First Person: fighting for women’s financial freedom

Around the world, the opportunities for women to lead successful, financially secure lives are being limited by government legislation, company policies and deep-rooted misogyny. The UN is leading efforts to give women more access to digital financial tools, seen as essential to playing a full part in the global economy. In her role as a senior advisor at the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), which makes public and private finance work for the world’s poorest people, Nandini Harihareswara focuses on ensuring that more women are able to take advantage of digital finance, as a means of lifting them out of poverty.

Ms. Harihareswara spoke to UN News ahead of an online panel discussion, involving UNCDF, The World Bank and other partners, promoting financial equality for women, and International Women’s Day, both held on 8 March. This quote from the Women and Money report, published by the Gates Foundation, says it best: “Money is the domain of men. Society doesn’t view it as [a woman’s] role to earn money, or her right to make financial decisions”. This is true for many of the countries we work in.

The statistics show that, in so many ways, women and girls bear the brunt of the digital divide: they are 12% less likely to own a phone than men, 35% less likely to have internet access and 32% less likely to have access to energy. And, in least developed countries, women traditionally do not have access to the digital assets, collateral, networks, or financial services that can help them access the capital they need to start a business.

Not only are women less likely to own or have access to digital tools and money, they are less likely to have permission to use and control them: this is called “agency” in the gender space. Policy is also keeping women back: there are 115 economies where laws prevent women from running a business in the same way as men, and 167 countries that have at least one law restricting women’s economic opportunity. Almost every study shows that the lives of hundreds of million women are getting worse, as they lose their jobs and slide back into poverty. We can’t turn a blind eye to the threat of women becoming completely marginalized, of being digitally and financially “dark” for the rest of their lives.”

Source: The UN

Author: Tuula Pohjola