In conjunction with International Women’s Day 2021, AFI reached out to women leaders in its network to share their insight on women’s empowerment and the important role women play in financial inclusion. This interview features Dr. Margarita Hernández, Superintendenta of Superintendencia de la Economía Popular y Solidaria (SEPS) in Ecuador.
AFI: Why is women’s financial inclusion important to you?
Dr. Hernández: Financial inclusion is a priority for governments, financial and regulatory authorities, and development agencies worldwide for its ability to eliminate poverty, reduce the income gender gap and, importantly, align national ambitions with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Financial inclusion can play an important role in expanding women’s productivity as well as personal and family development, particularly where women are the heads of households.
Women in developing countries lag behind men by nine percent when it comes to having a financial account, with the figure in Latin America standing at two percent less.
In Ecuador, a national survey in 2018 found that 54 percent of men own a savings account compared to just 46 percent of women. These figures were roughly unchanged for credit access with 55 percent for men and 45 percent for women.
Within SEPS’ jurisdiction, the gender gap narrows for depositors with 49 percent for women versus 51 percent for men, as of December 2020. However, this trend is reverse for loan beneficiaries with 44 percent for women compared with 56 percent for men.
Countries continue to face cultural barriers, lower mobility due to a lack of time, social constraints and limited access to digital financial services. In response, government entities must join forces to solve the challenges of access and use of financial services through regulation and by adapting their products to fit specific markets, as well as by removing obstacles such as restrictive requirements and mandatory guarantees that discourage women’s access and use of financial services.
AFI: What are the greatest opportunities you face to develop and implement policies and regulations focused on the financial inclusion of women?
Dr. Hernández: One of the greatest opportunities available is to have information from regulated entities that demonstrates how regulation can be adjusted or strengthened to fit the needs of different vulnerable groups.
From my experiences as a woman, mother, wife and professional, I have personal insight into the different ways that women are treated and the obstacles that they must overcome to successfully perform their roles. This is balanced with having an in-depth knowledge of the popular and solidarity sector, including legislation, that has allowed me to contribute positively to the issuance of regulation.
Finally, guidance from multilateral organizations and the ability to replicate international best practices has made it possible to enrich Ecuador’s regulatory framework, benefiting not only women’s inclusion across the wider financial sector but also related areas in financial inclusion, such as inclusive green finance and digital financial services.
AFI: As one of the advocates of inclusive and gender-sensitive climate action policies, how is SEPS closing the gap between gender and the development and implementation of inclusive green finance policies?
Dr. Hernández: We are committed and aligned with SDG goals in working towards achieving gender equality. But the empowerment of women and girls must be nurtured without neglecting growth, sustainable consumption and production and inclusive industrialization. As such, measures to combat climate change and its effects are tied to these cooperative principles and form part of our commitment to the wider community.
To reach our goals, SEPS is working towards eliminating the barriers that prevent women from accessing financial products. Through technical collaboration with international entities, we are looking at the mainstreaming of gender in the process of supervision and control of organizations of the popular and solidarity economy, which will allows us to identify gender weaknesses in regulations as well as different supervision and control mechanisms.
Work has already been done on regulations to include green financial products for women and men entrepreneurs that contain production mechanisms in accordance with environmental and social risk analysis systems. In addition, SEPS is constantly seeking to integrate the popular and solidarity financial sector with the real sector.
AFI: What is your message to women at your institution and in our network, around the world, on International Women’s Day, especially during the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dr. Hernández: The health emergency has made it clear that one of the gravest consequences of isolation is the state of poverty in which many girls and women have been plunged and the violence to which many have being subjected. These facts have motivated me to raise their voices and act for change in a society that does not offer the same conditions of employment, remuneration and opportunities to both men and women.
Increasing productive capacities and opening doors to financing for women is both imperative and consistent with the quest for national development and growth. Studies have shown that greater gender equality has a positive impact on the growth of gross domestic product per capita, and the inclusion of women in paid work has a multiplier effect by improving the living conditions of families. By investing in the education and financial inclusion of women, we see greater development and progress among families.
While it is also important to give priority to women’s leadership, we must also to involve men in our fight for inequality. Changing cultural patterns that impede the development of women and removing obstacles so that they can reach their full economic potential are important steps towards empowering women as decisionmakers in society.
For all these reasons, I like to use this opportunity to invite the women and girls of the world to keep searching for opportunities to achieve personal, professional and family growth. There are many people working towards achieving equality. There are more and more women leaders in decision-making roles. And there are governments and organizations looking for a better future for them.
Better times for humanity will come where there is no discrimination, violence or inequality, especially for women, who have higher levels of vulnerability due to social conditions, race, ethnicity or type of employment. In this different world, the true empowerment of women will allow us to fully develop our capacities.
We are working towards this but need more women and men to join our cause, because the progress of women is the progress of all.
AFI’s Gender Inclusive Finance workstream is partially financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and others.