Chapter 5. Restricted access to productive and financial resources

This chapter presents an overview of women’s restricted access to productive and financial resources. It examines discriminatory social institutions – formal and informal laws, social norms and practices – that restrict women’s access to and control over critical productive and economic resources and assets across 180 countries, covering areas such as secure access to land, secure access to non-land assets, secure access to formal financial services and workplace rights. The chapter also seeks to provide policy makers with the necessary tools and evidence to design effective gender-responsive policies in order to improve women’s economic empowerment.


The restricted access to productive and financial resources (RAPFR) sub-index captures women’s restricted access to and control over critical productive and economic resources and assets. This includes: discriminatory laws that deny women access to land, decent work and financial resources; discriminatory customary practices in ownership or decision-making over land, household property and other assets; discriminatory practices or attitudes towards women’s formal work; and social norms dictating that women’s property ownership or access to credit should be mediated by men. The sub-index is composed of four indicators:

  • “secure access to land assets” captures the share of women land titleholders and the level of legal protection, i.e. whether women and men have equal and secure access to land, taking into account non-statutory (societal) discrimination against women in traditional, religious and customary laws and practices.

  • “secure access to non-land assets” captures the share of women house owners and the level of their legal protection, i.e. whether women and men have equal and secure access to non-land assets, taking into account non-statutory (societal) discrimination against women in traditional, religious and customary laws and practices.

  • “secure access to formal financial services” captures the share of women holding a bank account and the level of their legal protection, i.e. whether women and men have equal access to formal financial services, taking into account non-statutory (societal) discrimination against women in traditional, religious and customary laws and practices.

  • “workplace rights” captures the share of women managers and the social acceptance of working mothers as well as its legal acceptance, i.e. whether women and men enjoy equal rights and opportunities in the workplace. This includes issues related to employment protection during pregnancy, maternity/parental leave, equal remuneration for work of equal value and equal access to professions, taking into account non-statutory (societal) discrimination against women in traditional, religious and customary laws and practices.

Key messages

  • The economic case for women’s economic empowerment has not been always translated into better access for women to resources:

    • The global level of discrimination in access to productive and financial resources is 27%, ranging from 2% in Sweden to 80% in Kuwait.

  • The various forms of discrimination discussed in this dimension overlap and intersect:

    • Ownership of land and non-land assets, as well as access to the formal economy are critical for women’s financial inclusion;

    • Women’s restricted financial inclusion and lack of autonomy reinforce the discrimination they face in accessing land, non-land assets and entrepreneurship.

  • Legal discrimination still restricts women’s workplace rights and their secure access to land:

    • Some 88 countries proscribe women from entering certain professions;

    • In 34 countries, only husbands are entitled to administer and dispose of marital property.

  • Despite the increasing adoption of legal frameworks to provide women with equal access to land, non-land assets and financial services, customary laws still impede their access to basic economic resources:

    • In 123 countries, traditional, religious and customary laws and practices limit women’s freedom to claim and protect their land assets.

  • Discriminatory social norms are still reflected in women’s lower economic power:

    • Women own less than 15% of the world's land, account for 21% of all house owners and hold 24% of all management positions.

How can governments effectively tackle discriminatory social institutions restricting women’s access to productive and financial resources?

  • Reconcile customary or traditional land-tenure and ownership systems with the civil law to ensure women’s land rights;

  • Encourage the relevant authorities to repeal and amend customary, traditional or religious property regulations and regimes that discriminate against women’s property rights;

  • Address customary and traditional practices that conflict with women’s formal rights to open a bank account and access credit opportunities by interacting with the appropriate traditional bodies;

  • Remove discriminatory legal provisions that limit women’s employment opportunities; and

  • Address discriminatory social norms that confine women to their reproductive role or subordinate economic role (i.e. unpaid family workers, low-responsibility jobs).

The SIGI result for the Restricted Access to Productive and Financial Resources (RAPFR) dimension confirms that discrimination restricting women’s workplace rights, their access to land, non-land assets and financial resources persists: the global level of discrimination is 27% in this sub-index with huge disparities across countries, from 2% in Sweden to 80% in Kuwait (Figure 5.1). Indeed, the global score in the RAPFR sub-index hides regional disparities highly correlated with disparities in regional levels of women’s contribution to the formal economy. Europe stands out as the best performer with a score of 13%, while other regions lag behind: the Americas at 22%, followed by Asia (34%) and Africa (39%). It is in regions where women’s labour-force participation is low that the rates of discrimination under the RAPFR sub-index are the highest: the scores go up to 45% and 54% in Northern Africa and Middle Africa, respectively.

