FinDev Blog

What Would People Say?

Unpacking and overcoming the insidious effects of gender-based social norms on women’s financial health
A small manufacturer of silk thread wraps, Turkey. Photo by Bulent Suberk, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest.

Serdar Turan’s 6th grade daughter came home from school one day dejected, saying, “Dad, the boys won’t allow us to play with them on the soccer pitch.” So Serdar, Editor-in-Chief of Turkey’s Harvard Business Review, asked her, “What’s your plan?” “I’m going to crush them!” she responded, and with that, she took action. She postered the school, rallied her classmates and lobbied the school administrators to set up girls’ soccer teams and ensure dedicated time for them on the soccer pitch.

Serdar shared this story in a panel he moderated recently on gender inequalities in opportunities and expected roles – apparent already to his 6th grade daughter. The panel was part of FinEquity’s Member Meeting in Istanbul, which was co-hosted by MetLife Foundation and highlighted recent CGAP research supported by the Foundation and conducted in partnership with Market Share Associates, on how gender-based social norms affect women’s use of formal financial services.

Unpacking social norms that work against women’s financial health

MetLife Foundation, which supports innovative organizations across 40 markets, is committed to building financial health for all. Half of the “for all” are of course women, who lag behind their male counterparts globally in terms of account access by 7 percentage points. In Turkey, and the broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the gender gap is even larger, hovering around 30 percentage points. When it comes to measures of financial health, women are worse off in terms of savings for retirement and their representation – and pay - in the formal workforce. A goal of the research funded by MetLife Foundation was to bring together practitioners to unpack social norms that may be working directly against women and their financial health – such as norms around holding assets in their name, opening an independent savings account, or contributing income to the household.

Panelist Berna Tüzüner of TEB Bank described a social media research campaign they ran last year on International Women’s Day around the popular Turkish phrase “Elalem ne der? or “What would people say?” Thousands of people used the hashtag in one month to describe their experiences and beliefs regarding how the phrase – and the prevailing mindset that comes with it - is counterproductive to women entrepreneurs or those taking on a new career path. The saying also extends to expectations of household duties – the average woman in Turkey spends over four hours a day taking care of their home and family, whereas men only spend 51 minutes according to TurkStat. This unequal distribution of unpaid work also acts as a barrier to women taking up entrepreneurial ventures, and is likely hard to break away from for fear of social retribution.

Yeșim Seviğ of KAGIDER, the Women’s Entrepreneur Association of Turkey, shared that their focus groups show similar findings. “There are over 20 million working-age women not actively participating in the workforce. It’s not access to markets that is the main obstacle to women’s entrepreneurship, it’s social norms. Women only have one chance to get it right,” she said. The stakes are higher for women – if they don’t get it right on the first try, going at it again is not encouraged. Furthermore, a lack of role models poses a serious obstacle to women’s aspirations.

Though these challenges can seem overwhelming, we were heartened to hear insights into how the various actors - a bank, a fintech, and an NGO - are overcoming norms-based barriers.

First – By changing perceptions

KAGIDER has paired enterprising women with successful women entrepreneurs as mentors, and has seen a 68 percent growth in the mentees’ businesses, coupled with a growth in employees. These results have led Yeșim to believe that mentorship is the greatest tool for capacity-building.

On a national scale, TEB Bank took the findings from its social media research and launched a campaign to change perceptions. The main campaign film alone reached 23 million people, and features ambitious women speaking of business expansion plans, only to be met with cynicism from family, friends, and business partners. However the women persevered and turned to TEB Bank for support – an institution that believes in them. The film was meant to change perceptions regarding whether women can and should “listen to their hearts instead of what others say,” as the ending of the video highlights. The campaign received positive feedback from both women and men.

Second – By supporting new business models

Digital disruptors such as Iyzico, a company that provides digital payments solutions to corporate and personal sellers, are helping women to circumvent systemic constraints in market access. The number of women Iyzico merchants has increased more than 10 times within the last two years. Active in the sale of books, clothing, gifts and accessories, these women now comprise 20 percent of Iyzico’s business. While the monthly average growth rate of Iyzico merchants in the 2016-2018 period was 8.6 percent for businesses with male owners, for businesses with female owners it was 9.8 percent. In July 2018, average revenue generated by businesses with female owners was approximately double that of businesses with male owners. Though mostly concentrated in Ankara and Istanbul, women based in more remote cities are increasingly joining the platform.

Third – By promoting sourcing from women-owned enterprises

In Turkey, only one percent of public procurement goes to women-owned enterprises. KAGIDER is trying to change that by providing increased capacity-building and proposing creative solutions such as clustering of businesses for tenders.  

Now what?

So what is needed to move the needle on women’s economic empowerment in Turkey going forward? TEB bank calls for less “pink marketing” and more gender-smart solutions that address the obstacles women face. We need to move beyond the traditional approach of credit scoring and histories, and build partnerships to leverage data from other sources such as platforms like Iyzico. Regulatory reform to support these efforts will also be necessary.

Sirma Suren of Iyzico expressed her hope that local companies would lead the way with local insights and solutions rather than attempts at adaptations of solutions from other markets.

And on the policy front, civil society – including institutions such as KAGIDER - will continue to monitor, support, and hold the Turkish government accountable for policy recommendations issued by the W-20, an initiative Turkey launched during its own G-20 presidency.

As for Serdar’s daughter, the tables have now turned – boys are approaching girls on the pitch to see if they can join in their soccer games.

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