Financial services can help women assert their economic power and promote gender equity by acting as a core enabler for their self-employment, asset accumulation and greater decision-making. The provision, delivery and usage of appropriately designed products and services can help support women’s paid and unpaid labor by promoting labor saving devices, consumption smoothing, financial risk management and increased intra-household bargaining power.
Yet in spite of significant progress toward achieving global financial inclusion in recent years, roughly 1 billion women living in the poorest 40% of developing-country households remain outside the formal financial system, according to the Global Findex database. Furthermore, women lag significantly behind men in terms of access to formal credit and savings, with only 50% of women in the developing world owning an account, compared to 59% for men. This gap is even starker in developing regions such as the Middle East where women are half as likely to own an account as men and South Asia where there is an 18-percentage point gender gap in account ownership.
The reasons behind women’s financial exclusion vary by country and region and are rooted in gendered economic norms at all levels of the market system that affect women’s access to and uptake of meaningful financial services. Increasingly, financial service providers, donors and practitioners are trying to close this gender gap by identifying innovative approaches, product designs and delivery mechanisms that can address the underlying barriers to women’s financial inclusion. Furthermore, there is a renewed interest in reexamining how financial inclusion initiatives can be better leveraged to ensure women’s economic empowerment and the achievement of a broader range of sustainable development goals.