Figure 5.1. Level of discrimination in the restricted access to productive and financial resources sub-index

Note: Higher SIGI values indicate higher inequality: the SIGI ranges from 0% for no discrimination to 100% for absolute discrimination.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender Institutions and Development Database,

Although progress has been made in expanding women’s access to productive and financial resources, challenges remain, especially to improving women’s workplace rights. Gender discrimination and inequalities at work persist in all regions: the global level of discrimination on this indicator is 44%, ranging from 5% in Latvia to 87% in Pakistan. This is the most striking indicator in this sub-index. For other indicators, the global level of discrimination is 27% and 24% in women’s legal access to land and non-land assets, respectively, and 13% for women’s access to formal financial services, thanks to strengthened legal frameworks (Figure 5.2). This result should be interpreted with care because merely having access to a bank account does not means women’s financial needs are being fulfilled in practice.1

Figure 5.2. SIGI results in the four restricted access to productive and financial resources indicators

Note: Global average, best and lowest performers in the four restricted access to productive and financial resources indicators.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database,

Sweden is the strongest performing country in this dimension, because of a comprehensive legislative framework promoting women’s economic rights, which is reflected in greater women’s economic empowerment. The constitution grants women and men equal rights to access land and non-land assets, while the Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on gender in access to credit and bank accounts. Equal pay for work of equal value is mandated. Under the Discrimination Act, employers must conduct remuneration surveys every three years and companies with more than 25 employees are obliged to draw up an action plan for equal pay for equal work on the basis of the surveys. In 1974, Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce gender-neutral parental benefits (Box 5.8). Moreover, a “Gender Equality Bonus” – introduced in 2008 – offers an economic incentive for families to divide parental leave more equally between the mother and the father. Non-discriminatory legal provisions, action plans and social norms favourable to women’s economic empowerment have led to improved women’s representation in the economic sphere: women hold 47.5% of jobs in Sweden, 40% of managerial positions and 32% of board positions in listed companies (higher than the 23% average in the European Union).

Secure access to land assets

Key messages

  • Despite important advances in legislation to strengthen women’s land rights, significant gaps between countries and regions remain. To date, 164  countries explicitly recognise women’s rights to own, use, make decisions and use land as collateral on equal terms with men. However, only 52 countries guarantee these rights both in law and practice because of discriminatory customary laws. Whereas there are very low levels of discrimination in Europe (26 countries), Africa stands out as the poorest-performing region on this indicator, despite the fact that access to agricultural land is even more important for women’s empowerment opportunities in most African countries.

  • A major element of the remaining challenge is weak law enforcement and implementation, often contributed to by women’s limited legal awareness. Even with theoretical equal rights, women rarely exercise them. They tend to have limited knowledge of their statutory rights and customary laws often define land tenure as a male privilege. Under customary and traditional inheritance systems, for example, women are often required to give up their rights in favour of male relatives when they become divorced, widowed or orphaned.

  • Deeply entrenched norms and customary land-tenure laws confine women to subordinate and dependent status. While women contribute significantly to agricultural production, their status gives them very low decision-making power, restricting their opportunities for economic empowerment. Women represent 43% of the agricultural labour force, but 65% of unpaid family workers in developing countries but only 15% of agricultural landholders (FAO, 2011[1]).

  • Reducing extreme poverty, hunger and creating resilient societies requires securing women’s access to and ownership of land. Among the SDGs 132 Goals and 59 targets are unlikely to be met without progress towards securing and protecting women’s land rights. Providing women’s equal access to productive resources could increase the production of female-operated farms by 20% to 30% in developing countries (FAO, 2011[1]). Moreover, women’s land ownership is linked to income growth, greater bargaining power within their households, better child nutrition and higher educational attainment for girls (Markham, 2015[2]).

  • The best score in this indicator is shared by 53 countries. In these countries, women enjoy the same rights and secure access to land assets as men in law and in practice. However, despite the fact that the proportion of female agricultural landholders (19%) exceeds the global average (15%), it is far from equality (50%).

