When we address gender inequality and remove the underlying barriers for women and girls, we unlock the potential for all people—men, women, boys, and girls—to be equally valued and to lead healthy and productive lives”- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Foundation describes women’s economic empowerment (WEE) as the transformative process that helps women and girls transition from limited power, voice, and choice at home and in the economy to the skills, capital, and opportunities required to compete fairly in markets as well as the agency to influence and benefit from economic gains.

The world is making strides in fostering equality between the sexes. But there is no place on earth where women are considered equal to men. From health and education to work and jobs, women and girls around the world are facing obstacles to fulfilling their potential simply because of their gender.

Poverty for example has the biggest impact on women. Women earn 63 percent less than men around the world, and spend three times as many hours on unpaid labour, including housework. Decades of research often indicate that poverty affects women differently from men, depriving them of meaningful resources throughout their lives.

We know that when women have the power to make, spend, save, and control their own money, they make gains not just for themselves, but for their communities as well.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that it would add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025 by fully incorporating women into the economy. In other words, it lifts all nations to realize gender equality.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believes that a planet that is balanced is a greater one. We can expand opportunities not only for women and girls, but also for men and boys by lifting the barriers that make women and girls less equal and more impoverished.

Investing in financial inclusion is one way to help women leverage their power to influence their own economic futures. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on women’s inclusion in the developing world, where 4 out of 10 women have no financial account whatsoever.

Digital financial services — including mobile money, debit and credit cards, and e-commerce platforms — can help a business grow far more efficiently than brick and mortar branches and can result in charges that are as much as 90 percent lower than those associated with cash-based services and transactions.

Teachers in Liberia travel up to 10 hours each way to collect their earnings in cash, a journey that often requires missing work and spending as much as 15 percent of their wages along the way. Teachers saved an average of 13.5 hours every two weeks when wages were digitalized and reduced the cost of collecting their salary by 90%.

Women’s financial inclusion is one of many powerful mechanisms that can advance gender equality, but if we don’t really consider the realities of women’s lives, we can’t make significant progress. The foundation announced an investment of $80 million in 2016 to help fill some of the critical data gaps in race. Policymakers can understand more thoroughly what works and what does not and take action that has proven to be effective through better data.

The foundation is also investigating ways in which technology can help women address social and cultural obstacles to financial inclusion. For example, allowing women to apply for accounts through an automated process means that agents who believe women should not be able to have their own money will not turn them away.

Countries like India and Pakistan have successfully implemented national programs for digital identity — using biometric data as an obstacle to removing literacy. The combination of digital identities and digital accounts seems to benefit both governments and citizens mutually. The issuance of electronic IDs in India for the first time has helped millions of people open accounts. In Pakistan, the number of women who signed up for IDs nearly doubled after the government connected their identification program to a social payment scheme.

The gender equality agenda focuses on improving the role of the poorest women and girls in economies. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s initial investments are in projects that drive the inclusion of women in digital financial services, enhance the participation of women in agricultural markets, and support a new wave of self-help groups that can provide critical platforms to empower the next generation of women and girls.

If women gain the same status, energy, and opportunities as men everywhere, particularly the poorest women, it will mean drastic social change that moves us all forward.

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