The challenge of financial inclusion rests in large part on the inclusion of women in economic life. Across the world, governments are taking steps to protect the rights of women to have a legal identity and to be protected against coercion and violence. But even these very basic human rights have been challenged legally. More serious and more difficult to change, the social and cultural aspects of women’s relationships with family and community leads to limits on women’s ability to lead fully productive economic lives.
While the legal guidelines to establish and protect women’s human rights are critically important for forward progress toward financial inclusion, traditional social systems of belief and cultural practices are very difficult to change, specifically those related to women’s rights on marriage, children, and reproductive health. When the Maputo Protocol was established by the African Union establishing and protecting women’s rights, the main challenges came from Catholic organizations over the reproductive rights clauses. From primarily Muslim countries, challenges were voiced to the clauses related to marriage, divorce, and reproductive rights.
The legal guidelines are of particular concern regarding rights of inheritance and property, and rights to citizenship of children and non-citizen husbands. In Africa, work in this field is growing, with court decisions in Botswana in 2012, the new Tunisian constitution in 2014 that established male and female equality, including economic life; in Gambia, in 2016, child and forced marriages were outlawed. Unfortunately, much of the legislative work related to women’s rights in Africa remains focused on the urgent issues of female genital mutilation, child marriage, forced marriage, and sexual violence, as well as reproductive rights. Identity and economic rights remain, understandably, of less urgency.
While these contentious issues are worked out in governments and communities across Africa, the basic, original question remains unanswered: When is a girl or a woman a person with a unique identity? Until independent identity is universal, legally established, and both demanded and used by women in Africa and around the world, others can exercise dominion over her personal and economic decision-making. The system of classifying women according to marital status is common; Coverture was challenged in Europe and America in the 18th century, and women classified as femme sole, single women, were able to engage in limited economic activity. As late as the twentieth century, femme sole in Congo were automatically classified as prostitutes, and taxed accordingly. There are still countries where women are considered minors under first a father’s and then a husband’s legal and economic control for life.
In order to participate in economic life, have a profession or trade, get an education, open a bank account and establish credit, buy and sell property, women must first have a legal identity as independent adults. This first, most basic challenge, still restricts women’s financial inclusion across the world.
Find out more about Fern Software solutions, click here to request for our brochures for free!