Key policy recommendations

  • Improve women’s land rights through the harmonisation of customary laws with statutory laws, in line with international and regional commitments to human rights’ (Box 5.1). In many countries, land tenure is closely linked to customary laws and practices that prevent women from enjoying secure access to land either by blocking their right to inherit land or to hold nominative title to it. As a result, discriminatory customary laws related to marriage and inheritance lead to the perpetuation of gender imbalances in land ownership across generations.

  • Design awareness-raising campaigns about women’s land rights and foster dialogue with community and religious leaders to ensure real harmonisation between customary and statutory laws. For instance, an audit conducted by the Kenya Land Alliance revealed that, despite the adoption of Kenya’s progressive Constitution in 2010, women’s land ownership continues to lag behind that of men. The audit examined about one-third of the 3.2 million title deeds issued between 2013 to 2017 and found that Kenyan women received some 10% of land titles issued by the government, representing only 1.60% of land by area (Kenya Land Alliance, 2018[3]).

  • Develop legal literacy programmes to help women, families and communities understand their statutory rights to land. While legal frameworks guarantee women’s land rights on equal terms with men, they are largely thwarted by women’s general lack of awareness of their rights. To combat such ignorance, the Land Centre for Human Rights in Egypt, for example, supports farmers and rural communities, including rural women, to improve knowledge and understanding of their legal rights.

  • Provide women with affordable access to land rights enforcement mechanisms to guarantee their recourse to adequate justice structures (courts, customary and dispute-resolution bodies and relevant authorities) without discrimination.

  • Promote women’s participation and leadership in global, national and local institutions, in governance mechanisms in rural areas and in bodies concerned with the ownership and use of land, in order to increase women’s autonomy, voice, agency and decision-making power.

  • Collect sex-disaggregated data at the individual level to gain a better understanding of women’s barriers to accessing and owning land. The collection of data needs to be coupled with qualitative research methods to take local conditions into account.

  • Promote joint land titling in order to increase the registration of women’s land rights. The government in Uganda made efforts including subsidised land titles that are conditional on co-registration and targeted information campaigns, to encourage joint registration of land held by married couples in rural areas. A World Bank evaluation of the schemes found that 40% of couples were willing to register their land jointly without incentives but up to 70% would do so with incentives (Cherchi, 2018[4]).

  • Undertake small innovative practices in land registration systems that can have a big impact on women’s land rights. In Tanzania, women’s land certification increased from 0% to over 50% in the villages where USAID’s Mobile Application to Secure Tenure (MAST) was set up (USAID, 2016[5]). In India, Landesa partnered with the government of West Bengal to modify the number of spaces for names on land registration documents from one to two and educate registers about the advantages of women’s land rights. As a result, women’s names were included in land titles in a greater number of cities (Markham, 2015[2]).

Box 5.1. International standards concerning women’s land rights

Women’s equal access, use and control over land is grounded in core international human rights instruments, including:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which recognises the right to property (Art. 2);

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976) that guarantees equality between women and men (Art. 3);

  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976) calls on State parties to “undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights” (Art.3);

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) acknowledges that “State parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development” (Art. 14.2);

  • The Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (No. 169) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) (1989) states that “the rights of ownership and possession of the peoples concerned over the lands which they traditionally occupy shall be recognized” (Art. 14.1);

  • The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) calls on Governments to “ensure women’s equal access to economic resources, including land” and “to formulate and implement policies and programmes that provide access to and control of land” (para. 58(n));

  • The Habitat Agenda (1996) commits Governments to providing “legal security of tenure and equal access to land to all people, including women and those living in poverty; and undertaking legislative and administrative reforms to give women full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and to ownership of land” (para. 40 (b));

  • The CEDAW Committee considers “women’s rights to land, natural resources, as well as fisheries as fundamental human rights” (CEDAW Committee, 2016[6]);

  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework (2015) recognises women’s secure access to land as a key pillar of women’s economic empowerment. The international community has committed to secure, enforce and monitor progress on women’s land rights in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda by including land-specific SDG indicators (1.4.23 and 5.a.14).


Governments have undertaken legislative reforms to protect women’s land rights. To date, 164 countries specifically recognise women’s rights to own, use, make decisions about and use land as collateral on equal terms with men. One measure adopted by governments to strengthen women’s land rights is to incorporate legal provisions for joint registration into the legal and policy framework particularly for married, divorced and abandoned women and widows. Some 89 countries have made joint-titling compulsory for land to both married couples and de-facto unions.

