Diagnosing Social Norms in Women’s Financial Inclusion Programming

“It is a famous secret that women save money,” laughed Omar, when we asked for his views on how women should engage with money and financial services in Turkey. Omar is one of more than 80 men and women CGAP has interviewed so far in the city of Gaziantep, as part of our work to understand how social norms in Turkey pose barriers to women’s financial inclusion. As it turned out, he was an outlier among the men we encountered, many of whom expressed their belief that women should not own property or be involved in financial decisions.

A worker at a silk thread factory in Turkey. Photo: Bulent Suberk, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest
A worker at a silk thread factory in Turkey. Photo: Bulent Suberk, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest

“It is a woman’s right to share in the family assets,” he asserted. “Our house is not jointly titled, but my wife and I have a separate contract indicating that the house is jointly held.”

The global financial inclusion community has increasingly recognized that restrictive social norms, such as the idea that women should not own property, limit women’s financial inclusion and empowerment. However, we have not yet stepped beyond a general recognition of the problem and developed a deeper understanding of which norms are most restrictive and how to address them.

In this respect, we can look to other development sectors like health and education for inspiration. For example, education experts have long recognized that child marriage and beliefs around women’s roles in the household inhibit women from obtaining education beyond primary school. Evidence shows that interventions with key influencers and continual reinforcement have improved learning outcomes among girls. By contrast, ignoring social norms has hampered progress in closing the gender gap in financial inclusion.

CGAP’s research on social norms is driven by our desire to equip financial inclusion programmers with the understanding and approaches to incorporate social norms. For the past few months, we have been in Turkey interviewing women, their husbands and their mothers- and fathers-in-law to come to a deeper understanding of how local social norms pose barriers to women’s financial inclusion. According to Findex, there is a 29 percentage point gender gap in Turkey when it comes to having an account at a financial institution. Nearly half of the adult female population does not own an account. 

Based on our interviews so far, two things stand out as being especially relevant for funders looking to address social norms in financial inclusion in Turkey and elsewhere.

Allow diversity to inform approaches

Although any culture has its social norms, there will always be those who don’t agree with or follow them. Regarding women’s financial inclusion and privacy, we repeatedly heard comments in Turkey like “If a woman hides money from her husband, she must be planning something sinister” and “A woman cannot have financial privacy because she must rely on her husband’s advice to make the right decisions.”

Indeed, many female entrepreneurs that we met reported gladly using a joint account or their husband’s account for business purposes. Yet we also heard from men who said that if a woman has a separate business or job, the money she earns is hers and she has a right to privacy. This generally came with the caveat that she should contribute to the family and not be selfish.

How can we identify what has shaped outliers like these? Should the financial inclusion community target those who hold the majority view or the outliers who can perhaps make additional progress and serve as role models? These are foundational questions we need to be comfortable asking to determine how to focus our programming.

Understand motivations to effect impact

Efforts to shift social norms may not have the intended impact unless they account for how people’s beliefs and contextual constraints shape those norms.

For example, the finance gap for women-owned small and medium enterprise finance is well known. Increasing women’s land titling is often touted as a way to empower female entrepreneurs by increasing their access to much-needed capital. Yet making it easier for women to get titles may not necessarily have this impact in Turkey.

To begin with, people who support women’s titling cite various reasons and do not necessarily believe women should use titles to obtain financing. Among the people we interviewed in Turkey, many said that assets should be titled in the husband’s name so that his wife would not leave him. Some said that homes should be jointly titled so that, in the event of a man’s death, the wife has an asset to live on.

Furthermore, societal pressures and obligations limit entrepreneurship opportunities for women. Women are often expected to take care of the household rather than have demanding work outside the home. In speaking with the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey, we learned that a high proportion of women start their businesses by necessity, either due to divorce or widowhood.

In this context, boosting women’s ownership of land and homes to pledge as collateral would not have the intended impact on empowerment and entrepreneurship. Without a more comprehensive approach to titling reform that addresses the beliefs and constraints around women’s entrepreneurship and use of titles, the impact would be limited.

These are some of the early lessons from CGAP’s work on social norms. A follow-up blog post will explore how financial services providers can either reinforce or shift social norms and what this means for those working to advance women’s financial inclusion. CGAP will feature this work at FinEquity’s Spring Member Meeting in Istanbul and MFC’s 2019 Annual Conference. On June 11–13, FinEquity will also host an e-discussion on how social norms impact women’s financial inclusion and how norms can be shifted to promote inclusion.

Note: This post was updated on February 20, 2020, to correct Omar's name. 

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