> Posted by Center Staff

Happy International Women’s Day! We hope you were able to partake in the worldwide celebration yesterday. If you missed out on the action, not to fear. Plenty of activities are still underway. And of course, acknowledging the achievements of women and advancing the movement for gender equality are practices best executed every day.

To spotlight the importance of financial inclusion for women, here’s a snapshot of recent research in this area. To follow are ways that you can join groups, including the United Nations and Grameen Foundation in getting involved.

In honor of International Women’s Day, last week Gallup shared global statistics on how women view their lives – graded on a 10-point scale from suffering to struggling to thriving. About a quarter of all women questioned view themselves as thriving, while the rest chose either struggling or suffering. The two areas cited most often as important for improving their lives were jobs and personal safety. While the latter is a shocking finding, this post starts with jobs, though ultimately we will see connections to personal safety as well. Global estimates pin men as almost twice as likely as women to be in full-time formal employment. In Mexico, for example, less than 50 percent of women are part of the labor force, compared to 85 percent of men.

New statistics from the NGO Action Aid indicate that gender inequality in labor markets costs developing countries about US$ 9 trillion each year, including both the pay gap and the employment gap. For a sense of scale, US$ 9 trillion is more than the combined GDPs of Britain, France, and Germany.

This said, gender equality in the economy is gaining momentum. Research from the Boston Consulting Group, which identifies women as the world’s largest and fastest growing market, forecasted that between 2013 and 2018 US$ 6 trillion in additional earned income among women would be added to the global economy.

According to the Global Findex, women are 20 percent less likely to be formally banked than men, and 17 percent less likely to have taken out a loan from a formal institution. Women make up the majority of the 2.5 billion unbanked individuals around the world. (Keep your eyes open next month as the Global Findex releases updated data.) A massive missed opportunity for all, women invest 90 percent of their incomes in their families, compared to 30 to 40 percent in the case of men. Additionally, recent research from Innovations for Poverty Action showed that in the Philippines when women gained access to savings accounts they in turn gained more household decision-making power.

On digital financial inclusion, last week GSMA released new figures on mobile phone ownership and use among women. It was found that 1.7 billion women (59 percent globally) don’t own a mobile phone, and that on average women on are 14 percent less likely to own a phone than men. These figures vary significantly by region – in South Asia, for instance, women are 38 percent less likely to own a mobile phone. Barriers identified from the customer perspective are cost; network quality and coverage; security and harassment via mobile; operator or agent trust; and literacy and confidence issues. GSMA indicates that social norms and disparities in education and income also affect gender parity in phone ownership and use. From the thousands of women interviewed as part of GSMA’s research, respondents overwhelmingly reported that they believed mobile phones would save them time, help them stay in touch with their networks, and make them feel safer. Parity in phone ownership represents a US$ 170 billion market opportunity for the mobile industry by 2020.

Savings-led microfinance interventions can help reduce sexual risk, new research released earlier this year finds. A recent study based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia tested whether HIV prevention programs would reduce sexual risk among sex workers when combined with savings-led microfinance. The randomized control trial (RCT) found that those in savings-based microfinance reduced the number of paying sexual partners by 22 percent more than the other group.

In a recent South African study, the combination of microfinance and gender training reduced participants’ incidences of intimate partner violence (a driver of HIV) by 55 percent. Participation in the program also led to reduced household levels of poverty and increased reported condom use. The study is currently being replicated as an RCT in Tanzania to ascertain the respective impacts of the training and the financial services, as well how results will change if male partners are included in trainings.

There are lots of ways to get involved and help further financial inclusion for women. Start on the International Women’s Day website which lists events, a newsfeed, resources, and more.

The United Nations (UN), commemorating the 20 year anniversary of the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, is acknowledging the progress in the past two decades and calling attention to the serious gaps that remain. You can get involved in #Beijing20 as outlined on its campaign website, using social media toolkits, quizzes, essay competitions, and film festivals.

Targeting governments, yesterday the UN launched “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”, which asks governments to make national commitments to address the barriers that hold women and girls back from realizing their potential.

Within the microfinance community, Grameen Foundation is hosting the $2.50 Challenge, where participants experience what it’s like to live like one of the women who make up 70 percent of the world’s poor. Women’s World Banking organized the Making It Happen for Women campaign, which enables people around the world to share how they’re working to advance women’s empowerment.

Image credit: World Bank

Have you read?

Savings Groups, Mobile Phones, and a New Solution for Rural Women

Why the Gender Dummy Doesn’t Speak: Explaining the Gender Gap in Financial Inclusion

More Women on Boards: How Do We Get There?