Guaranteeing legal rights is not enough to increase women’s access to land. In general, women are less aware of their legal rights than are men, especially women living in rural areas and belonging to minority groups. Therefore, 27 countries have promoted legal literacy programmes and projects to enable women to understand their land and property rights. In addition, 79 governments have implemented measures to enhance women’s participation in co-operatives, producer organisations and rural committees in national programmes to promote, protect and empower rural women, and to provide training for rural women and capacity-building activities for female-led co-operatives.

Legal equality for women’s land rights in national legal codes has not proven sufficient to counter deeply entrenched inequalities due to inconsistencies with plural legal systems.5 In 123 countries, women are denied the same rights to access land assets as men under traditional, religious and customary laws and practices, while 30 countries do not apply the same legal frameworks governing land to all groups of women. In some countries, customary law can be applied in parallel with statutory law to prevent women from inheriting and acquiring land. In Botswana, most agricultural land is owned as customary family property and is allocated on a “first-come, first-served” basis. This has gender implications and marginalises women because of gender norms that make it difficult for women to claim independent land rights. In other countries where women may have equal legal rights to register land in their names, in practice it tends to be registered in the father’s or husband’s name. In Egypt, social and traditional norms often mean that women appoint male guardians – a father or a brother – to manage their land rights.

Box 5.2. Mobilising African rural women to claim their land rights

Rural women play a key role in the achievement of the SDGs. Providing women with equal access to productive resources could increase production on female farms by 20% – 30% in developing countries (FAO, 2011[1]). However, legal barriers still hinder rural women’s empowerment.

As a result, the Kilimanjaro initiative (KI) supported by the International Land Coalition (ILC), ActionAid, and Oxfam was launched in Nigeria in 2016. The objective of the initiative was to mobilise African rural women and draw attention to their plight by organising a climb to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro and to call upon states to translate international commitments into concrete national actions in securing their land rights.

More than 100 000 women were mobilised and over 20 countries supported the initiative, from women mobilising and organising themselves into rural committees to national formations embracing NGOs and women-led farms and producer organisations. In addition, gender-sensitive national charters of demands were developed.

Source: FAO (2011[1]), The State of Food and Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development, (accessed on 26 January 2019).

All efforts to promote women’s land rights have not been translated into real changes on the ground. Women represent 43% of the agricultural labour force and 65% of the unpaid family workers in developing countries and are involved in a variety of agricultural operations raising crops, livestock and fish farming (FAO, 2011[1]). However, in African countries, while women may cultivate their own plots, they do not necessarily have ownership rights over them. Due to persistent discriminatory laws and practices, only 15% of agricultural landholders, globally, are women (Figure 5.3), ranging from 1% in Saudi Arabia to 50% in Cabo Verde. Women represent 20% of agricultural title holders in Europe, 16% in the Americas, 13% in Africa and 12% in Asia. This low ownership of land and assets maintains an “asset trap” because such assets are often required as collateral by financial institutions, preventing women from obtaining credit and loans.

Figure 5.3. Women’s and men’s share of land

Note: Women’s and men's share in the agricultural landowners.

Source: FAO (2018), Gender and Land Rights Database, (accessed 12 November 2018).

Secure access to non-land assets

Key messages

  • Laws continue to obstruct women’s legal rights to own, use and manage property and non-land assets in fundamental ways. Only 42% of countries guarantee women’ property rights on an equal footing with men. Progress is being made but the pace is slow: only four countries6 made legal reforms to remove restrictions on women’s right to own and control property between 2014 and 2017 and women account for 21% of all house owners.

  • Increasing property rights for women is vital for their own social and economic empowerment, as well a first step towards tackling slums. As women start to make up a greater proportion of urban residents in developing countries, there is an urgent need to develop effective and trustworthy property-enforcement mechanisms in order to safeguard their property rights.

  • The best score in this indicator is shared by 75 countries. The legal frameworks guarantee the same rights and secure access to non-land assets to both women and men in law and in practice.

Key policy recommendations

  • Promote jointly titled property, which would specifically unlock women’s access to formal financial services (Box 5.3). A change in the regulations covering asset registration could provide women with equal rights to property and enable them to use assets as collateral to secure loans.

