8 March 2021

Positive momentum for women’s financial inclusion

By Dr. Alfred Hannig, Executive Director, AFI


This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration is a very special one for AFI. It marks the five-year milestone of the endorsement of the Denarau Action Plan (DAP), a living document which guides members within the network in making progress on gender inclusive finance and institutional women leadership. More importantly, the Denarau Action Plan serves as an important commitment by AFI member institutions to ensure that gains made in reducing the financial inclusion gender gap over the last years are not lost due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Together with our members, we are taking part in 2021 IWD campaign on women leadership, especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nine women leaders in the AFI network are spearheading the campaign, a significant sign on how important gender inclusive finance is for our Alliance. All our Latin American women leaders responded, along with their colleagues from Africa, Europe and the Pacific. We thank them for working with us not only on this campaign but for years of interventions that have been building the women’s financial inclusion in their countries, regions and globally.

Gender inclusive finance is not just about regulation on women’s access to quality financial services and institutional gender diversity. It is also about overcoming legal, social and cultural barriers. In their efforts to bridge the financial inclusion gender gap, AFI members in 88 countries have been evolving in their approach and role in working on women’s financial inclusion and institutional gender diversity. Since the Launch of the DAP, AFI members have taken leadership on gender inclusive finance in a holistic way.   

With women facing regulatory, legal and socio-cultural barriers to financial inclusion, policy makers have increasingly broadened the scope of their involvement in breaking down these barriers. The initial focus of policy interventions was on regulatory aspects such as the introduction of gender-sensitive Know-Your-Customer (KYC) regulations.  But policymakers also started to address legal aspects of women’s inclusion, including ownership of assets that can serve as collateral for financial service providers.

While the socio-cultural barriers remain beyond the remit of the regulator, we are now seeing great interest in approaching women’s financial inclusion from this angle.  Understanding that access to quality financial services for all can only be reached with women equally taking part in the formal financial sector, AFI members are looking into how best to overcome such barriers. This has been a major shift of mind set for the policy makers across our vast network, as we are now taking part in holistic efforts to bring financial services to users and specifically women. This is especially true as we direct our work towards an inclusive and sustainable COVID-19 policy responses and recovery.

In the past year, we have witnessed global poverty increase for the first time in the last 20 years. It is estimated that between 119 to 124 million people entered poverty in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of these being women. Although vaccine programs  are just starting roll out, it will take time for these to reach the people in many emerging and developing market economies. As the world adapts to physical distancing, online business and contactless transactions, initiatives taken by AFI member institutions have highlighted the complexity of issues faced by women. It is now more important than ever that we take stock of the progress already made and build forward from those lessons.

The DAP has inspired numerous developments that enabled policy and regulatory environments to continue to accelerate women’s financial inclusion, as well as knowledge sharing, peer-learning and peer recognition. Policy areas expanded by the Denarau Action Plan include integration of gender considerations into national financial inclusion strategies, collection of sex-disaggregated data, use of digital financial services (DFS) and demand side frameworks to develop gender-focussed products, integration of gender savings groups into formal financial systems, and opening access to finance for women-led and women-owned micro-, small- and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Progress in gender inclusive finance in the past five years reflects the agility of the network, not only in tackling complex issues amid a time of crisis, but also in forming strategic partnerships for inclusive and sustainable solutions to poverty, especially among women. Collaboration with key stakeholders, including government agencies, development partners and civil society has led to the creation of enabling and supportive environments that accelerate women’s financial inclusion worldwide.

Promoting and recognizing women’s representation in institutional leadership positions is one of the most important components of AFI’s work in gender inclusive finance and one of the ten points highlighted in the DAP. AFI has led by example by amending its Articles of Association at last year’s Annual General Meeting to require at least three women on its nine-member board. With the next round of board nominations, women Heads and Deputy Heads of institutions will be eligible to become part of the Board.

The DAP has also paved the way for the recognition of AFI’s Gender Inclusive Ambassador Institutions and formalization of gender focal points in each AFI working group. Currently, 21 leaders of AFI’s seven working groups include 11 women in chair and co-chair positions.

Over the past five years, AFI has worked hard on having experienced and talented women leaders join the organization. Currently, women make up half of the AFI Management Unit including its Chief Operations Officer and member of the Executive Team. We also now have six heads of business units who are women.

AFI’s work in gender inclusive finance is part of the global effort to create an equitable future for women through financial inclusion which leads to gender equality. Our work supports a number of targets set out by the Sustainable Development Goals, namely Goal 1: No poverty, Goal 5: Gender equality, Goal 10: Reduced inequality and Goal 17: Partnership for the goals.

AFI’s member institutions have set wheels in motion to bridge the financial inclusion gender gap, regardless of the crisis brought about by the pandemic. We have work to do, and further exclusion is not an option.


The Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and other partners.

© Alliance for Financial Inclusion 2009-2021