In Afghanistan, women’s empowerment is a particularly important mission for FINCA. While the country’s turbulent history has left 85 percent of the adult population financially excluded, women are disproportionately affected by this lack of access to financial services since cultural norms have left the majority of them without employment or education. Of the 7 percent of Afghan women that do have an account at a formal bank, most are still limited by gender barriers that make navigating male-staffed institutions challenging.
In response, FINCA Afghanistan has been offering women-friendly products and services across its branches in the country. They include agent networks to take services closer to where women live, flexible services, and less collateral. But one of the most impactful initiatives has been the establishment of women-only branches, driven by a recognition of cultural and religious sensitivities in the country, and the need to develop leadership opportunities for women in the banking sector.
FINCA Afghanistan opened its first women-only branch in the country’s capital, Kabul, in 2018. The Qala-e-Fatullah branch is staffed by an all-female team of financial professionals and serves exclusively women clients. To date, the branch boasts a 65 percent client retention rate and a significantly lower delinquency rate than at other branches.
The success of the first women-only branch motivated FINCA Afghanistan to recently open a second one. The new Nehr-e-Shahi branch is located in the northern region of the country, where there are presently only two other FINCA branches. It also exclusively staffs and serves women and offers a variety of Shariah-compliant financial services, from women’s group loans, individual loans, housing improvement loans, to SME loans for microfinance graduates. Opened in March 2021, the Nehr-e-Shahi branch already has over 1,500 active clients, an indication of its popularity and effectiveness at meeting the financial needs of women.
FINCA’s women-only branches provide a friendly environment where women are able to share experiences, exchange knowledge and do business freely. Most importantly, these women-only branches are a space where women have the power to create and participate in the economy and will pave the way for the next generation of Afghan women.