woman selling food near her car on the street Photo by Tatiana Sharapova, 2016 CGAP Photo Contest

Women's Financial Inclusion: A Pathway to Women's Economic Empowerment

Despite growing global efforts, women’s financial inclusion has made little progress over the past decade. Women continue to face greater financial exclusion and vulnerability than men, with shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to reverse some of the gains made so far. Closing the gender access gap in account ownership, which has remained unchanged at six percentage points in developing economies since 2011, is necessary—but not enough. With low account usage and inactivity keeping dormancy rates persistently high, CGAP’s approach goes further. We are focused on the ways financial services can actually help poor people, especially women, to do three things: generate income, access essential services, and protect basic standards of living. We believe that it is through improving access, usage and outcomes of financial services that women can realize economic empowerment.

In our approach to gender equity in financial inclusion, we seek to make sense of the challenges and opportunities that pave the way to women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment. Our research brings a deeper analysis around the drivers of the gender gap in account ownership, focusing on the interplay of social norms that constrain women’s activities and women’s financial inclusion, which are not well understood or tackled by most financial inclusion programming. We also aim to explore women’s formal and informal income-generating opportunities that add value to women’s lives and livelihoods leveraging digital solutions. At the same time, we apply a gender lens across all our projects and drive stakeholder influence to advance women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment.

Addressing barriers to women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment

CGAP places a priority on the economic empowerment of women through financial inclusion. We are investigating what prevailing social norms constrain women’s uptake and usage of financial services, and how financial service providers and policymakers can work towards alleviating such constraints. We are also looking at when the inclusion gender gap in account ownership emerges to better understand how financial inclusion programs can help women in different life stages and we continue to explore how women can navigate financial services and digital solutions in the same way as men.


Among which segments of young women could investments in improved financial services make the most impact? We highlight findings from a recent CGAP segmentation exercise.

Teenage men and women in Kenya and South Africa adopt formal savings accounts at similar rates. But when they hit their 20s, men continue to adopt formal services while women begin gravitating toward informal services. Why?

CGAP has identified dozens of consumer risks facing digital financial services users around the world, and emerging evidence suggests women are more at risk than men. Here are some ways to mitigate these risks for women.

Advancing women’s economic empowerment by adding value to their livelihoods

Because meeting women’s financial needs require developing a nuanced understanding of their lives and livelihoods, CGAP is delving into women’s formal and informal income-generating opportunities. We seek to understand how digital platforms and informal online commerce, facilitated by social media, can help women—including those in rural and agricultural livelihoods—connect with new buyers and more active markets. Exploring the role financial services can play in supporting women’s participation and boosting their returns will help market systems facilitators and financial service providers advance women’s economic empowerment.


E-commerce conducted on social media has created economic opportunities for many women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. Now, this same type of e-commerce is helping some women adapt to the challenges of COVID-19.

CGAP's research points to two areas where innovations in financial services can help women with rural and agricultural livelihoods increase their incomes: returns to labor and access to markets.

Also, given the key role cash-in/cash-out agent networks play in extending digital financial services and ultimately expanding financial inclusion, we recognize that these networks can accelerate women's access to and usage of financial services. We are working with partners to test gender-intentional approaches to CICO network development. Bookmark this page to stay on top of our findings.

Leveraging influence and strategic partnerships to drive systemic change for women

A global think tank, partner and convener, CGAP aims to influence systemic change for women by bringing together stakeholders to pool knowledge, experience, and expertise and co-create solutions. As the convener of FinEquity, the global community of practice for women’s financial inclusion, we enable cross-industry learning, convening, and relationship-building for women’s financial inclusion and we leverage learning and impact through CGAP members. We are currently exploring how gender lens investing (GLI) can optimize the impact funders, donors and investors have by working with investees and other market actors to enhance the value proposition of financial services in driving women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment.


Get answers to common questions about how to measure the impact of financial inclusion initiatives on women's economic empowerment.

Gender lens investing is gaining momentum among a wide range of investors as an approach to women's empowerment. Here are three ways this approach could accelerate women's financial inclusion.

Gender transformative approaches are good for business. How can companies accelerate their adoption? Insights from recent CGAP and IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative events point to a number of answers.

FinEquity: A global community convened by CGAP


CGAP convenes the global community of practice FinEquity, which works to accelerate women's economic empowerment through financial inclusion by catalyzing knowledge generation, fostering best practices and encouraging sector collaboration. FinEquity provides a variety of channels and facilitated platforms for members to share experiences, identify key challenges, discuss new ideas, document emerging good practices, and solve common problems associated with increasing equitable access to and use of a broad range of financial services. Its learning agenda is organized around three main learning themes: Gender-Transformative Solutions, Digitally-Enabled Financial Inclusion, and Impact Pathways. FinEquity also created  FinEquityALC, a regional and Spanish-language platform.

Learn more | Subscribe to FinEquity’s newsletter | Join Dgroups | Visit the regional FinEquityALC platform