#BreakTheBias – the role of the financial sector in advancing gender equality

08 March 2022

On this International Women's Day (IWD) and in keeping with the #BreakTheBias theme, Fair Finance International commits to continue holding financial institutions to account to ensure responsible investments that protect and support the rights and livelihoods of women.

While IWD is an important day to celebrate women's social, economic, cultural and political achievements, it also presents a vital moment for reflection and acknowledgement that across the globe women are more likely to live in poverty, experience violence against them and face exclusion in a wide variety of arenas from professional opportunities to access to formal financial systems  – in fact one billion women still do not use or have access to the financial system.

This deplorable situation has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic with UN Women underlining how in times of crisis, when resources are strained and institutional capacity is limited, women and girls face disproportionate impacts as women informal workers, migrants, youth and the world's poorest, among other vulnerable groups, are more susceptible to lay-offs and job cuts. For example, UN Women survey results from Asia and the Pacific are showing that women are losing their livelihoods faster than men and have fewer alternatives to generate income.

Financial institutions can play a positive role in addressing these injustices and inequalities, however, which is why this IWD several of the Fair Finance International coalitions are raising their voices pointing not only to the problems but also the solutions so that finance and investment can work women, girls and for all.

Today Fair Finance Asia released its newest study which showed that between 2016 to 2020, 125 of the largest agribusinesses operating in the ASEAN, India, Japan, and Pakistan received $22.6 billion in loans and underwriting services from financial institutions active in Asia and worldwide. However, on assessing the policies of 54 financial institutions actively providing credit and underwriting services to these companies, the results clearly highlighted weak enforcement or an overall lack of policies on gender equality, human rights, labor rights, and transparency and accountability. Essentially negligence by financial institutions coupled with inadequate government regulation and enforcement has led to continued failure by Asian agribusinesses in upholding women's rights and combatting labor and human rights violations. It doesn’t have to be this way, however with FFA calling on financial institutions to commit to respecting internationally recognized human rights conventions and adopt  gender-responsive approach to human rights due diligence among other suggestions.

Meanwhile the Dutch Fair Finance Guide has today revealed that most Dutch banks are still not doing enough to combat inequality between women and men in a study that looks at inequality in the banking sector itself and in companies in which in invests. Speaking on the findings Barbara Oosters, Fair Finance Guide Project Leader said 'Banks not only have a responsibility to tackle inequality between women and men in their own companies, but also through their loans and investments. This is still far too low a priority for most banks.”

Likewise Fair Finance Germany, Brazil and Netherlands came together to create this video looking at where and how financial institutions can help close the gender gap, while Fair Finance Indonesia hosted a side event on the occasion of the kick-off ceremony of the C20 entitled “Towards Gender-Inclusive Sustainable Finance to Ensuring a Just Transition” during which it was noted that gender inequality is the most ignored issues among financial institutions operating across the Asian region with nearly 90% of banks assessed not disclosing information on how gender issues are addressed in their due diligence with clients.

Across the globe and across the Fair Finance network, voices are raised calling on financial institutions to  be a solution for gender inequality rather than a cause. How banks chose to operate themselves in terms of gender equality and the role they can play in influencing those companies they invest in to behave responsibly can have a transformative role.

This International Women’s Day and every day Fair Finance International will continue to call for financial Institutions that consider the needs and aspirations of women in their investment policies and practices, that require that companies and businesses in whom they invest to provide support to women workers, including protection, compensation, and benefits and for a financial sector that values the inclusion and empowerment of women as a key tool in advancing responsible and sustainable development.