  Time to address this important gap!

[1] UNCDF State of the Industry 2018

 

Charity Chikumbi
Charity Luchembe Chikumbi currently serves as acting Director for DFS and Policy at Financial Sector Deepening Zambia (FSDZ). Previously, she worked for many years at the Central Bank of Zambia in the Payment systems Division before joining FSDZ in April 2016 as a Policy Advisor. She has worked in the Digital Financial Services space to influence regulactory formulation that fosters a healthy growth of DFS in Zambia. She believes that digitisation of payments is one way to solve financial exclusion. One of the deterrents to growing financial inclusion is lack of awareness. Financial Education ( FE) is therefore a necessity. Charity also sits on 2 National Financial Inclusion Inclusion Strategy Working Groups that deal with Delivery Channels and the other with Infrastructure .

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