Photo credit: Women entrepreneurs in Latin America/iStock

Empowering women through financial inclusion: Moving beyond access


In conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019, AFI is publishing a series of blog posts throughout the week including contributions from our donors and private sector partners. Join us in embracing innovative ways to advance gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Financial inclusion can be a key enabler to women’s economic empowerment. But what does it take to realize this? Is the current focus on improving women’s access to financial products and services sufficient?

Research supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is generating evidence on types of factors that enhance the transformative potential of financial inclusion innovations, and leads to positive change in the lives of marginalized women.

With a focus on developing countries, IDRC-supported research makes the case for a more transformative approach to financial inclusion. The research reveals that social and cultural norms determine women’s control over their own resources as well as their ability to make full use of financial innovations and services. Not taking these insights and intra-household relations into account, reduces the effectiveness and impact of interventions, which can lead to unintended negative consequences. Shifting embedded norms is not an easy task. But design and implementation of financial products and services, and effective regulations can have a role to play.

Read also: Financial inclusion for women - a way forward

Financial literacy and building trust are also key. In Latin America for example, there have been important efforts to dispense conditional cash transfer payments through banks as an attempt to extend access to formal financial services to unbanked women. IDRC’s work with Proyecto Capital demonstrates that for these initiatives to have an impact on women’s lives, it is critical to go beyond access to foster usage. It requires building trust, financial capabilities and support for continued use. Financial services usage will only increase if services and products are appropriate to meet women’s needs and gender-based constraints.

Financial inclusion is not an end in itself — it is a means of improving livelihoods and fostering women’s economic empowerment. However, for financial inclusion to fulfill this role, we need to rethink our approaches; we need to go beyond access and shift the focus to how financial inclusion can be an instrument for transforming lives.

As a recent IDRC-supported study concluded: “Gender-transformative financial inclusion is about making financial systems ‘women-able’ rather than making women ‘bankable’.”

An active AFI partner, IDRC is instrumental in supporting AFI’s work on gender, digital finance, consumer protections and financial inclusion data. IDRC held an integral role in the launch of the AFI Financial Inclusion Initiative for Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC).



Martha Melesse

Team Leader at IDRC´s Employment and Growth Program


Carolina Robino

Senior Program Specialist at IDRC´s Employment and Growth Program