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A new paper from MasterCard corroborates recent findings on persistent gaps in the financial inclusion of women, indicating that in India 58 percent of women report difficulty accessing credit, savings, or jobs because of their gender. The paper is part of MasterCard’s Connectors Project, which examines the migration of excluded populations into progressive economic inclusion. The recently-released Global Findex data found that between 2011 and 2014, the gender gap in access to financial services remained steady at 9 percent in developing countries.

The reported difficulty faced by women in India was higher than that of the paper’s other surveyed countries: Indonesia, Egypt, and Mexico. Across all four countries, 33 percent of women expressed these challenges. Across all genders, in India, 67 percent of respondents reported worrying about money they owe to others and 82 percent worry about their future prospects. Along with women, ethnic and religious minorities in India reported additional challenges in economic participation. Fifty-eight percent said it was difficult to get jobs or credit because of their ethnicity or religion – compared with 28 percent across the surveyed countries. Whether or not these women and ethnic/religious minorities do in fact face discriminatory treatment, awareness of their perception is critical. In accessing banking services for the first time, or pursuing economic opportunities, trust and confidence can be a make-or-break.

The new Global Findex data indicated that between 2011 and 2014, 700 million people gained access to accounts, but the discrepancy between access for men and women didn’t improve. However, there were some bright spots. On the whole, in 2011 more than half of the world’s women didn’t have financial access, whereas by 2014 58 percent of women globally had an account in a formal financial institution. In high-income OECD economies, the gender gap is nonexistent. In the Philippines, women are more likely to have a formal account than men.

Leora Klapper, the Findex’s chief architect, points to mobile money, digitizing transfers and payments, and formalizing savings as avenues to improve gender parity. In Kenya, for example, women are less likely to have a traditional account at a formal financial institution but more likely than men to have a mobile money account. Eighty million women worldwide receive government social benefits or wages in cash, creating a huge opportunity for digitizing transfers as an on-ramp to financial inclusion. Similarly, 210 million women in developing countries are paid for their agricultural work in cash, and 175 million women in developing countries don’t save through formal means but through a savings club or person outside the family.

Tandem to increased outreach, to improve perceptions of financial services, treatment of clients needs to improve. Not exclusive to women and ethnic/religious minorities, a recent “mystery shopping” study by NSE and IFMR in Chennai, India found that attempts to open BSBDAs (Basic Savings Bank Deposit Accounts) and low-cost accounts were almost always met with staff refusing to offer the BSBDA, and vehement discouragement from opening other lower-cost accounts. The research team cautions against driving G2P transfers until banks demonstrate willingness and ability to meet the necessary standards.

Have you read?

Every Day, Working Towards Financial Inclusion for Women

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

Customer Service at BRAC: Empowering Women Through Empowered Women