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Promoting a Gender-Sensitive Approach to Financial Inclusion in Myanmar

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) in ASEAN program engages in both demand- and supply-side activities to shift financial markets in a holistic manner. Besides the investments in innovations to achieve women financial inclusion, SHIFT ASEAN engages in capacity building and technical assistance activities to help financial service providers (FSPs) adopt a gender-sensitive approach to product and service delivery.

In Myanmar, UNCDF has conducted several gender capacity building activities with FSPs. These include institutional gender self-assessments, gender-sensitive product development workshops and trainings on institutionalizing gender policies. These activities are done in partnership with the Australian Government's (DFAT) Gender Equality Fund, Myanmar’s country program on Expanding Financial Access (EFA) and the Women’s Economic and Financial Inclusion program (WEFIP).

Gender Self-Assessment Tool (GSAT) and Gender-Sensitive Product Development Workshop

UNCDF has developed an institutional gender self-assessment tool (GSAT) that was formally launched in 2019 together with a standardized process with facilitator guides to support FSPs in reviewing and evaluating their existing gender approach. This toolkit aims to enhance FSPs’ institutional policies, practices and performance towards increasing targeted outreach to women clients through gender-sensitive products and services and promote workforce gender diversity in management and leadership.

Prior to its launch, the toolkit was piloted amongst ten FSPs in Myanmar. UNCDF circulated a call for expressions of interest to participate in the Gender-Based Institutional Technical Support Mechanism to FSPs (including microfinance institutions, banks, mobile money operators and cooperatives) from July to August 2017. UNCDF received a total of 12 expressions of interest and ten eligible FSPs were selected.

Key findings from the pilot were:

  • While the majority of the FSPs’ clients are women, only a few organizations were intentionally targeting women or women-owned businesses;
  • All FSPs collect sex-disaggregated data on clients and workforce, but data was not being analyzed in depth, not shared, were basic and were frequently not used and might be inaccurate.
  • FSPs have a low level of awareness on women’s empowerment and leadership, as reflected in gender-blind institutional policies.

Therefore, to help FSPs address the above gaps, UNCDF launched the first of its capacity building activities with the FSPs by hosting a training in Yangon on data analytics and gender sensitive product development in November 2018. 21 middle to upper management level staff from 12 FSPs joined the training, which concluded in the FSPs developing and presenting new products such as an education savings product, commitment savings product, micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) lending products, and digital self-help groups in remote areas. This workshop has, for example, enabled participants like LOLC Microfinance to change their approach to product development.

This workshop has equipped us with data visualization skills, which has made our reporting better and easier. It also taught us how to develop gender-sensitive products – ones that target women and their specific needs. Since then, we have developed a new sub product – a loan that targets female customers purchasing LPG gas for cooking. The knowledge gained has also been shared with our colleagues at LOLC Myanmar. Now, more of us are confident in completing dashboards, market segmentation and risk evaluation.

- Dilash Fernando (Head of Strategy & Business Development) & Daw Soe Soe Tun (Head of Operations), LOLC Microfinance

Workshops to Put Women at the Heart of Financial Inclusion

To complement the gender self-assessment tool and product development workshops, UNCDF also engaged with FSPs to share lessons learnt from UNCDF’s gender-based technical institutional support in Myanmar. Together, these activities aim to strengthen the participating FSPs’ ability to serve the women’s market and improve institutional policies and practices on women’s workforce participation.

Recently, UNCDF further conducted a workshop entitled “Improving Women’s Access to Money and Markets: The Business Case for Myanmar Financial Service Providers” in February 2020. This workshop was attended by 55 participants from FSPs and development partners, where the business opportunity of serving the women’s market was highlighted, coupled with case studies of key learnings from UNCDF’s technical assistance within the country.

In April 2020, a webinar was held to discuss the “Policy and Regulatory Constraints and Enablers to Women’s Financial Inclusion in Myanmar”. Based on the research, UNCDF highlighted key policy and regulatory constraints within Myanmar, and presented four opportunity areas for advancing women’s financial inclusion within the enabling environment:

  1. policy coherence on the country’s national and regional commitments to gender equality, women’s economic empowerment and financial inclusion;
  2. integrating women’s financial inclusion considerations into national financial inclusion strategies and other financial laws, policies and regulation;
  3. promoting women’s access to identification documents, institutions and assets; and
  4. enacting laws protecting women from violence as customers and employees of FSPs.

Participants engaged actively through questions and discussions on how to apply these findings to their respective fields of work.

Continuous Support in Product Development Trainings

UNCDF continues to engage FSPs in Myanmar, including two of the largest microfinance institutions BRAC, where UNCDF is engaging them in an institutional gender self-assessment, data analytics and product ideation trainings. After the training, BRAC set up a product development team focusing on women merchants in remote regions to address the challenge of how to graduate specific women customers (e.g. enterprises, farmers) from group to individual microenterprise loans.

The training helped me to understand the development of gender smart microfinance products; particularly how to use data to drive this process. Through the product ideation segment of the training, I am motivated to develop a gender smart product for women home businesses and scale up our women micro enterprise loan product to the remote regions we are expanding to.

- Md Sayful Islam, Regional Manager – Microfinance, BRAC

UNCDF has been with partnering BRAC since 2017 through its challenge fund facility to pioneer individual loans for women MSMEs (click below for more information). These follow-up technical assistance activities are helping BRAC further scale up and refine their gender-sensitive loan products.

COVID-19 Update

MFIs in Myanmar are facing a cash flow crisis due to the pandemic – the multi-donor Livelihood and Food Security Fund (LIFT) has seen a US$ 115 million shortfall in liquidity among MFIs it worked with in April 2020. Government orders to defer repayments and lend at lower interest rates have made it challenging for MFIs to maintain sufficient capital. Furthermore, mobility restrictions to contain the outbreak has further hindered repayment collection, since most MFIs do so through local agents. UNCDF will continue to work with FSPs, including MFIs, to support the lending needs of local businesses and the country’s economic recovery.

About the United Nations Capital Development Fund

The UN Capital Development Fund makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs).

UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development.

UNCDF’s financing models work through three channels: (1) inclusive digital economies, which connects individuals, households, and small businesses with financial eco-systems that catalyze participation in the local economy, and provide tools to climb out of poverty and manage financial lives; (2) local development finance, which capacitates localities through fiscal decentralization, innovative municipal finance, and structured project finance to drive local economic expansion and sustainable development; and (3) investment finance, which provides catalytic financial structuring, de-risking, and capital deployment to drive SDG impact and domestic resource mobilization.

UNCDF’s Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) in ASEAN programme is supported by the Australian Government.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of UNCDF, the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations or its Member States.