  • Analyse the consequences for women’s property rights of national legislations governing marriage, divorce and inheritance, as well as the potential effects of proposed legal reforms.

Box 5.3. International standards with respect to women’s property rights

Women’s rights to property and non-land assets are guaranteed under numerous international and regional instruments, including:

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) establishes the right of everyone to own property regardless of sex (Art. 17.1 and 2);

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) explicitly calls State parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure the same rights for both spouses in respect of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property (Art. 16.1 (h));

  • The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) calls on national and international non-governmental organisations and women’s groups to protect women’s right to full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance of land and other property (Para. 60);

  • The Agenda 2063 (2015) states that “the African woman will be fully empowered in all spheres, with equal social, political and economic rights, including the rights to own and inherit property” (Aspiration 6).

  • Conduct innovative and holistic awareness-raising campaigns at the community level to ensure that not only women, but the entire community understand the legal framework regarding women’s property rights (Box 5.4).

  • Guarantee transparency and simplify lengthy bureaucratic procedures when registering, transferring or purchasing property.


Access to property and other non-land assets is important for women’s economic empowerment and well-being. Women’s rights to own, use and make decisions over property is a determining factor in achieving an adequate standard of living and crucial for their everyday survival, economic security and physical safety. Women and girls who are economically dependent on their male entourages who control property and assets are more susceptible to HIV infection and more vulnerable to poverty (ICRW, 2016[7]). Furthermore, the ownership and control over property and assets are related to greater bargaining power within the household and, in some cases, may offer protection against the risk of domestic violence (Panda, 2003[8]).

Laws continue to constrain women’s legal rights to own, use and manage property and non-land assets in fundamental ways. Globally, only 42% of countries guarantee equality in asset rights both in law and in practice. Since the last edition of the SIGI in 2014, four countries have enacted reforms to eliminate restrictions on women’s rights to own and control property. Meanwhile, 34 countries still entitle husbands solely to administer and dispose of marital property. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, a wife does not have the same rights as her husband to administer marital property,7 while a husband’s consent is required for major transactions in the Philippines. Furthermore, 29% of countries restrict women’s equal legal right to property and other non-land assets after divorce or separation.

Box 5.4. Enhancing women’s property rights in Kosovo

Although women and men enjoy equal rights to own and control property, women only own 17% of property in Kosovo, an increase of 10 percentage points from 2012, but still far below other Balkan states and other countries (USAID, 2015[9]). Much of this gap is rooted in the application of traditional customary norms. In order to mitigate and ultimately change such discriminatory practices, USAID launched a national media campaign in 2016 called Per Te Miren Tone (For Our Common Good) aimed at raising awareness on women’s property rights.

The national campaign combined conventional media efforts (public service announcements for television and radio, newspapers) with social media actions (Facebook live events) in both Serbian and Albanian to promote the idea that women should be equal actors in society. The campaign was designed to reverse discriminatory attitudes and practices around property rights in the communities, support women who accept their inheritance and who purchase property in their own names and ensure that women can claim their legal rights to own property.

As a result, affirmative attitudes and perceptions among Kosovars towards equal property rights increased. Some 73% of Kosovars said they considered that women and men should have equal rights to own and use immovable property in 2017 compared to 64% in 2015 (USAID, 2017[10]). The results of the Midterm National Survey on Property Rights in Kosovo highlighted that women have become more willing to discuss the issue of inheritance renunciation with their families and relatives than they had been previously Furthermore, the media campaign around women’s property rights has generated public debate in the communities and is making Kosovars aware of their legal right to own and control property. The percentage of people who have knowledge of their property rights doubled, from 27% in 2015 to 57% in 2017 (USAID, 2017[10]). In 2018, the government, with support from USAID, launched the National Strategy on Property Rights. The strategy calls for changes to 40 laws that hinder people from claiming their property rights.

Gender inequalities in access to property still prevail and some groups of women face particular constraints. Women are still significantly less likely to own a house in their own name than men: worldwide, women account for 21% of all house owners, ranging from 5% in Pakistan to 73% in Comoros. In Africa, only 20% of documented house owners are women, while in Latin America and the Caribbean, women account for 45% of all house owners. In addition, women suffering from multiple forms of discrimination8 face particular barriers in accessing property and other non-land assets. For instance, the legal framework governing property and assets of 27 countries do not apply to all groups of women. In Latin America and the Caribbean, indigenous women are more likely to lack legal documentation, such as identification cards and birth certificates, which are required to purchase property and other non-land assets.

