There is a big gender gap in financial inclusion in Bangladesh as women lag behind men due to socio-cultural constraints, lack of control over decision making and low digital-technology literacy, speakers said at a webinar on Wednesday.
There is also a lack of women-centric financial policies that encourage women's financial independence and economic empowerment, they added at the webinar titled Opportunities to Unlock Digital Financial Services among Marginalized Women organised by Aspire to Innovate (a2i) in association with Social Innovation Lab, Brac and The Business Standard.
In the keynote paper, PI Strategy Managing Partner Pial Islam showed that there is a 13% gender gap in phone ownership, 14% gender gap in mobile financial service (MFS) account ownership, 29.2% in bank account ownership and 44.8% in labour participation.
He recommended the development of social norms to ensure equal opportunity for everyone.
Pial also emphasised introducing financial products targeting women and effective ownership of accounts which must be used repeatedly both for expense as well as for savings.
Dr Imran Matin, executive director of BIGD, emphasised access of devices for women, uninterrupted support network and ensuring the privacy of information for women's inclusion in the financial services.
"Financial technologies have played a lead role behind the rapid growth in the past decade in terms of creating access to financial services. Still, more work needs to be done to leverage fintech to bridge the gender gap," he said.
Sahed Shams Azad, chief operations officer of Brac Microfinance Programme, said, "Women's participation is rising in the country but not as fast as expected. More awareness programmes have to be conducted in this regard."
Dr Nazneen Ahmed, country economist of UNDP, identified that not only marginalised women but also a big part of educated women is not using mobile financial services.
She said, "It is necessary to ensure that fintech services are easily accessible and relevant for women in underserved communities."
Mary Katica, senior programme director of IDEO.org, urged that technologies have become advanced and made financial services easier to use and more readily accessible.
"Next-generation financial technologies can aid financial inclusion by helping communities go ahead and much of this can be integrated into existing cases where women are adopting digital accounts and mobile payments and transfers," she added.
Anir Chowdhury, policy advisor of the a2i Programme, moderated the webinar.