Pondering progress: 3 market developments helping to accelerate women’s financial inclusion

Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) celebrated its ten-year anniversary and achievements towards advancing financial inclusion at its annual Global Policy Forum. It’s been three years since the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s (UNCDF) Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) programme began its partnership with AFI. This partnership allowed for the scale-up of peer learning on gender and women’s financial inclusion policies.

In scope of this partnership, the Denarau Action Plan: the AFI Network Commitment to Gender and Women’s Financial Inclusion was conceived. This plan helped establish women’s financial inclusion as a priority on the international policy agenda. Since anniversaries are an ideal time for reflection, we ponder on examples of market changes and progress by financial inclusion policymakers to deliver on this commitment.

There are two key areas of the Denarau Action Plan that we have worked with policymakers to advance:

  1. The collection and use of sex-disaggregated data.
  2. Integrating gender and women’s financial inclusion into national financial inclusion strategies.

The Denarau Action Plan represents a women’s financial inclusion roadmap. It sets out the commitment of AFI’s 107 financial regulatory and policymaking institutions from 92 countries, including select ASEAN countries, to take concrete actions to close the gender gap in financial inclusion. It aims to increase the number of women with access to quality and affordable financial services globally by 2021. This contributes to a longer-term goal of closing the gender gap.

To support the implementation of the Denarau Action Plan, UNCDF’s SHIFT programme has provided a package of technical support to AFI. This includes:

  • strategic guidance
  • speaking and co-facilitating sessions within its working group meetings
  • trainings and developing policy guidance
  • knowledge products on sex-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive and women-targeted national financial inclusion strategies.

Through our programming within ASEAN and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), we have observed the following market developments:

1. From the “why?” to the “how?” of sex-disaggregated data:

980 million women globally remain excluded from the financial system. Now, the business case and value of sex-disaggregated data has become well-established among financial inclusion policymakers. This is set out in the AFI financial inclusion data working group Guideline Note on the theme.

So, the data agenda has moved to focus on how to enhance the collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data. This builds on the sex-disaggregated toolkit that AFI and UNCDF developed in collaboration. In other data-related developments, AFI and UNCDF now offer sex-disaggregated data training to policymakers at different levels within the ecosystem.

The move from why collect gender data to how is an important market development. It means the conversation is no longer focused on convincing stakeholders the importance of sex-disaggregated data. Now the conversation is on constructive approaches to collect and use that data for good.

2. A focus on removing the financial service providers (FSP) roadblocks in the gender-data value chain

Policymakers depend on FSPs to collect customer data tagged by male and female in order total supply side data at a national level. In recent years, we have seen greater recognition among policymakers of the critical role FSPs play in the gender-data value chain. Through this, policymakers are taking positive measures to incentivize collection of gender data.

Policymakers taking a more active role in incentivizing FSPs to collect sex-disaggregated data is a key market development. It is resulting in better data to inform strategies to address gender roadblocks in financial inclusion.

Globally, the UN’s Data2X has launched the Women’s Financial Inclusion Data (WFID) partnership. This includes a Global Gender Data Strategy and principles for women’s financial inclusion data.

In another development, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) piloted the collection of sex-disaggregated data from select IMF members in its annual Financial Access Survey (FAS) supply-side financial inclusion database. As a result, it invited all its country members to report the gender breakdown of their commercial banks’ depositors and borrowers, with 27 countries providing this information in 2017.

3. International and country-level sex-disaggregated data initiatives by policymakers to inform national strategies

The Denarau Action Plan calls for AFI members to set financial inclusion targets for women’s financial inclusion. Our jointly developed guidance on how to integrate gender and women’s financial inclusion strategies reflects the approaches taken by members in updating their strategies.

For example, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) has pledged to reduce the financial exclusion rate of women from 27% to 13% by 2025. UNCDF worked with NBC on developing and delivering this measurable commitment to women’s financial inclusion. UNCDF supported NBC’s national financial inclusion roadmap secretariat with its FinScope survey. We then triangulated the roadmap data with a big data initiative with FSPs in Cambodia. These findings helped FSPs improve customer retention through better product development. It also incorporated savings mobilization for women and youth into the country’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy .

Keeping the Momentum

There is clear interdependence between sex-disaggregated data collection and better national strategies. Going forward, at the next set of anniversaries, we hope that the increased availability of sex-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive and women targeted national financial inclusion strategies will help achieve our vision of the Denarau Action Plan - to close the gender gap in financial inclusion.


UNCDF’s Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) programme aims to expand women's economic empowerment through financial inclusion. SHIFT advances financial markets by changing the behaviour of market actors to stimulate investment, business innovations and regulatory reform in growing inclusive enterprises. SHIFT catalyses innovative partnerships to accelerate financial inclusion and women's economic participation in the least developed countries of the ASEAN and SAARC regions.

UNCDF’s SHIFT ASEAN programme is supported by the Australian Government.


This publication has been funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The views expressed in this publication are the author’s alone and are not necessarily the views of the Australian Government.

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