Figure 5.4. Legal framework on rights over non-land assets

Note: Share of countries per category of discrimination on rights over non-land assets.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database,

Restricted property rights affect women living in urban areas. In urban areas, property rights are often linked to access to housing, representing a critical need particularly for low-income categories of women. More than 80% of urban women cannot fully exercise their legal rights to own and manage property and other non-land assets. Nearly 35% of women live in countries where they cannot claim property-ownership rights because laws either do not exist or they contain discriminatory clauses. Another 30% live in countries where social norms and practices hinder women’s rights to acquire property, even when the law officially ensures equal property rights. In these circumstances, customary laws and regimes prevail over statutory laws, excluding women or limiting their access to property. The remaining 35% live in countries where women’s equal rights to property are recognised, however urban women generally lack to the means to exercise them fully, including lack of both formal property registration systems and legal awareness of property rights.

Secure access to formal financial services

Key messages

  • Political commitments have been translated into legal reforms providing women with equal rights to access formal financial services. Overall, 98% of countries guarantee women’s equal access to credit and recognise that women have the same rights as men to open a bank account; only three9 countries deny women’s legal rights to open a bank account.

  • Access to formal and financial services, such as a bank account, does not fully address women’s needs for financial inclusion. Improving women’s economic empowerment requires guaranteeing women equal access to loans, building financial literacy and offering training opportunities that really understand and address the specificities of women’s individual situations.

  • In practice, women still face discrimination from customary laws preventing women from having financial responsibilities or requiring men’s approval for certain institutional practices. For instance, several banks still require either the husband’s or the father’s signature to approve loan applications for women in Pakistan. Similarly, in Burkina Faso, while women are mainly involved in daily household expenditures, they are excluded from the decision-making process related to large household financial investments.

  • Achieving financial inclusion for women is hampered by their restricted access to education, lack of asset ownership and collateral, as well as limits on their decision-making power within the family. Formal financial institutions often require land title, statutory proof of identity and collateral to receive a credit application. The difficulties implicit in the process often exclude illiterate and poorly educated people, categories in which women are disproportionally represented and, therefore, have a low likelihood to apply for and obtain loans. Where a male is the only recognised head of household, only a man can obtain credit based on the household as collateral.

  • The best score in this indicator is shared by 38 countries. These countries guarantee the same rights to open a bank account in a formal financial institution and obtain credit to women and men in law and in practice. Furthermore, women have equal access to bank accounts in the practice.

Key policy recommendations

  • Remove discriminatory legal provisions to help women gain access to financial services. In 2016, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo amended the Family Code10 to eliminate the need for a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to engage in any legal act, including opening a bank account and accessing credit.

  • Adopt an integrated and multi-entry points approach. Far from being a sectoral issue, women’s financial inclusion requires better access to assets ownership, education, birth registration and national identity documents, among other elements. For one in four women who do not have a bank account, the main reason is the lack of documentation to prove her identity.

  • Distinguish women’s status from their husband/fathers’ authority. Involve the private sector to ensure no woman should need her guardian’s agreement to open a bank account or apply for a credit, and increase the gender-responsiveness of their financial services (Box 5.5).

Box 5.5. International standards with reference to women’s rights to formal financial services

Women’s access to formal financial services is enshrined in a number of international treaties including:

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) calls on State parties “to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular: the right to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit” (Art. 13 (b));

  • The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) states that governments should “promote and support women’s self-employment and the development of small enterprises, and strengthen women’s access to credit and capital on appropriate terms equal to those of men through the scaling-up of institutions dedicated to promoting women’s entrepreneurship, including, as appropriate, non-traditional and mutual credit schemes, as well as innovative linkages with financial institutions (para.166 (a));

  • In its general recommendation No. 25 (2004), the Committee of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women reminded that State parties should implement special temporary measures in the areas of credit and loans, as well as in legal awareness. Where necessary, such measures should be directed at women subjected to multiple discrimination, including rural women.

