Women’s decision making is limited by laws interfering with their economic activities. Such laws can affect women’s ability to save, borrow, pay or insure themselves against risk. Discriminatory laws can affect women’s demand for financial services. For example, limited access to and control over property constrain women’s ability to provide collateral for loans. Similarly, gender differences in getting identification can make it more difficult for women to open bank accounts, especially where there are stringent identification requirements to do so. Financial inclusion involves access to and usage of various financial services, such as savings, payments, credit and insurance from formal service providers.
Basic financial inclusion can entail a simple deposit account at a bank or a transaction on a mobile money service account. It can also encompass loans from formal financial institutions or insurance products that allow Women to manage their financial risks. When it comes to women’s financial inclusion, a large gender gap in access to and usage of financial services persists. For example, gender inequality can play a role in making access to identification more burdensome for women, as some laws and regulations make it more difficult for women to obtain a national identity (ID) card or passport or register the birth of a child in the same way as men
Laws restricting women’s agency and mobility can hinder their financial inclusion because Laws can limit women’s legal capacity through requiring permission—usually from a husband—to carry out everyday activities. This can constrain women’s financial inclusion. In some communities, the husband is legally considered head of household, which can have implications ranging from government land allocation to who receives government benefits within a household. Legal restrictions can limit women’s mobility and decision making. In some communities, married women cannot choose where to live in the same way as married men. In some other communities, women cannot work outside the home in the same way as a married man and yet in other communities, married women cannot travel outside the home in the same way as married men In all these cases, women may have difficulties traveling to banks or other service providers and may not be able to earn an independent income or live in a place that offers the opportunity to work or access services.
Laws restricting women’s economic in-dependence also restrict their access and usage of financial services. For example, where married women are prohibited from working, women are less likely to have accounts, formal credit or savings. Where women can be head of household or women are not required by law to obey their husbands, women are more likely to use formal financial products. Where married women cannot choose where to live in the same way as men, gender gaps in financial inclusion are higher for women’s access to bank ac-counts and their capacity to borrow from a financial institution
Evidence suggests that gender differences in asset ownership are an influential factor affecting women’s ability to access credit. Limited access to assets is also a major reason why women are rejected for loans, as banks can be reluctant to lend to customers who lack traditional collateral. Family, inheritance and land laws are important in allocating assets between men and women. These laws come into play at different stages of a woman’s life-cycle, determining what a daughter will inherit from her parents and what assets a woman can access during her marriage and as a divorcee or widow. Where these laws are favorable, women have greater economic independence. Most communities have customs and traditions guiding how marital property should be used and that determine the allocation of assets between spouses. Common options are full or partial community property ownership or separate property ownership.
In full community property ownership, the property of either spouse acquired before and during marriage is treated as joint property regardless of who paid for it. In partial community property ownership assets acquired before marriage are regarded as the separate property of the acquiring spouse and as-sets acquired after marriage are regarded as the couple’s joint property. In separate property ownership, each spouse retains ownership and control over property they paid for. Likewise, the recognition of women’s unpaid work—through recognizing non-monetary contributions is considered in some communities.
Access to assets through inheritance is also important for women and girls. Widows may depend on inheritance for financial security, and daughters may become more economically independent and have greater educational opportunities if they are allowed equal inheritance rights with sons. Improving women’s inheritance rights can lead to better outcomes. In one of the studies by FOCDE, it was found that improved inheritance rights led to a greater likelihood of women having bank accounts. Women are also more likely to have housing finance where inheritance rights are equal for widows and daughters. One possible explanation for this is women may have fewer assets to use as collateral where inheritance rights are unequal. It is also important to look at how accounts transfer when the account holder dies.
In Uganda, for example, it is difficult for widows to get access to their deceased husband’s bank account. MTN’s policy on Mobile Money accounts provides that account balances stay in the deceased’s account until they are claimed. But wives cannot automatically claim their husband’s account money. The policy requires that when a Mobile money subscriber dies with a will, the next of kin must present copies of the death certificate, ID and grant of probate to MTN. If a Mobile Money subscriber dies without a will, the next of kin must also present letters of administration. This also applies to banks and other financial institutions. If no one claims the money within two years, it is transferred to Bank of Uganda. Allowing a husband to name his wife as a beneficiary at the time the account is established can sidestep these procedures and make a difference for widows.
Access to formal credit relies heavily on asset-based lending, but where women have limited access to property they are less likely to use it as collateral. Information-sharing institutions, such as credit bureaus and registries, are important determinants of private credit development. Where they collect the types of reputation collateral that women are more likely to have, such as a record of successful repayments to microfinance institutions or retailers, this may help women build their credit histories and ultimately access finance. But in many communities, well established credit schemes are uncommon. Where they do exist, they may limit themselves to covering high loan amounts that preclude the vast number of female borrowers who have smaller loans.
Recent studies show how female participation in the banking sector and decision-making bodies can have a positive impact on financial inclusion. For example, access to the internet and mobile phones and financial inclusion are especially linked to the presence of women in leadership roles. Studies on female leadership in other decision-making bodies have shown impacts on issues affecting women. For example, female representation in national parliaments at levels of 25% and above makes it more likely for discriminatory property laws to be reformed in the next 5 years compared with 15 years before such levels of representation.
When it comes to corporate boards, some research links gender diversity to better company performance, including in areas such as greater returns on sales and assets. Women are also underrepresented at senior levels in the financial sector over-all. Recent data gathered from largest banks, insurers, asset managers and professional services firms show that only 25% of top executives are female. At FOCDE, we work to increase women participation in leadership positions in the banking sector and decision-making bodies.
FOCDE is working to implement actions that link between women’s financial inclusion and the legal environment. But there is still work to be done. Husbands still control marital property and they are still legally the head of household. Prevailing social norms do not allow for a complete overhaul of barriers to women’s financial inclusion, but rather incremental steps. Legal reform is a crucial element that needs to be embedded in broader strategies to advance women’s financial inclusion.