Women and Financial Inclusion

Women and girls make up a little over half the world’s population, but their contribution to measured economic activity, growth, and well-being is far below its potential, resulting in significant socio-economic consequences. Globally, only half of women participate in the labor force, compared to three quarters of men. In developing countries, up to 95% of women’s employment is informal; in jobs that are unprotected by labor laws, or which do not benefit from social protection. Women and girls are also the face of poverty, the latest Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 by UN Women finds that women are more likely than men to live in the poorest households in 41 out of 75 countries.

Financial services are a core enabler for consumption smoothing, risk mitigation, self-employment, SME growth, asset accumulation, and wealth creation. Lack of access to financial services reduces women’s ability to climb out of poverty; increases their risk of falling into poverty; contributes to women’s marginalization to the informal sector; and reduces their ability to fully engage in measurable and productive economic activities.

Forty-two percent of women and girls worldwide – approximately 1.1 billion– remain outside the formal financial system, according to the Global Findex database. Despite recent progress in financial inclusion rates in general, the gender gap has not narrowed: While account penetration increased by 13 percentage points among men and women between 2011 and 2014, the gender gap remains a steady 7 percentage points. Among adults living in the poorest 40 percent of households in developing economies, the gender gap is 11 percentage points. The gap varies significant by region and is highest in South Asia.

While women represent a larger share of the self-employed in developing countries and thus are in greater need of access to formal financial services, they are less likely to secure bank credit according to research by the World Bank. According to Findex, women also are less likely to report having borrowed from family and friends in the past year. IFC research shows that because of poor credit history or lack of collateral, women are more likely to be denied formal credit than men and often pay higher interest rates.

Financial inclusion of women and girls can create gender equality by empowering them and giving them greater control over their financial lives. Savings accounts can provide women and girls with a safe and formal platform to save their earnings for future investments in business operations and build a credit history. Digital payments help women take control of their own finances and strengthen their control over household budgets. This, in turn, often results in higher spending on necessities such as health and education. CGAP prioritizes women’s financial inclusion throughout its work. More recently, CGAP is exploring how to further increase its engagement on the topic. CGAP’s existing work embeds research and experimentation that tries to enhance women’s access and usage of financial services. Some important links to our work that impacts women include:

Women and Digital Financial Services:

Women's Voice, Agency, and Empowerment

Reaching the Poorest Women: Graduation Program

Recommended Reading outside of CGAP

Topic Contact: Yasmin Bin-Humam


21 July 2017
Social norms can have a profound impact on financial inclusion for women because they can limit women’s ability to work outside the home, engage with male agents, or even own a phone. Knowing exactly how norms apply is critical for closing the gender financial inclusion gap.
Download PDF: 
English (4 pages)
17 August 2015
This study was conducted to identify and analyze the levels of empowerment among customers in Cote d'Ivoire of financial services and the obstacles to financial inclusion they may face.
Download PDF: 
English (16 pages) | French (30 pages)

From Our Blog

Spearfishing in Malaysia
03 August 2017
Changing gender norms doesn't mean empowering women at the expense of men. When women have a voice in financial decisions, it can benefit the entire household.
Tanzanian smallholder farmer Jaconda Chengula sits atop her maize harvest.
22 June 2017
National surveys in Mozambique and Tanzania show that women in agriculture do not diversify their incomes as much as men do. Equal access to financial services could help women to generate new sources of income.