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LEARNING SERIES >> Progress on the journey to financial equality 

What being gender intentional has taught us about advancing digital financial equality for women. 

Women in emerging economies have had a trifecta of economic hits due the COVID-19 pandemic. First, women make up the majority of workers in sectors most affected by shutdowns, such as the Ready Made Garment (RMG) or service sectors. Second, the majority of women who work in micro and small enterprises without a regular salary, such as street vendors had no income due to the lockdowns. Third, nearly all women had additional caring responsibilities as children were home from school and family members became sick, so nearly all had less time for earning incomes. COVID-19 has threatened women’s progress for equality by decades.

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Our understanding of prioritizing women in digital payment initiatives has evolved significantly over recent years in our research and advocacy work, shaping our work with members. Drawing on the experience of addressing financial equality for women, two lessons have emerged:

1.Mobilizing stakeholders to make commitments on advancing women’s financial equality through effective advocacy and thought leadership

90% BGMEA committed to digitize wages for 90% of garment workers by 2021

In November 2019, we organized the Digital Wages Summit with Bangladesh’s Access to Information (a2i) Programme, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), with collaboration from Alliance members – Gap Inc, H&M, Marks & Spencer and Inditex. The summit endorsed a strong call to action to shift to responsible digital wages for garment workers, 60% of whom are women. As a result from the summit, H&M announced that all supplier factories will have digital payment systems by 2020 and BGMEA committed to digitize wages for 90% of garment workers by 2021.These commitments were extremely timely as during the COVID-19 crisis, the government of Bangladesh mandated that all salaries be paid digitally to receive the RMG Wage Relief Fund. This resulted in the opening of 2.5 million new accounts.

In 2020, The Saudi G20 Presidency highlighted women’s financial inclusion as a priority area, with the Alliance co-authoring this report, with Women’s World Banking and the World Bank. This report was endorsed by all G20 Ministers of Finance.

On International Women’s Day 2021, and in collaboration with UNCDF, UNSGSA, UN Women, Women’s World Banking, and the World Bank, we launched a 10-point agenda on how governments and companies can reach financial equality. The agenda drew official endorsements  from key leaders of Ethiopia, Senegal, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Mexico,Malawi, Peru, Ghana, and more. Corporate leaders and industry bodies went on record to demonstrate how they are prioritizing digital financial services for all women in their supply chains. A year later, we have kept the momentum going by reporting on members’ progress towards the vita goal of reaching financial equality for women.

2.To give tools for women to empower themselves, we need smart & responsible design that help women build trust in DFS and drive usage

In 2021, we published the UN Principles for Responsible Digital Payments, which call for an overhaul in the approach to women as a major constituent in the digital payments landscape: creating digital financial products and services that address women’s needs throughout their life cycles; that help them build assets and resilience for times of crisis, allowing them to focus on investments that best serve their families and communities; generating the right mechanisms for Digital Financial Services (DFS), that are responsive when these services don’t work as they should; fostering trust in digital financial services and driving usage.

These lessons learned are embedded in our own organizational transformation, reflected in our 2022-2025 strategy. Our own journey to mainstream gender into our initiatives with members has progressed from being gender-aware to being gender-intentional.

The goal to be gender-intentional scales across all our initiatives and the support we provide to our members. Women have now become a focus of most of our work – be it with migrants in Colombia, women merchants in India’s North-East region or tea farmers in Rwanda. Having a clear focus on women, means that every single member of the Alliance has become a champion of gender transformation.

Digital payment transfers focusing on women has emerged as a solution to alleviate the economic hardships created by the pandemic. The Better Than Cash Alliance realized that we needed to be louder and stronger in our commitment to financial equality for women (SDG 5). 

What can you expect from the Alliance? We will continue to highlight women on all of our initiatives. We will continue fostering partnerships to reach financial equality and evaluate how our initiatives will impact both men and women.