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Mobile Money and the Limits of Financial Inclusion: a Gender Analysis of M-Pesa in Kenya

Natile, Serena (2016) Mobile Money and the Limits of Financial Inclusion: a Gender Analysis of M-Pesa in Kenya. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.60909) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:60909)

Language: English

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Financial inclusion, as an instrument for sustainable growth and stability while achieving social goals such as poverty reduction and gender equality, is now a core feature of the global development project. The development agenda presents financial inclusion to women as a precondition for securing their own, their families' and their communities' autonomy and future well-being. This research investigates this claim, the assumptions on which it is based, the institutions and narratives that underpin it, and the limits, as well as the potential, of financial inclusion regarding gender equality in the case of mobile money, and in particular of M-Pesa in Kenya. Mobile money refers to payment systems that provide access to formal financial services via mobile phone network infrastructure. M-Pesa (M for mobile, pesa Swahili for money), is a mobile money platform introduced in Kenya in 2007 via a public-private partnership between Vodafone and the UK Department for International Development. Now used by about 70 per cent of the Kenyan population, M-Pesa has captured global imagination as a successful financial inclusion project providing access to formal financial services for the 'financially excluded', including poor and low-income women. The main question this thesis asks is whether and to what extent M-Pesa can be considered a successful financial inclusion project in terms of substantive gender equality.

A framework of analysis drawing on feminist political economy and African and Kenyan feminism(s) is used to explore the context and institutionalisation of M-Pesa, and the regulatory arrangements through which it has facilitated access to formal finance for poor and low-income women. The analysis focuses on two main elements emerging from the empirical and theoretical investigation, social entrepreneurship and the law. It argues that although M-Pesa has increased the number of women accessing formal financial services, it has not advanced substantive gender equality at the lower end of the income distribution, mainly due to the lack of corresponding redistributive measures addressing existing socio-economic inequalities. Funds, partnerships and initiatives developed around mobile money are organised and distributed according to a logic of entrepreneurial opportunity rather than a politics of redistribution.

A logic of opportunity, unlike a politics of redistribution, not only tends to ignore the past and present political, socio-economic and legal dynamics that have contributed to creating and reproducing gender inequality but also risks furthering unequal gender relations by investing poor and low-income women with the responsibility for transforming opportunities into better livelihoods. The centrality of opportunity in M-Pesa, for instance the opportunity for self-employment or to access basic goods and services, is powered by narratives such as philanthrocapitalism that tend to favour providers and financial institutions over poor and low-income people. Mobile money products and services, in fact, reconceptualise access to basic resources as a for-profit enterprise rather than as a public good or entitlement, seeing such basic needs as market opportunities to be accessed via fee-based mobile financial services. In this way, the opportunities created by mobile money ensure a secure source of revenue for mobile money providers and other powerful institutions involved in the mobile money 'social' business.

These dynamics, which are also facilitated by the way in which M-Pesa is regulated, undermine mobile money's potential for contributing to a fundamental transformation towards substantive gender equality. This thesis sees gender inequality as deriving more from a lack of redistributive approaches and measures than from a lack of financial services, and argues for a politics of redistribution to guide financial inclusion projects, policies and regulation. Finance can be organised and regulated according to different interests: expanding access to financial services can further the interests of financial providers and other powerful institutions, reproducing and increasing inequalities; or it can contribute to a fundamental transformation oriented towards universal provisioning and substantive equality through the redistribution of power, resources and responsibilities.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Williams, Toni
Thesis advisor: Alessandrini, Donatella
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.60909
Additional information: The author of this thesis has requested that it be held under closed access. We are sorry but we will not be able to give you access or pass on any requests for access. 04/05/22
Uncontrolled keywords: Gender, financial inclusion, mobile money, law and development, Kenya
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 14 Mar 2017 16:00 UTC
Last Modified: 04 May 2022 08:51 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Natile, Serena.

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