Much has been done globally to increase financial inclusion for women. It is well understood that increasing women’s financial inclusion has a number of benefits for family and community. Nevertheless, 1.3 billion women worldwide lack access to financial services. The challenges that remain are complex, and effecting change is going to require work across domains.
CGAP promotes policy, regulatory, and social change that can promote financial inclusion and poverty reduction. An example of the multi-systems challenges remaining to promote women’s financial inclusion is the regulatory environment in much of the developing world. In many countries, women have the legal rights of minors. In order to go to school, open a business, open a bank account, they need to have permission from a male family member. Many countries have laws of inheritance and succession that prohibit women from owning property. Without property, access to credit is significantly limited.
In Kenya, where mobile money is tied to phone use, many women don’t own phones. Many women are also illiterate and can’t read the phone menus, which may be in a different language. Of the population of adults worldwide who cannot read, two thirds – or 493 million – are women. While development work is encouraging the education of girls who have been traditionally excluded, adolescent and adult women who missed their chance to learn to read have many productive years left in which to support their families and change the world. For a woman who cannot read or write, approaching a brick and mortar financial institution, and trying to provide both the identity requirements to open an account, and male family permission to do so, are too many barriers. Literacy education for adult women is one part of a systems approach for financial inclusion for women.
One social tradition that remains a serious burden for girls and women is the dowry system that still exists in many cultures around the world. In some countries, the practice of bride-burning, or setting women on fire for not providing an adequate dowry, keeps the women’s burn wards at local hospitals full. Not every culture is burning women to the extent India is, but the dowry system puts many women in significant debt at the start of their adulthood. The burden of debt, combined with restricted inheritance and property owning rights, means many women are never able to access enough credit to start a business or improve their farms.
The systems and social traditions that restrict access to women’s financial inclusion also restrict their human potential across domains. The work to change social traditions and regulatory and legal constraints is time consuming and challenging, but, along with educating girls and women, is the structural change that is needed to support change throughout the system.
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