Over the last decade, great strides have been made toward achieving financial inclusion on a global scale, providing underserved populations with better options to manage their finances in safe and convenient ways. One demographic that has seen exponential growth as a result of this trend is women.
Advancements in the financial sector have led to women representing 40 percent of the global workforce and more than half of the world’s university students. Women also produce half of the world’s food and control an estimated $20 trillion in consumer spending. Once thought to be unfit as financial managers, banks are now recognizing how women’s roles have shifted and that providing them with equitable access to financial services benefits society at large.
Globally, women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of housework and caring for family members. These responsibilities require women to be financially savvy, as they must budget for day-to-day household needs while reserving funds for unforeseen expenses. It makes sense then, that when women control more of their household incomes, the younger generation benefits as a result of more spending on food and education.
As mobile banking becomes more accessible, technology plays a pivotal role in empowering women financially and has proven to be one of the most effective ways for remote populations to responsibly manage their incomes.
When India first began making progress toward financial inclusion, their methods, which included providing food and education assistance as well as pension plans, fell short for women who lacked the necessary bank account to access those benefits. However, when mobile banking was introduced and women were given a voice to express their financial concerns, society saw a shift that led to a greater provision of public goods, such as water and sanitation. This is just one example that proves how empowering women as economic, political and social actors can change policy and make institutions more representative of a range of voices.
Financial inclusion has benefits that trickle down to nearly every aspect of society. The economy benefits when women have the ability to support local businesses and contribute as household earners, thereby increasing workforce productivity. Studies suggest that if women farmers had the same access to resources such as land and fertilizers, agricultural output in developing countries could increase by as much as 4 percent. Not only is quality of life improved, but financial inclusion also has the potential to increase life expectancy for women and children. With improved management of and access to savings, women are better equipped to handle unexpected illnesses or unemployment, which reduces the risk of starvation or death.
Financial inclusion is one necessary step toward closing the gender gap and providing women with the tools they need to achieve bargaining power in society. With benefits that extend to the economy, education, health care and politics, investing in financial technology is an obvious choice for countries that seek to provide their citizens with a bright and sustainable future.