WHILE women’s financial inclusion and gender considerations are emerging priorities for financial services supervisors, a gender perspective has been mostly absent from insurance regulation and supervision in developing and emerging economies.
Insurance needs of women are different from those of men. Women are more at risk of losing their income because of pregnancy, divorce or separation, as well as constraints imposed by society and laws.
“While the basics of good financial planning are the same for both women and men, women often face particular lifestyle and economic issues that require special consideration,” said one businesswoman Constance Mapako.
“We are more likely to put our careers on hold to raise children and shoulder the burdens of aging parents or spouses.
“As a result, regardless of relationship status, women have distinct needs.”
Increasing heart-related diseases, gestational diabetes, cancer, reproductive health have become quite common, putting a dent in any family’s financial health.
Normally, floater policies allow coverage for dependent children till the age of 21.
If the woman decides to work, she gets her own insurance coverage.
But if she stays at home till she finds a suitable match, her parents leave the health expenses to the future husband.
Some women said they encounter gender bias when attempting to access certain forms of insurance.
Insurance companies are not that keen on selling policies to house-wives and self-employed females.
Those employed in the informal economy noted that falling pregnant was a sure way of terminating a work contract.
“The absence of maternity cover and benefits exposes us to interruptions in business activity, loss of income and lifelong poverty,” said one vendor Chido Samkange.
Samkange said it is now common to find women opting to delay child bearing so as to secure employment.
According to the 2013 Labour Force Survey (LFS), females constituted 53 percent of those in informal employment and 29 percent of those in formal employment.
“The critical need for social security for women arises from the nature of their informal activities such as high risks of asset loss and exposure to accidents which may be life threatening or may lead to permanent disability (especially road accidents for cross-border traders),” said Juliet Hove, a cross-border trader.
Women’s Action Group director Edinah Masiyiwa urged the insurance industry to increase financial protection for women – including those from low-income levels, through products that target their specific needs.
“Insurance packages being offered by most insurance companies mainly target the elite and the working class and in the process most women have been left out,” said Masiyiwa.
“We encourage the insurance industry to develop a better awareness of gender differences in designing their products.”
To cover the gap, women have formed groups with the aim of assisting each other.
They contribute on a weekly basis to a ‘social protection’ fund which is set aside to help members when they fall ill or have not paid school fees or require medical fees.
For instance, in Plumtree, there is a women’s informal economy group that assists members living with HIV and AIDS to buy supplementary foods.
Members pool funds which they can lend to each other and pay back over time at agreed interest rates, usually between five and 10 percent.
There are burial societies, Rotating Savings and Credit Association (RoSCA) or ‘maround’ and Accumulating Savings & Credit Associations (ASCA) or ‘mukando’.
Some come in the form of grocery savings groups and even cooking utensils savings groups, while others have even gone further to other household furniture and travel parties.
A working paper by International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Impact Insurance Facility titled Microinsurance that works for women: Making Gender-Sensitive Microinsurance Programmes, published in 2009 highlighted that women face specific health risks related to pregnancy and childbearing, those arising from greater vulnerability to diseases such as HIV and AIDS and those related to longevity as women have a longer life expectancy.
“Women are more vulnerable than men to domestic violence and thus require more frequent medical support which may pose a challenge for comprehensive health insurance cover,” reads the paper.
“In countries with high incidence of gender based domestic violence, therefore, women have a high-risk profile for health cover and insurers may respond to this by making domestic violence an exclusion to life or health insurance policies.”
The constraints women face provide insights into how insurance providers can best offer gender-sensitive products and distribution mechanisms.
Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC) said, as the regulator, it had introduced the Micro insurance Framework which facilitates provision of insurance products to those in the informal sector, the majority of whom are women.
“The thrust of the framework is that insurance must be accessible and affordable to everyone including those in the informal sector,” said IPEC public relations officer Lloyd Gumbo.
IPEC said it does not approve packages that segregate people, be it on gender or race.
“Before our regulated entities introduce new insurance products, they are required to first seek approval from us and, as a regulator, we do not approve any product that segregates any section of the community, including women.
In 2013, Accenture estimated that women contribute US$98 billion to the insurance industry.
In the same study, they estimated, by 2030, that the market will grow six-to-nine times larger between US$550 billion and US$900 billion.
Thus women provide a potentially huge opportunity for insurers if they understand all prospects are not the same and everyone does not fit the same mould.