In the world today, only 58 percent of women (compared to 65 percent of men) have a bank account in a formal financial institution (Global Findex, 2014). Even worse, women living on less than two dollars a day are 28 percent less likely than men to have a bank account (CGAP 2017).
These are just some of the findings that led DID to organize a conference held September 6 to explore the topic of Developing the economic self-sufficiency of women through financial inclusion: the outlook for developing countries. DID's intent with this conference was to enhance its research efforts and to determine concrete strategies to address this topic which involves the organization's fundamental values related to development.
To start off the conference, Caroline Leclerc, Assistant Deputy Minister at Global Affairs Canada for Partnerships for Development Innovation, set the scene for and outlined Canada's new feminist international aid policy through which this country intends to take a leadership position in promoting gender equality. “This is an ambitious policy that encourages organizations to adopt transformational behaviour and take on an activist role,” she stated. “Because women play a crucial role in today's society, strengthening their empowerment is, therefore, a key strategy for reducing poverty.” And of course, eradicating poverty, establishing gender equality and reducing inequalities are all part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations Organization.
"Women do not have to change, society must change."
A roundtable discussion brought together four specialists to discuss the issue. They shared their thoughts and experience concerning the obstacles hindering financial inclusion and greater empowerment for women along with strategies for eradicating such obstacles.
They all fully agreed that strengthening the economic power of women is not just a purely economic struggle. A number of stereotypes, social norms and traditional practices still continue to dramatically hamper women's self-sufficiency. “It is not the women who have to change, but rather society’s rules and stereotypes,” said Margaret Capelazo, Gender Specialist at Care Canada. “We need to appeal to the hearts and the smarts of everyone in order to bring about a change in attitudes.”
“We also need to have a better understanding of the nitty-gritty aspects and the challenges related to inequalities,” explained Anne Delorme, head of the women and development committee at the Quebec Association of International Cooperation Organizations (Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale - AQOCI). To support this point, Paule Drouin, Director of Solidarity Finance at DID added that “Women's financial inclusion will be achieved by raising awareness among the staff of financial institutions as a starting point. However, our capacity for raising that awareness is restrained by our practical knowledge of the real world women are facing every day,” she stated, reiterating that women have financial needs that are different and which must be taken into consideration.
From the start, DID has always worked to increase access for everyone to financial services because that access provides essential leverage for community development. “However, we soon understood that for women it is much more complicated,” stated Anne Gaboury, DID President and CEO. Considering all the mandates DID has been assigned, twenty-eight specifically targeted women's economic emancipation.
The search for equality between women and men is at the core of all procedures at DID, which closely monitors the changes made to improve the place of women among the clientele, staff and decision-making bodies of microfinance institutions receiving assistance from this organization. “We are constantly improving our practices based on what we have learned,” added Anne Gaboury. “On an ever expanding basis, we are working more closely with local actors, community organizations and women's groups in order to optimize our strategies and the impact we can have.” This strategy is shared by all speakers. “We need to take advantage of every doorway in front of us – involving the personnel at financial institutions, farmer organizations, saving circles, and more,” declared Anne Delorme from the AQOCI.
Lindsay Mossman, Gender Specialist at the Aga Khan Foundation is optimistic. “Behaviour is not unchanging, it can be modified,” she stated. However, she noted that “Financial inclusion for women is part of a pathway and calls for a long-term commitment. We need to start now, step by step.”
 Women currently account for nearly 40 percent of the clientele among DID partner microfinance institutions, as well as approximately 50 percent of their staff and 30 percent of their elected officers.