SPECIAL REPORT: Financial inclusion for women requires the involvement of all levels of the microfinance institution


During a plenary session on women’s financial inclusion at European Microfinance Week 2022, speakers highlighted the need to collect and use good data. Not only do financial services providers need to disaggregate the data by gender, but they also need to further segment it as not all women have the same needs. Mary Ellen Iskenderian of Women’s World Banking cited the example of regulators in Chile recognizing that their data indicated a need for home loans, which the institution then successfully encouraged FSPs to develop.

Carine Roenen from the Fonkoze Foundation spoke about the importance of comprehensive data – not only numbers, but also qualitative data. Fonkoze was successful in encouraging line workers to report important customer experiences to supervisors. For example, when thieves started targeting customers In the vicinity of branches, Fonkoze shifted more services to agents. Katharine Pulvermacher of the Microinsurance Network quoted an insurer in Ecuador noting that it had so many clients escaping domestic violence that it opened an office manned only by women, offering help with finding housing and jobs.

Panelists agreed that security is a prerequisite for other forms of progress that can accompany financial inclusion. These include increasing self-esteem, making household decisions, being able to plan for the future, and even voting and running for political office.

Another recurring theme of the plenary session was the strength of the business case for women’s ministry. Ms. Pulvermacher cited an estimate that women’s insurance could generate $2 trillion in annual premiums by 2029. To attract more FSPs to serve women, Evaline Angole of the Grameen Foundation Ghana cited the formation and digitization of savings groups of women who have fled South Sudan as an opportunity to show local FSPs that they are creditworthy. To reach more rural women at low cost, Ms. Angole suggested involving local NGOs. Meanwhile, some FSPs are tailoring products for women and forcibly displaced persons, making it easier to recruit members of these groups.

Ms Pulvermacher suggested FSP extend the opening hours of the branches as women often suffer from “time poverty”. Some FSP offer childcare in the branches to make it easier for women to keep appointments. Put more simply, simply letting women know that their children are welcome to accompany them to appointments can make them feel like they are using financial services.

Ms. Roenen noted that FSP staff sometimes pose barriers to women’s inclusion. In one case, a male supervisor warned a job applicant that pregnancy would prevent her from working as a loan officer because of the frequent motorcycling.

Women’s World Banking worked with an FSP in Pakistan, which was rolling out a digital product it hoped would serve men and women alike, but acceptance among women was initially low. Further research found that women were uncomfortable giving male agents their phone numbers to sign up for accounts. To address this problem, the FSP partnered with Unilever, which had a network of female sales representatives. Within months of these agents offering the FSP’s digital financial product, the percentage of women using the product increased from 12 percent to 42 percent.

Making institutional changes is difficult and slow. Ms. Roenen highlighted the need to work on many levels simultaneously: repeatedly speaking at meetings about women’s inclusion, hiring more women at all levels of the organization and changing policies as needed. Barbara Magnoni of EA Consultants pointed out that there will always be those who resist change, so the key isn’t winning everyone over, just enough people to create momentum. For some, it is easier to support the idea of ​​equality in general – including, for example, racial and disability equality – than just gender equality.

Echoing the incident of bosses discouraging women from applying to an FSP, Ms Magnoni stressed that pushing politics down from the top doesn’t work. Instead, you need to build inclusion at all levels of the organization – line personnel, supervisors, middle management, leadership and board members.

This feature is part of a sponsored series related to European Microfinance Week, which took place from November 16th to 18th in Luxembourg and online. MicroCapital has been commissioned to report on the conference every year since 2012.

Additional Resources

Financial inclusion that works for women: Lessons and best practices from the 2022 European Microfinance Award

European Microfinance Week 2022

European Microfinance Prize

MicroCapital coverage of European Microfinance Week since 2012, including the European Microfinance Award

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