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Social Norms Change for Women’s Financial Inclusion Image

Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

Social Norms Change for Women’s Financial Inclusion

Social Norms Change for Women’s Financial Inclusion


“Young girls get misguided [with cellphones]. It can break families and ruin relationships…Why do girls need [a] cellphone? The Internet is a waste of time and money for a middle-class community like us. Girls should better utilise their time for study and other works.” —village elder

In 2016, village elders banned mobile phones for unmarried women in a community in Gujarat. The male elders had decided that there is no benefit to unmarried women’s access to a phone and that such access is a nuisance to society. Any unmarried woman found using a phone is fined, and anyone reporting them receives a reward.

While this story does not represent women’s experience globally, it does in South Asia, where women are 38 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men (GSMA 2015). In addition to social norms around women’s phone ownership, collective attitudes concerning women’s paid and unpaid work, inheritance and ownership, and mobility outside of the home impact the division of labor within the household. These social norms negatively affect women’s ability to benefit from outside economic opportunities—in turn, many women are not able to access and use financial services that would help them. It is imperative that organizations working on women’s financial inclusion understand the social norms that limit women’s access to and use of financial services and the degree to which these norms can be shifted to achieve development goals. This requires going beyond supply-side solutions that focus on investments in financial services providers. The focus should be to better understand the social norms at play and to devise strategies that engage a broader range of stakeholders at different levels of the market needed for more impactful change.

This Brief is intended for funders, practitioners, and policy makers who are committed to women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment. It introduces basic concepts of social norms change theory, reviews current practices regarding gendered approaches to financial inclusion, and explores how lessons learned from other sectors that are embedding norms changes in their design can be applied to women’s financial inclusion programming.

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