UNSGSA Queen Máxima Remarks on Reaching Financial Equality

The Hague, the Netherlands

Reaching Financial Equality – A Call to Action 

UNSGSA Queen Máxima International Women's Day Event
UNSGSA Queen Máxima is pictured delivering virtual remarks from The Hague for a call to action for reaching financial equality event held on International Women's Day, 8 March 2021. Photo credit: Office of the UNSGSA / Gabriella Sancisi

Ladies and Gentlemen: It’s a pleasure to join you today.

Briefly, I’d like to recognize our esteemed panelists, Minister Indrawati, Minister Herrera, and Governor Addison. And thank you for your leadership on financial equality. I’ve had the privilege of working with many of you and appreciate your leadership on financial equality.

International Women’s Day is a day for us to not only reflect upon our common progress, but outline what needs to be accomplished next.

Frankly, the outlook is sobering. According to UN Women, 47 million more women and girls worldwide have fallen into poverty since the start of the pandemic. That pushes the overall total to 435 million women and girls living on less than $1.90 per day.

Mothers and daughters everywhere continue to shoulder the extra costs of the crisis.

Women usually have to assume additional caregiving responsibilities, while struggling to maintain their livelihoods—often in the informal sector. Female-owned businesses tend to be smaller with less access to financial resources. And data from Africa, South Asia, and Latin America show that women have lost their sources of income more rapidly than men because of the economic disruption caused by COVID-19.

However, the news is not all bad. Many governments responded to the crisis by providing funds to citizens through digital channels. According to the IMF, cash transfers make up more than 80% of relief programs in Sub-Saharan Africa since the pandemic began.

This response has afforded new opportunities to accelerate financial inclusion. Digital deployment offers the opportunity to deposit funds directly into women’s accounts. This pivots away from cash, which can be unsanitary, and provides women more control and privacy. It can also enable massive account openings, paving a path to explore other digital financial services, such as remittances. Using these financial services helps women build assets, manage economic emergencies, and weather health shocks. It is important that appropriate and affordable products are designed considering the financial needs of women. Beyond short-term access, usage of financial products is a priority, particularly savings and insurance to build up buffers.

Reaching full financial inclusion for women, however, cannot take place without investing in digital public goods. It is impossible to send cash safely and swiftly to a woman who has no formal identification, does not appear in public databases, or has no access to a mobile phone with a secure internet connection. It is therefore now more important than ever to accelerate investments in this infrastructure to help women enter and participate in the formal digital economy in a very safe manner.

The Special Advocate highlights the importance of women's financial inclusion and economic empowerment during her virtual remarks. Photo credit: Office of the UNSGSA / Chris Hughes

What do I mean specifically by such goods? Many of them are outlined in the Call to Action.

  • One, access to a mobile phone and internet connection is a necessary starting point. In general, developing economies have notable gender gaps in this area. Beyond basic access, people need reliable and affordable data and connectivity to use financial services on mobile phones. The problem is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa where there is a 41% gender gap in mobile internet use. This, while the region is home to four of the world’s top five most expensive countries for mobile data.
  • Second, people without a government-recognized ID often cannot open accounts and are excluded from the formal financial system. Globally 1-of-5 unbanked women say the lack of ID is a key barrier to opening an account.
  • And lastly, regulation promoting responsible digital innovation and agent network development is crucial. There are many good examples of countries modifying regulation to support pandemic response. Governments can require that financial service providers clearly disclose product terms and conditions. And ensure that there is an effective redress mechanism to address customer complaints. Without these elements in place, there’s danger of expanding the digital gender divide.

The Better Than Cash Alliance, United Nations Capital Development Fund, Women's World Banking, and the World Bank should be commended for developing a practical, action-oriented framework supporting financial equality. All action points in the report are equally important to make meaningful progress. Taken together, the policies outlined prioritize women’s financial well-being and financial health. They also support economic growth by ensuring greater participation of women in formal markets. This is particularly relevant as countries chart their recovery from COVID-19.

What is needed now is a common commitment and investment from economic actors to drive equality in a post COVID-19 world. I encourage policymakers to develop national plans to implement the actions outlined in this report. These plans could be backed by stringent reporting and accountability frameworks with results closely monitored. Coordinated actions from CEOs, ministers, policymakers, and civil society are needed to implement this successfully.

Finally, I leave you with a message of optimism. While the last 12 months significantly transformed our economies and societies—sometimes in devastating ways—digital technology has provided an important lifeline. It has offered new opportunities to accelerate financial inclusion. Milestones that appeared years away were reached in months.

So, looking ahead, we know what needs to be done in terms of policy and investments to close the gender gap. There is a chance to reach financial equality and set a shining example for other economic sectors. I really look forward to supporting all of you on this journey toward a more inclusive world for the women of today and tomorrow.

Thank you very much and I wish you all success.