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Financial Inclusion for Rural Women: Egypt

Egypt's Tahweesha initiative enhances rural women's financial inclusion via formal savings groups (2021–ongoing)

April 23, 2024
Author: Rabab Hteit

Tahweesha, meaning “savings” in Arabic, was established in 2021 to boost financial inclusion among rural Egyptian women by transforming traditional women’s savings circles into formal entities. Drawing inspiration from the “Gameya” tradition, in which women contribute small cash amounts regularly to a communal pot and take turns claiming the total sum, Tahweesha updates this practice. Now, these group savings (once physically held as cash) are deposited into group bank accounts, which offers security for deposits—reducing the risk of holding the cash physically, and allows them to accrue interest earnings and have access to microloans. This innovative approach has economically empowered women, particularly those without property or stable income, as the group structure reduces the need for collateral to secure the loan.

In Egypt, legislation aims to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women, yet they still experience widespread economic exclusion. For example, in 2021, only 16 percent of women formally participated in the labor force compared to 71 percent of men,1 female unemployment was at 16.1 percent versus 5.6 percent for men,2 and a significant gender gap in financial inclusion3 persisted (73 percent for women against 62 percent for men).4

Rural women face even greater challenges due to both geographic and cultural factors. The scarcity of banks and ATMs, combined with the traditional view of women’s finances being managed by male relatives, exacerbates their financial exclusion. Prior to 2020, a common financial practice among rural women was participating in “Gameya” saving groups. In these groups, women collectively saved cash, where each person would take turns using for major expenses like home improvements, education, or healthcare. However, the funds were often insufficient for initiating small businesses.

Tahweesha, a financial and digital initiative launched in 2021 by the National Council for Women (NCW) and the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), aims to expand financial inclusion for rural Egyptian women. The project’s ambitious goal was to engage 1.2 million women in sixty thousand saving groups over three years.5

Women’s saving groups set up joint bank accounts for 15 to 25 members. Each woman receives an e-payment card (“Meeza”) for contributions. The accounts are overseen by three elected group members who manage all the transactions. Typically after a year, the saved funds and accumulated interest are distributed among the members. Banks incentivize regular deposits and savings by offering benefits like lower microloan rates or higher savings interest rates.6 To support Tahweesha’s impact, the policy includes financial and digital literacy training for rural women. Facilitators, who have direct contact with rural communities, also provide entrepreneurial and business training and help facilitate transactions, compensating for the limited access to ATMs and banks.7


Tahweesha is implemented through collaboration between the NCW, the CBE, United Nations Women Egypt, the European Union, and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.8

Before its inception, the CBE engaged with traditional saving groups through a series of field trips and interviews to gauge women’s views and needs concerning formal banking services.9 To boost digital financial service adoption among a typically hesitant demographic, a strategic media campaign was launched. Innovative marketing, like the introduction of the mascots “Fasila” and “Rashida”10 and events such as the “Rowing the Nile Challenge,” were leveraged to resonate with and reach the target audience.11  

In 2022, Tahweesha transitioned to a digital platform, launching a mobile application that simplified group account creation via national identification scans.12 Designed for wide accessibility, the app was compatible with basic mobile phones, aiming to reach rural women effectively.


As many national and international organizations are involved in the Tahweesha program, the author was unable to identify costs associated with it. 


By the end of 2022, 5,408 women’s savings groups had joined the formal banking system through Tahweesha, engaging 118,704 women across thirteen governorates. Additionally, 4,089 individuals were trained to provide financial literacy to rural women, with 71,588 women attending financial literacy sessions, and 46,868 women participating in social empowerment training. Digital literacy training by the Egyptian Ministry of Communication reached 2,369 women. The media campaign introduced Tahweesha to over 800,000 women in 452 villages.13

Although the impact assessments of the policy are limited, the CBE’s measure of financial inclusion, encompassing bank and Egypt Post accounts, mobile wallets, and prepaid cards, showed that female financial inclusion rose from 50 percent to 58 percent between 2021 and 2022,14 an increase from 16 million to 18.3 million women.15 Tahweesha, alongside other policies, likely influenced this uptick.

As a policy aimed at reducing inequality, Tahweesha has been pivotal in breaking down barriers to financial inclusion for rural women, shifting cultural norms around male financial guardianship, and encouraging rural women to establish their own bank accounts, thereby reinforcing and modernizing the traditional “Gameya” system integral to rural Egyptian culture.

“Egyptian Money,” ©Adobe Stock/Sherif