It is well established that women’s participation is essential for growing economies—and that inclusive growth is critical to creating sustainable peace. Yet women face the most severe economic exclusion in fragile and conflict-affected countries—precisely the nations that critically need their participation.
This GIWPS report focuses on financial inclusion as an important tool to economically empower women and speed the pace of recovery after conflict.
The report, supported by Bank of America, is the first in a series of Georgetown research studies on advancing women’s economic opportunities in fragile states.
The report describes the status of women’s economic participation worldwide. Only 4 in 10 women are in paid work (compared to 7 in 10 men) in the 36 countries classified by the World Bank as fragile and conflict-affected states. The situation is even worse in countries with protracted conflict. Afghanistan has a 60 percentage point gap between male and female employment rates, and Syria and Yemen both have gender gaps of over 50 percentage points.
Rates of financial inclusion – access to formal financial services as well as mobile accounts – are also systematically lower for women in fragile and conflict-affected settings, even though these are the conditions where such access is vitally important.
“Financial accounts can be a lifeline for women and their families – and can have larger cumulative effects on the economy,” said Dr. Jeni Klugman, managing director of GIWPS. “Surveys suggest a strong demand for financial services among women.”
The Georgetown report suggests innovations to formal financial services to make them more accessible to women in difficult environments.
Mobile banking accounts, for example, can expand women’s occupational options and increase their consumption, especially given ongoing infrastructure and mobility constraints. Digitized social transfer payments from governments directly into women’s financial accounts can also be a route to inclusion with multiple benefits.
“Emerging evidence shows that the private sector can play an integral role in addressing the unmet financial needs of women in fragile and conflict-affected countries,” adds Yvonne Quek, the Clinton-McLarty research fellow at GIWPS.
Future research by GIWPS will focus on what is working to create economic opportunities for women in conflict-affected countries. GIWPS will use case study methods to underscore successful approaches to advance women’s economic opportunities and financial inclusion.