This article is the final in a five-part series exploring the role of mobile financial services in developing countries and is based on work being done by the GSMA mWomen Programme, Visa Inc. and Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) in five key countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. The research will provide a deeper dive into how best to reach underserved women and what services and products will directly meet their needs – offering important lessons for mobile operators, financial institutions, governments, and other partners.
Women, work, and current financial tools
During my fieldwork with resource-poor women in Indonesia, I encountered a number of interesting emerging themes around employment and financial tools available to women.
Most of the women I spoke with work hard to supplement their family’s income to make ends meet. Women are very grateful for the opportunity to earn a regular wage, but often feel more pressure at home as a result. Despite working outside of the home, they still remain in charge of household chores. In some households, men do contribute to child care – and we did not encounter any resentment among the men at their wives’ need to work – but managing both the household and a job can be a considerable burden for these women.
Similarly, I spoke with a group of women in a Jakarta slum who are all contributing to their families’ income through microenterprises, mostly selling food and other items from their homes. They pursued these opportunities after having trouble making ends meet either with their husbands’ modest incomes or from allowances allocated to them by their husbands. Some women grew weary of constant fights with their spouses over money and wanted more control over their finances. As such, these microentrepreneurs often save the money they earn from their businesses for emergencies or for their children’s expenses.
A significant number of these women also face barriers to general financial management. In remote villages, for example, there are few options. There are not many savings groups (known locally as arisans) and those that do exist demand higher contributions than many women can afford. They also do not have access to formal bank accounts, instead borrowing from better-off neighbours to make ends meet. One woman I spoke with had tried unsuccessfully to get a loan from her neighbours. As a consequence, she was forced to sell some livestock, a common liquid asset in the area. Women also explained that some children, whose families could not afford the costs associated with education, had to drop out. Although schooling is free, transport and books are prohibitively expensive – and rural women are not aware of the education insurance that is popular among middle- and high-income women.
In contrast, women in urban areas take advantage of a range of financial management tools. These included arisans and local savings and lending groups, or koperasi. Women also borrow from neighbours and money lenders. Some women, who do not have their own accounts, ask their husbands to deposit their savings at the bank. The final report will dive deeper about how to expand access to these tools to include resource-poor women in rural parts of the country.
Wajiha Ahmed, Associate, Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA), conducted qualitative fieldwork in Indonesia. A video of Ms. Ahmed discussing savings mechanisms used by women in Indonesia is also available.