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To commemorate International Women’s Day and celebrate the many remarkable women across the industry, Trade Finance Global (TFG) held its annual Women in Trade, Treasury, & Payments event at the Lansdowne Club in London.

Roundtable discussions at the event, held under Chatham House rules, have illuminated the staggering number of women worldwide who remain unbanked and lack equal economic rights. 

This complex issue, exacerbated by cultural influences and longstanding traditions, calls for targeted interventions to improve financial education and access, highlighting the necessity of a concerted effort across all sectors of society to address these disparities effectively.

Addressing cultural and societal influences on women’s financial literacy and access

The gender disparity in financial access is a complex issue deeply rooted in societal norms and cultural expectations that can influence financial literacy among women. 

Still, an extremely large number of women around the world remain unbanked, with approximately 740 million women globally lacking access to banking services as of 2021. 

This gap in financial access is further exacerbated by the fact that women, on average, enjoy fewer economic rights than men, highlighting a significant barrier to achieving gender equality in economic participation.

But these differences are far from universal.

Women in trade 2024

Cultural and societal influences play a pivotal role in shaping women’s financial literacy and overall economic participation, often stemming from longstanding norms and cultural expectations that dictate expected gender roles in a community. 

Such cultural norms can deter women from seeking financial knowledge or participating in financial decisions, further widening the financial literacy gap.

Breaking down these norms is far easier said than done, with one participant noting that “in some countries, you’re breaking centuries of traditions.”

This underscores the need for targeted interventions to improve access to financial education and challenge the cultural norms and societal expectations that have historically placed women at a disadvantage in the financial sphere.

Strengthening policy and regulation to empower female entrepreneurs and leaders

Policy and regulation play crucial roles in promoting gender equality, offering a framework within which barriers to female entrepreneurship and leadership can be systematically addressed and dismantled. 

A report from the World Bank highlights that, globally, on paper, women enjoy only around two-thirds of men’s rights.

However, despite the existence of laws aiming to ensure gender equality, the implementation and enforcement of these laws remain challenging and on average, countries have established less than 40% of the systems needed to implement them. 

The gap between policy and practice shows the importance of more comprehensive and enforced regulations to equalise rights on paper and in everyday reality.

This policy reality has widespread impacts on many areas, notably female entrepreneurship. 

One of the critical barriers to female entrepreneurship and leadership is the lack of equal opportunities, which is partially attributed to insufficient regulatory frameworks. 

For example, despite decades-old laws such as the UK’s Equal Pay Act (passed in the 1970s), the gender pay gaps persist, suggesting that legislation alone is insufficient. What is required is a combination of policy innovation and cultural shift, where regulations are supported by societal change that values and practices gender equality.

Fostering an environment encouraging female leadership and entrepreneurship also means addressing cultural biases and stereotypes limiting women’s roles and contributions. 

Policies that encourage education and training in leadership and financial literacy for women, as well as initiatives that showcase successful female leaders as role models, are crucial. 

Such measures can help shift cultural perceptions and inspire future generations of women to aspire to leadership roles.

These efforts, however, need to be matched with ground-level implementation and enforcement mechanisms that ensure the policies effectively translate into real-world changes.

Policy and regulation are indispensable tools in promoting gender equality, particularly in facilitating female entrepreneurship and leadership, but steps can also be taken at the corporate level to further catalyse change.

Empowering gender equality through corporate and digital initiatives

Corporate initiatives, such as those aiming to demystify financial terms, create transparent hiring practices, and ensure equal representation on panels and leadership roles, are crucial to fostering an environment where women can thrive equally alongside men. 

These initiatives provide the structural support necessary for women to advance in their careers and address the systemic biases that often hinder their progress. For instance, these corporate initiatives can help combat the perception that women are chosen for roles solely based on their gender rather than their qualifications and abilities. 

By creating more inclusive and equitable workplaces, corporations can lead by example, showcasing the benefits of diversity and equality not just within their walls but across the broader business community.

The rapidly growing digital economy also offers a unique platform for promoting gender inclusion and equality by providing access to markets, finance, and opportunities that might otherwise be inaccessible. 

Digital platforms can serve as equalisers, allowing women entrepreneurs to bypass traditional barriers to entry into the business world. The rise of fintech, for example, can help address the gap in financial access by offering services tailored to women’s needs and circumstances, potentially transforming their economic participation and empowerment. 

New and digital businesses can be more meritocratic and less bound by traditional gender roles and biases, providing a fresh landscape where women’s contributions can be valued based on their skills and innovations. 

While corporate initiatives can reshape the workplace environment and culture to be more inclusive and equitable, the digital economy provides new opportunities and platforms for women’s economic empowerment and participation. 

Together, these forces can significantly contribute to breaking down barriers to gender equality and fostering a more inclusive and equitable global economy.

Reiterate the importance of a multifaceted approach to addressing gender disparities in financial literacy and economic participation.

Call for continued research, policy innovation, and cultural shifts to achieve gender equality in the economy.

The roundtable discussions at TFG’s Women in Trade, Treasury, and Payments event further highlighted women’s challenges in the global economy. However, through conversation, the participants proposed solutions encompassing policy reform, corporate initiatives, and the burgeoning digital economy. 

To bridge the gaps of financial inclusion and gender equality, a cohesive effort between legislation, corporate responsibility, and technological innovation is essential. As we move forward, let these discussions inspire actionable change, fuelling efforts across the globe to create a more equitable economic landscape. 

The journey towards gender parity in finance is long and fraught with obstacles, yet with continued dialogue, innovation, and commitment, it’s a journey that can and must be undertaken to improve the world for everyone.