Empowering Women Domestic Workers: Qualitative Investigation on the Impact of Digital Financial Services (DFS) on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Nigeria

A domestic worker is being photographed at her residence in Ondo having a fireside chat with two field officers.

Nigeria boasts a booming domestic work sector. However, this work is largely invisible to regulators, in part due to the lack of a national survey on the sector’s size.¹ In 2016, the International Labour Organization estimated that Nigeria’s domestic work sector comprised 313,042 workers, primarily women.² Domestic workers include maids, cooks, caregivers, stewards, babysitters, and gardeners in private homes. Domestic work is characterized by long working hours, low wages, and physical and mental exploitation, leaving room for rights violations and abuse of varying proportions. However, digital solutions pose a promising mechanism to help protect and empower domestic workers.

With a research grant from the WEE-DiFine Initiative, we sought to understand the experience of Nigeria’s female domestic workers. We were particularly interested in exploring the transformative potential of digital financial services (DFS) on women’s economic empowerment (WEE). We used structured interview guides to conduct 40 in-depth interviews with women domestic workers and 27 key informant interviews with employers and recruitment agencies. In this blog post, we present salient findings from our study. Namely, we identified a variety of mechanisms through which DFS, facilitated by mobile phones, enhanced the well-being and empowerment of women domestic workers.

Financial Autonomy Through DFS

The narratives of the female domestic workers interviewed emphasized that mobile phones served as a gateway to accessing DFS and played a pivotal role in transforming the participants’ financial landscapes. The participants reported using their phones for many financial purposes, including receiving bank alerts, sending and receiving account numbers, transferring money to provide financial assistance to family members and acquaintances, and conducting business transactions at point-of-sale terminals.

The participants’ narratives illustrate the ways in which DFS, enabled by mobile phones, can save time and ensure financial security. For example, a 52-year-old participant highlighted the transformative role of a mobile phone in facilitating communication with her daughter and transferring her money without the need for physical travel. The participant stated thus:

“Yes, I have a mobile phone. It has improved my life via putting calls through to my daughter who lives at Ogbomosho instead of going there myself or if I needed to send her money I will transfer money to her. It has really helped me with my job. For example my boss outside will communicate to me through phone if she won’t be around and my boss in the university here will call me to inform me that she won’t be around and also instruct me to do my work well. Mobile phone has really helped me to save my money because I opened a bank account and I can keep my money intact.”

DFS, facilitated by a mobile phone, saved this respondent’s commuting time and stored her money safely in a bank account for use at her discretion. Moreover, for women like this respondent, digital transactions eliminate the need to physically travel with cash, which exposes them to theft and other financial inconveniences.

DFS also enables domestic workers to digitally access their wages, affording them privacy of financial information and personal agency over their resources. This control reduces the risk of manipulation and allows women to make independent financial decisions. For example, a 62-year-old participant emphasized the independence she gained from owning a transaction account:

“Yes, owning an account has made me independent, because if I’m with my husband and he asks if I have money and I says no, he won’t question me and also I don’t have to ask about his due to the reason that the money is in the account. Everyone has their money to their pockets. And it is not all the time I have to be dependent on my husband, if my husband doesn’t give me money, I can get what I need prior to when he comes back or gives me.”

Looking Ahead

Our interviews demonstrated that DFS can help empower female domestic workers in Nigeria through multiple pathways, including saving time, ensuring financial privacy and security, and enabling a woman to enact her own preferences. However, there is ample opportunity to deepen women’s engagement with DFS and further advance their empowerment. Specifically, in our sample DFS usage remains low for some women, and only a few women indicated that they have made investment decisions within their households. It is important to explore the drivers behind women’s lack of engagement in these domains. This matter is particularly pressing in the context of Nigeria’s domestic work industry, which is still fragmented and unregulated, leaving women vulnerable to widespread violation of their rights. In our forthcoming working paper, we plan to discuss these themes and identify priority areas for future research.


[1] Osiki, A., Sadiq, H., Osiki, P., & Oniga, V. (2023). COVID-19 pandemic, a war to win: assessing its impact on the domestic work sector in Nigeria. Labour and Industry, 33(2), 241-262. :

[2] International Labour Organisation (ILO). (2021). Making decent work a reality for domestic workers: Progress and prospects ten years after the adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189).


Okechukwu Amah, Lagos Business School, Pan Atlantic University

Ruqayyah Baderinwa, Lagos Business School, Pan Atlantic University

Muhammad A. Akanji, Lagos Business School, Pan Atlantic University

Victor Kolo, Institute for Work & Family Integration

Charles Aigbona, Institute for Work & Family Integration

Chinedu Okoro, Lagos Business School, Pan Atlantic University