We'll keep asking: Whose money keeps women in poverty?

08 March 2020

In the spirit of #EachforEqual, on this International Women's Day and every day, the Fair Finance International Network holds financial institutions to account to ensure responsible investments that protect and support the rights and livelihoods of women.

Poverty though global, is not gender neutral. Approximately 600 million people live in poverty around the world, and more of these are likely to be women. Women are more likely to carry out regular unpaid work, more likely to be paid less than their male counterparts, and more likely to hold fewer senior positions. Women are also more likely to be excluded from formal financial systems – in fact one billion women still do not use or have access to the financial system.

Change can happen

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The private sector – businesses - have a big influence on gender equality in practice, and so do the banks that finance them. Every day in the boardrooms of the major financial capitals of the world, investment decisions are made that can negatively or positively affect millions of people, including women and girls. This is why we focus our efforts on influencing the investment policies and decisions of financial institutions - by assessing, reporting and campaigning on their policies and practices on topics including gender equality. When financial institutions take responsibility for where and how their investments are made, finance becomes a solution for gender inequality rather than a cause. We know that businesses held to account by their investors are more likely to improve in ways fairer for the women who work for them.

Responsible finance supports responsible business

The garment industry is often characterized by low pay, low-skilled labour, long working days, labour rights violations, and poor health and safety conditions. Women make up the majority of the workforce in this industry in developing countries, and are disproportionately affected. Nonetheless these businesses receive financial investment from global banks. Fair Finance Guide Netherlands investigating labour rights abuses in the textile sector showed how the 10 largest Dutch banking groups had financial relations with garment companies notorious for unethical practices. Following successful engagement with the banks and Dutch government, both living wage and trade union freedom principles were explicitly included in the Dutch Banking Sector Agreement on International Responsible Business Conduct Regarding Human Rights. With this, the wellbeing of factory workers - most often female – became a legal responsibility of the Dutch banks financing garment companies. 

Working for women everywhere

This International Women’s Day, Fair Finance Guide Netherlands followed with a new research report highlighting the inadequate gender policies of banks financing garment industry suppliers for H&M in Cambodia and Sri Lanka, and also looked in to the financing flowing to exploitative industries working in paper production and extractives in Latin America and in Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Speaking up for women in Brazil, Teresa Liporace one of the leading figures with Fair Finance Guide Brazil writes about the devastating impact of increasing indebtedness for women in Brazil, a situation made worse by wage inequality, high interest rate credit, abusive advertising, and a lack of financial education.

Fair Finance Asia, our Asia regional partner, highlights systemic sector issues with a guest blog from Richard Welford, Senior Advisor with ELEVATE and a founder of CSR Asia, who asks “Why are financial institutions missing opportunities to address gender issues?”.

In Indonesia, cultural norms privilege men over women with respect to asset ownership, making it much harder for women to access credit and finance facilities. Fair Finance Indonesia used International Women's Day to shine a light on this problem of financial exclusion and to campaign for change.

The Fair Finance Guide Norway building on gender equality assessments of their banks' policies, were reporting on how some Norwegian banks unfairly penalize women in cases of digital banking fraud committed by men against their female partners.

And Fair Finance Guide Sweden's International Women's Day infographic on their banks' gender scores shows that you don't need to speak the language to see there is still quite a way to go!

With continued scrutiny, advocacy, campaigning and dialogue we aim to ensure that financial institutions invest responsibly so women and girls don't pay the price for their profits.