This chapter highlights both the scale of the challenge of closing gaps in women’s financial inclusion and the promise of digital approaches. Access to cell phones and mobile money platforms is growing, especially in developing economies, and is reaching rural and marginalized populations that have been traditionally excluded from financial services. However, gender gaps in mobile phone use persist, and about 500 million women worldwide do not own mobile phones.
There is substantial evidence that the obstacles to women’s inclusion are not only technical, and that major barriers exist around adverse norms and poverty, in particular. Moreover, financial inclusion is not a panacea to women’s disempowerment.
Still, a review of the evidence suggests that the digital innovations underway are demonstrating substantial potential, most notably through the use of mobile phones, and finding ways to bring women into the system via social protection and even wage payments. This is especially welcome given the very large numbers of women who remain excluded from financial services today – especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
While gender gaps are context-specific and depend on local norms and systems, it cannot be assumed that these will close over time. Deliberate efforts are needed, adopting a multidimensional approach that not only expands women’s access to digital financial services but that also works to transform harmful norms and build a strong enabling environment for expanding women’s economic opportunities.