Benedikt Wahler, Partner
October 10th, 2023
Area Covered:
Financial Inclusion • Women’s Financial Inclusion • Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) • Financial Regulation • Crisis Response • Resilience Building • Research

Are financial inclusion and the promotion of gender equity “fair weather topics”? How should policymakers set their priorities when a fast-moving crisis fraught with uncertainty and large downside risks requires their full attention, as the COVID-19 pandemic did?

“Actually, weaving a focus on women and their financial inclusion into the design of crisis response is likely to be a force multiplier rather than a distraction”. This is how ConsumerCentriX (CCX) Partner Benedikt Wahler summarizes the team’s research on behalf of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), a network of central banks and other financial regulatory institutions from 76 developing countries. Home to the majority of the un- and underbanked, such questions matter a lot to the welfare of these member countries.

The global pandemic confronted policymakers with large-scale and fast-moving disruption. In turn, it also provides a wealth of experiences that this assignment of CCX sought to extract and assess. Over the summer of 2023, AFI shared these in a Special Report “Closing the Financial Inclusion Gender Gap During the Crisis and Afterwards”.

These insights draw upon deep-dive research, interviews with decision-makers and stakeholders, and a survey of more than a third of AFI members facilitated by the Gender Inclusive Finance (GIF) Team at AFI led by Helen Walbey and undertaken by the CCX team as the pandemic evolved over the course of 2021 and 2022. A set of five country case studies draws attention to how large emerging markets like Egypt and small ones like Paraguay or Fiji have been able to effectively respond to this massive crisis with the focus provided by a gender lens and financial inclusion policy.

These experiences should serve as inspiration and provide policymakers with a sense of possibility. But what should executives at central banks or regulatory agencies actually be doing during the next crisis – or even now?

To help provide such guidance, AFI published the “Gender-Sensitive Rapid Response and Crisis Recovery Policies” policy toolkit – a comprehensive guide for policymakers, practitioners, and development partners on designing and implementing gender-sensitive rapid response and crisis recovery policies.

Globally, 740 million women are excluded from financial sector services, and their inclusion could add approximately USD 12 trillion to the global domestic product. This is a vast untapped market for the financial sector. Taking evidence from the experiences of AFI members as expressed in the Special Report, gender-inclusive finance policies can reverse the previously widening gender inequality or access gaps. Besides the additional economic impact, benchmarking policymaking against the realities and constraints of women can strengthen economic stability and growth through improved women’s access to formal financial services, leading to positive outcomes for families and communities. And actually, this approach ends up working better also for many men. This strength of gender-inclusive finance at the center of the policy toolkit is highlighted by what outcomes various shades of gender-inclusive financial policy are likely to deliver – as illustrated in the toolkit here.

Gender-neutral policy designs are often benchmarked by the realities of men, and as a result, they only work for a minority of relatively privileged women. They do not consider the needs and constraints of the average female. The resulting policies or financial offers do not even work well for many men. Gender-intelligent or gender-intentional solutions start by setting the average woman and her constraints as a guideline, and they stand a good chance of adequately serving a majority of women. Gender-transformational policy design explicitly explores the intersectionality of challenges faced by the minority of excluded and marginalized women, and such policy solutions may often require more fundamental interventions.

In disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid response and crisis recovery policies that are charged by the power of gender-sensitive design are needed – the AFI Policy toolkit offers three main tools for developing these. The first toolkit explores the role of stakeholders in crisis response. Stakeholders such as donors, ministries and civil society organizations are likely to have networks related to vulnerable groups, and they can help communicate and mobilize interest for interventions in terms of crisis. The second toolkit offers a benchmarking tool for policymakers’ country’s context for gender-inclusive finance. The Excel-based tool developed by ConsumerCentriX allows policymakers to assess the context and baseline necessary for embedding crisis response, recovery and broader financial inclusion policies for AFI members and other stakeholders. The third toolkit explores gender-inclusive crisis response strategies that can be employed depending on the crisis response phase the country is on. These include:

  • Fast-paced “fire fighting”
  • Enabling recovery
  • Building back better for resilience.

Overall, the toolkit provides a valuable resource that enables practitioners at central banks and financial sector regulators, as well as their peers at government ministries to design gender-inclusive financial policies that address barriers to financial inclusion for the majority of vulnerable segments, including women while also allowing them to collect wider sets of data and inputs for improving existing policies and putting in place strategies for future crisis response.

Learn more: AFI Policy Toolkit “Gender-Sensitive Rapid Response and Crisis Recovery Policies