Bridging the Gender Gap

Workers at BCEL Bank in Vientiane, Lao PDR. © Stanislas Fradelizi /  World Bank

Financial exclusion remains a major constraint for women, particularly in developing countries.

More than 1 billion women still do not use or have access to the financial system, according to the World Bank Group’s latest Global Findex report. IFC has estimated that worldwide, a $300 billion gap in financing exists for formal, women-owned small businesses, and more than 70 percent of women-owned small and medium enterprises have inadequate or no access to financial services.

Furthermore, developing economies have 200 million more male than female cell phone owners. Without access to mobile technology, millions of women are further excluded from secure and convenient digital payment systems.

Without access to finance, women face difficulties in collecting and saving income, growing their businesses, and pulling their families out of poverty. As a result, women remain largely excluded from the formal economy.

IFC recognizes that the Bank Group’s twin goals of eradicating extreme poverty and increasing shared prosperity cannot be achieved without the full and equal participation of women and men. Investing in women’s economic participation not only has a profound development impact, it makes good business sense for companies and economies.

Strengthening women’s private sector participation is at the core of IFC’s operations. Through initiatives such as Banking on Women, Better Work, SheWorks, and Women on Boards, we are strengthening the capacity of women entrepreneurs to grow their business, improving their employment opportunities and working conditions, and amplifying women’s voices as business leaders.

Most importantly, along with other global organizations, the Bank Group has made universal access to finance by 2020 a top priority, making concerted efforts to expand women’s access to finance, financial knowledge, and products such as insurance to mitigate risks.


Focus on Women

IFC has recently recognized three projects that are innovatively bridging the gap in women’s access to finance at its annual Gender & the Economy event. The Australia New Zealand Bank’s Mobile Banking project is improving the lives of low-income, unbanked women and expanding their access to mobile banking in Solomon Islands, reaching scale in a challenging aid-dependent, post-conflict environment. Launched in late 2013, the project had signed up more than 24,000 new mobile banking customers by December 2014, almost half of whom were women. By December 2017, ANZ expects to reach a total of 65,000 new customers.

In the East Asia and Pacific, our Women in Business program is helping Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) become the region’s first commercial bank to implement a women-focused program. As of December 2014, RCBC had provided nearly 1,400 loans worth $70 million to women-owned businesses in a region where the credit gap for women entrepreneurs is more than 60 percent greater than that for male entrepreneurs. RCBC also established the region’s first network of relationship managers specifically trained to advise women entrepreneurs.

In the Middle East and North Africa, where women workers constitute 25 percent of the workforce compared with 40 percent worldwide, IFC has launched the Women Banking Champions program. The program, which consolidates IFC’s five gender-related bank advisory projects in the region, has supported access to financial and non-financial banking services through IFC client banks for more than 2,000 women. IFC aims to work with six more banks in the coming five years, serving more than 12,000 women.