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Bridging the gap: Lessons to promote financial inclusion for women

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Despite overall progress in financial inclusion, data suggests the gender gap persists.

In 2015, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) commissioned a research study to identify successful policy measures to support women’s financial inclusion. Conducted by AFI in partnership with Women’s World Banking, we spoke to a number of policymakers, regulators and thought leaders, many of whom are members of the AFI network. Twelve national financial inclusion strategies were reviewed. While policy strategies are unique to each country based on specific needs and realities, we found common lessons for promising policy measures to accelerate women’s financial inclusion.

Greater focus on the value proposition of women’s financial inclusion, with explicit policy objectives and quantitative targets, can lead to transparent and inclusive policies for women. While more attention has been given to the value proposition of women’s financial inclusion, this has not always been translated into defined policy objectives.

Another critical measure is collecting gender-disaggregated data and conducting policy-related research. This allows for a better understanding of the women segment and leads to a more informed policy development. Gender-disaggregated portfolio performance data can facilitate the setting of regulatory and business strategies to better serve the segment. It provides a more accurate picture of women’s credit worthiness and identifies women’s specific needs for financial services.

Innovation and technology can be the levers to accelerate women’s financial inclusion. However, current constraints in the legal and regulatory environment have affected women disproportionately. Reforms to legal and regulatory frameworks can create space for innovation that support greater financial inclusion for women. This includes addressing the issues of an ID system to facilitate KYC requirements, lack of data to inform policymaking and discriminatory laws relating to women’s access to financial services. The increasing focus on digital financial services in most national strategies have led to reforms of legal and regulatory frameworks that enable better access to financial services for women.

Financial infrastructure is a critically important component to support the implementation of sound policy. Current financial infrastructure does not provide for adequate access to an effective retail payments infrastructure including mobile phones. Other constraints include lack of collateral registries and credit bureaus.

Another fundamental element is strong financial consumer protection regulation to address the concerns and issues of women clients. As financial systems and markets evolved, new and sophisticated financial products and services are emerging. As women tend to be more vulnerable to abuse and aggressive business practices, adequate redress mechanisms and consumer protection must be in place to instil confidence in the institution and financial system.

Of equal importance are the financial education and financial literacy programs for women. This is a critical investment in women’s financial inclusion as it can empower women to make informed decisions regarding financial products and services.

Finally, strengthening women’s legal rights and addressing broad societal issues are key to accelerating women’s inclusion in overall economic development. Although this goes beyond the financial sector sphere, tackling legislation and regulations that address social norms will have important repercussions to ensure sustainable women’s financial inclusion.

 

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