One of Morocco’s largest banks is ringing in International Women’s Day with an ambitious new program targeting a lack of financial independence among the country’s women.
Rabat — On Monday, Morocco’s Banque Centrale Populaire (BCP) announced the creation of “Gender Bond,” the country’s first microfinance project geared towards women.
The announcement comes on International Women’s Day, a worldwide celebration of womanhood and femininity and a focal point in the global movement for women’s rights.
BCP’s new project will spearhead a new subordinated bond, implemented through BCP-subsidiary Attawfiq Microfinance, dedicated to financing Morocco’s female entrepreneurs and project leaders.
The Casablanca-based bank’s new “Gender Bond” follows a similar structure to BCP’s innovative green bond program inaugurated in 2017. The project, which blends traditional investment and sustainability, secured nearly €150 million (MAD 1.6 billion) in foreign funding dedicated to renewable energy projects across the country.
BCP hopes the women-centered microfinance project, the first of its kind in Morocco, will mark a step in the right direction in improving financial independence and mobility for the country’s women.
In 2019, the United Nations’ Gender Equality Index ranked Morocco 121 of 189 countries based on factors including educational access for women, maternal mortality rates, and labor force participation.
The study quantifies that Moroccan men are over three times as likely to have a job as the country’s women, while the disparities are even greater for positions of leadership.
Only one in 10 of Morocco’s entrepreneurs are women, per recent figures from the Association of Women Entrepreneurs (AFEM). The findings indicate that the country’s greatest obstacles to female entrepreneurship include social pressures, familial expectations, and lack of access to startup capital for women.
The latter is especially damaging to women worldwide who strive to start their own businesses. A study from Harvard University quantified that only 13% of venture capital in the United States goes to startups with a woman on the founding team.
For startups entirely led by women, the figure falls to a measly 2.4%.
The same problem rings true for Morocco, according to non-profit leader Sana Afouiz. Afouiz founded the Womenpreneur Organization, an NGO that helps women across North Africa start, maintain, and grow their own businesses.
“When it comes to Morocco, a country where I grew up myself, the challenges are different. You have the economic difficulties — less economic investors who take you seriously,” she said. “There’s cultural issues — as a female entrepreneur you have certain limits. For example, being a female entrepreneur means working late, traveling around, et cetera.”
However, programs like “Gender Bond” can make all the difference by putting capital directly into the hands of female entrepreneurs.
“It’s not that women can’t do the things, because it’s forbidden, or things like that. No, they can’t do it because they don’t have the real support they need,” said Asmaa Benachir, Moroccan social entrepreneur and women’s rights advocate. “My advice [to women] will be to always empower themselves by learning — not stop learning.”
Banque Centrale Populaire is Morocco’s second-largest bank, reporting over $20 billion (MAD 180 billion) in revenue annually.
BCP also holds overseas offices in Spain, England, Germany, France, Gibraltar, the Netherlands, Canada, and Belgium.