We hope reading this post is just one of many activities you undertake today that acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women. This International Women’s Day, we turned to a few of the women of CFI to share their thoughts on the gender gap facing lower income women around the world and ways to shift the balance in their favor.
Deborah Drake says, “International Women’s Day gives us a chance to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice women make every day for their families. It also highlights the challenges involved in giving women the opportunity for economic empowerment and the ability to make choices, including financial decisions for themselves and their families.” (As Vice President of CFI’s Investing in Inclusive Finance Program, Deborah leads the Africa Board Fellowship Program and the Financial Inclusion Equity Council.)
For Sonja Kelly, International Women’s Day – a day to highlight the rights of women – is important for the women CFI seeks to serve because women’s rights create the foundation for financial inclusion. Financial inclusion relies on basic legal and physical infrastructure, and any gender gap in those fundamentals carries through to financial services. “Things like mobile phone ownership, mobility, and legal independence are critical to ensuring the mere possibility of financial access. But today, women around the world have lower rates of phone ownership, lower mobility, and are less likely to be legally or even functionally independent from the men around them.” (Sonja is the Director of Research at CFI.)
Sharlene Brown’s personal journey, and that of her mother, sisters, and grandmother, remind her every day what women and their families can achieve when a woman gains access to work, health care, education, and other opportunities. Born in Jamaica and raised in New York, Sharlene knows women “back home” who continue to struggle to find regular employment, pay school fees, and have access to running water. “My commitment to financial inclusion is because of my very personal knowledge of these realities – be it in Jamaica or elsewhere,” Sharlene says. (Sharlene is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Responsible Financial Inclusion (PRFI), formerly known as the Microfinance CEO Working Group.)
Isabelle Barres says, “International Women’s Day reminds us that women across the globe unfortunately still don’t have the same opportunities as men. It prompts us to continue to raise awareness of this issue.” As poverty affects women disproportionately, we need to make sure that their voices are heard, she asserts. (Isabelle serves as Global Director of the Smart Campaign, and is a co-founder of Women Advancing Microfinance, which supports women’s leadership in microfinance and financial inclusion.)
Danielle Piskadlo sums up the common sentiment. “I hope someday we look back on International Women’s Day and laugh that it was ever such a big thing.” Danielle recognizes that women in the U.S. and some other parts of the world are “leaning in”, marching, and insisting that #TimesUp. However those movements are far from global, and for many women at the base of the pyramid, participating in such movements would be a luxury. Through her work with the Africa Board Fellowship, which focuses on financial institution governance, Danielle advocates for placing more women on boards. She notes that boards with more women are proven to perform better financially, show better risk management, operate more professionally, and better understand the needs of female clients. “Ideally we will soon get to a place where women make up at least half of most boards, but, sadly, we are not there yet.” (Danielle is Director of Investing in Inclusive Finance and a regular contributor to the CFI Blog.)
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