Gender and Women's Empowerment: FAQs

There is a growing body of evidence supporting the positive impact of financial inclusion on development outcomes. Access to formal savings accounts can help women manage income and health risks, smooth consumption in the face of economic shocks, contribute to business investments and income, and lead to improved decision-making authority in the household. Payment products such as digital wage payments and government transfer programs can provide greater privacy for women and control over their income flows and financial transactions. Mobile money has shown positive impact on increased per capita consumption levels and economic wellbeing among women users. And new evidence suggests that repeat borrowing over time can lead to greater financial risk taking and expand financial freedom of choice for women in terms of occupation, business scale, consumption and risk management.

Financial inclusion happens when formal financial services are available to, as well as actively and effectively used by, poor and low-income people to meet their needs. It is increasingly recognized within the development community that financial services are not gender-neutral given the gender inequalities and discrimination women experience in society. As such, women’s access alone does not automatically translate into uptake or usage of financial services in a manner that results in positive development outcomes for women. Specific effort must be taken to understand women’s unique financial needs owing to their socially prescribed gender roles in society. Gender-aware interventions are needed that not only work around gender barriers but actually transform restrictive rules and norms that limit women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment.

Gendered economic norms are integral to the markets where women operate. Strongly held cultural beliefs about women’s appropriate economic roles influence their level of education and access to information about financial services. These norms and beliefs also limit women’s ability to transact with formal financial service providers, prescribe the types of assets they have to secure financial transactions, and restrict their ability to reinvest in their businesses.

Using a gender lens for financial inclusion programming targeting women will be critical in understanding:

  • Whether and to what degree women have access to formal finance;
  • How the infrastructure (i.e. bank branches, agent networks, mobile operators) supports women as financial actors;
  • How existing laws and standards support women’s access to finance; and
  • The existence of cultural or social norms that discriminate against women limiting their access and usage to finance.


Gendered economic norms create barriers for women at different levels of the market. They influence women’s demand for financial services by:

  • Limiting decision-making power over income and expenditures in the household;
  • Limiting access to information about financial services or other economic opportunities;
  • Reducing confidence and heightening risk aversion toward investment decisions; and
  • Limiting time available for paid work over domestic and community care work.

Biases about women as economic actors also influence the types of products that are supplied by financial service providers who generally perceive financial products as gender-blind or neutral. This lack of understanding of women’s particular constraints often results in inappropriate product design and marketing or distribution channels that do not meet women’s needs. Additionally, different treatment under the law or in customary practices work to reinforce gender biases that limit women’s access to finance by restricting women’s ability to own, manage and control property, enter into contracts, open accounts or freely access and navigate public spaces.

Interventions aimed at increasing women’s access to finance must take into account the gendered economic norms that shape women’s access to and usage of financial services for economic gains. This requires all market actors including researchers, regulators, financial service providers, donors and NGOs to use a gender lens in their programming.

This approach should be taken at all levels of the market system, from national financial inclusion processes to field level programming. National financial inclusion processes need to collect and analyze sex disaggregated data, work to reform discriminatory laws and regulatory frameworks, and counterbalance unfavorable cultural norms. Field level programming should analyze women’s specific needs, and design innovative products and delivery mechanisms that remove barriers to access for distinct market segments, as well as support their effective use through enterprise support, leadership and financial capabilities development.

Comprehensive evaluation metrics on how financial services are contributing to women’s empowerment will be important to assess levels of change and long-term impact on the gender-based barriers to women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment.