A Gender Perspective on Financial Education Programs
Financial education is a core life skill for women participating in the economy. Hence, there are significant barriers to developing an effective financial education for women. One of them is the lack of gender perspective in financial education program
When we think of education, our mind directly departs to formal education in pre-or post- higher education. But oftentimes, this conceptualisation of education limits the role of social and cultural context, such as the role of gender in society, that should have been an integral part of the education itself. The exclusion of social and cultural contexts, such as gender perspective, makes education programs ineffective. Financial education is an example where the omittance of the gender perspective in the design and deliverable could perpetuate the gender gap in welfare.
Financial Education and the Gender Gap in Financial Literacy
Financial education is a core life skill for participating in modern society. Financial education improves individuals' understanding of financial risks and opportunities to help them better navigate the complexities of modern financial life. Individuals with higher levels of financial literacy and capability show better debt management, higher participation in the stock market and better retirement decision-making. A lack of financial understanding is one of the main reasons people struggle with money and become poor.
Many experts argue that financial education for women would reduce the gender gap in welfare. Awareness of the importance of financial education for the gender gap in financial access and usage has led governments worldwide to develop various programs on financial education for women, hoping that the programs could promote women economic empowerment. Nevertheless, there is a persistent gender gap in financial literacy (knowledge about money management) and financial capability (ability to manage money) worldwide. Global Findex shows a persistent global gender gap in access to bank accounts of nearly 7 per cent. Women are still disadvantaged in maintaining and improving their financial well-being.
The impact of financial education is highly influenced by the way programmes are designed and delivered. The program needs to be designed based on women needs and their challenges in accessing and using financial services. However, data from the OECD show that financial education programs predominantly focus on improving cognitive or informational aspects related to financial products and services ignore women's social and cultural challenges.
… But the Gender Gap in Financial Literacy is Caused by Cognitive Skills
The challenges for women to have the knowledge and ability to use various financial services to manage money are very much rooted in the parental background as well as social and cultural environments. Parental background, particularly the role of mothers, has a significant influence on the financial knowledge of girls. Mothers accustomed to managing finances either within the family or professionally might be more likely to pass the confidence and capacity in managing money to their daughters.
The historical division of labour between men and women in the household also plays a determining role in the existing gender gap in financial literacy. When a household provides favourable conditions for men as financial decision-makers, women will have lower levels of financial literacy than men because men are investing in this form of human capital. For example, men manage household finances, while women specialise in other domestic functions.
In addition, patriarchal norms in the economy maintain the gender gaps. In some countries, women are restricted from accessing financial services. Women are also sometimes restricted in having access to, control, and ownership of productive assets. Data from FAO show that women account for only 12.8 per cent of agricultural landholders in the world. When women have restricted access and control over productive assets, they will not be eligible to apply for credit, and credit is a key source of investment and economic opportunity.
The challenges for women to access financial services are worsened by barriers for women to obtaining formal employment. Data from the World Bank show that in over 189 countries assessed in 2018, 104 countries still have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs, 59 countries have no laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, and in 18 countries, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working. These conditions make women more likely to be engaged in informal employment. Informal employment leads to unpredictable income. This creates financial vulnerability for women and restricts access to credit and investment products, which require income stability.
In fact, research shows that when financial literacy for women under marginalised groups is delivered together with a women's empowerment module, the participants were better to implement the knowledge (accessed and used basic financial services). This research implies that improving cognitive skills alone might not effectively promote financial literacy. It sheds light on the importance of gender perspective in financial education programs.
Gender Perspective Matters
One of the biggest reasons why women need better financial literacy is to be financially independent. Also, since women have a major role in the transmission of financial habits and skills to their childcare, adequate financial skills are not only for women but also for future generations. Hence, there are significant barriers for policymakers to develop an effective financial education for women, from lack of political will, lack of resources and materials, overcrowded curricula, to insufficient expertise.
Looking at those challenges, we can see that there is no simple intervention to reduce the gender gap through financial education. Yet we could start by acknowledging women’s challenges in a different context when designing policy intervention. For example, since the guidelines on financial education programs are often developed and promoted by bankers and financial regulators that might have less information about gender issues, the collaboration between bankers or regulators with organisations who has more knowledge on gender issue to develop a financial education program for women is needed.
Bankers and regulators could start to work with experts to incorporate women empowerment elements (such as critical thinking, women's rights, and self-confidence) into the financial education programs. Other examples are to tailor delivery methods to women’s needs, using female role models, peer group learning, and combining financial education with access to financial products and entrepreneurial education to improve women’s overall access to economic opportunities.
Financial literacy is only one of the elements for women empowerment. The complete package of women empowerment interventions would be more effective to help them achieve personal and professional objectives without worrying about financial issues.
Resya Kania holds a PhD in Social Policy. She is an active member of the Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM), University of Birmingham. She is also working as Director of Policy for South East Asia for Women's World Banking. Prior to pursuing a PhD, she worked as a Deputy Director for Financial Services at the National Development and Planning Agency (BAPPENAS) in Indonesia. She is also the executive director for PPKM Indonesia, an NGO working on issues related to financial inclusion.
This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 02 Issue 01 — March 2022