Females are still lagging behind when it comes to access to digital financial services. Social barriers placed by their parents and husbands prevent them from using financial services independently which affects their financial inclusion.
According to a survey conducted on digital financial services, 47% of girls were found to use such services while 74% use their guardians' accounts – limiting their free access to financial services.
Only 48% of surveyed girls have their own accounts for such services, according to the study jointly conducted by The Business Standard and the DataSense at iSocial, a social enterprise working for enabling girls and women to learn and earn with the power of digital technology.
The survey titled "Barriers and Opportunities for Girls in Accessing Finance through Digital Means" by iSocial and GirlEffect found that boys face less scrutiny and have more freedom with technology and public activities.
Interviewing digital financial service users, the survey found that married women are often barred by their husbands from accessing the service.
Their guardians also discourage them from using financial services digitally, apprehending fraud.
The survey found that 80% of girls require permission for using digital financial services from either their parents or husbands.
A respondent, aged 17, from Bogura said, "If a girl goes to a shop, people judge them from different perspectives. They have a lot of curiosity to know why the girl went to the shop, who sent her the money, whom she would send the money to, and so on."
Although many girls have choices about their spending, their choices are constrained by the financial resources their guardians have.
The community holds a different view of what is acceptable for boys and for girls, attaching a negative stigma to girls who use mobile phones or digital financial services.
The suspicious attitude the community holds for girls ultimately prevents them from fully enjoy access to such digital financial services, said the study.
Citing an example from Kenya, the survey said when savings accounts were offered to female market vendors in Kenya, their daily expenditures increased by 37%, relative to a comparable group of women who did not have such an account.
Increasing account ownership would promote gender equality in Bangladesh, the survey suggested, adding that poor women account for 1.1 billion unbanked adults or most of the individuals who are financially excluded.
The survey also found that bKash, the largest mobile financial service provider, is the preferred transactional mode to female users.
Of the 47 women users surveyed, 85% use bKash; Rocket is the second choice with 22.5% of users and Nagad comes in third with 12.5% users.
The survey report suggested increasing females' access to digital financial services, financial and mobile literacy and incentives to guardians for allowing girls to use the digital forms of financial services.
Increased access to financial services through virtual platforms, alone, will not boost the financial inclusion of young women because the barriers they face impact their entire financial autonomy, according to the report.
Guardians are influential when it comes to girls' use of technology for availing financial services as well as their financial choices.
Once larger barriers are addressed, digital financial services can be used as a tool to increase gender and age parity, highlights the report.