  • Support financial and digital literacy programmes among women and girls in developing countries (Box 5.6). Promoting ICT training and financial literacy in school curriculums is central to women’s financial empowerment. Through these programmes, women and girls improve their ability to make transactions, manage budgets and learn about the importance of saving money, even at a young age.

  • Expand financial technologies (e.g. mobile banking) and increase mobile phone ownership among low-income and rural women, as well as female-headed households. For instance, there is a gap in mobile money accounts in Kenya, where women outstrip men by nearly 22%. Women also outpace men in the use of mobile banking facilities and services in Malawi and Zambia (AFI, 2017[11]).

Box 5.6. Pro Mujer: Invest in women, transform families and communities

Latin American and Caribbean countries have the highest level of income inequality in the world. Women who belong to minority, indigenous and marginalised groups face constraints in accessing financial services and business opportunities. In this context, Pro Mujer aims at empowering women in Latin American and the Caribbean through an innovative multi-sectoral approach: providing financial, health and skill-building services and activities to unlock women’s full potential.

Since its creation in 1990 in Bolivia, Pro Mujer has disbursed more than USD 3 billion in small credits, delivered over 8 million health interventions and reached more than 2 million women across 5 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. In 2017, Pro Mujer expanded its efforts to continue empowering women through the establishment of partnerships and alliances across all sectors to ensure the provision of a wide range of services and products such as digital literacy, gender-based violence prevention and entrepreneurship training and micro-insurance (Pro Mujer, 2018[12]).

Source: Pro Mujer (2018), Pro Mujer 2018 At a Glance (accessed on 31 January 2019).


Women’s financial inclusion is crucial to achieving sustained and inclusive economic growth by 2030. Building inclusive economies involves women’s active participation in all spheres, not only as beneficiaries, but as important actors for social and economic change. Women’s access to formal financial services is a fundamental condition for improving their empowerment opportunities, offers freedom to take ownership of income-generating activities and enhances their decision-making power over their assets.

Laws and policies globally promote women’s equal access to formal financial services. The legal frameworks of most economies (177) provide married women with the same rights as married men to open a bank account at a formal financial institution and almost all countries (178) guarantee women’s equal access to credit. Governments are taking steps to improve women’s financial inclusion: 60% of countries have promoted gender-sensitive measures to expand women’s access to formal financial services.

Nonetheless, women still face barriers to financial services in certain countries. For instance, three countries still require the approval of a male head of household or guardian to open a bank account. To date, the customary, religious or traditional practices or laws of 33 economies still discriminate against women’s legal right to open a bank account at a formal institution and obtain credit.

Despite huge disparities across countries, on balance, women benefit from improved access to a bank account. Globally, 45% of all account holders are women, ranging from 13% in Yemen to 56% in the Philippines. In Europe, bank-account ownership is equal for women and men. However, women continue to lag behind in other regions: 40% and 45% of account holders are women in Africa and Asia, respectively (Figure 5.5). In some countries, there is a reversed gender gap in bank account ownership. For instance, in Argentina, Belize and Russia, women have more bank accounts than their male counterparts. While women’s financial inclusion has increased in many countries, a global gender gap of nearly 7 percentage points persists since 2011 and globally, 56% of all unbanked adults are women (World Bank, 2017[13]).

Relative equality in access to bank account hides substantial gender gaps in financial inclusion. Women’s share in access to a bank account has been used in the SIGI as a proxy to measure discriminatory practices in access to formal financial services. This choice relates to the high availability, reliability and comparability of the data across countries. However, there are shortcomings in using this proxy: financial inclusion goes beyond access to a bank account, especially in the poorest households where 46% of adults have bank accounts. Saving patterns, access to formal credit and size of the loans vary highly across genders. In developing economies for example, men are 6 percentage points more likely than women to save at a financial institution (World Bank, 2017[13]).

Figure 5.5. The gender gap in accessing financial services

Note: This figure presents the gender gap in access to financial services, as measured by the percentage of individuals aged 15 and above reporting having an account by themselves or together with someone else at a bank or another type of financial institution by sex.

Source: World Bank (2018), Global Findex Database, (accessed 12 November 2018)

Access to credit is one of the largest challenges for women working in the informal sector and in rural areas because many banks tend to require significant collateral, such as real-estate guarantees. The fact that women are usually not officially landowners, even when they are the ones actually working the land, means that they are not able to access formal financial institutions. Rural women often lack official documentation (e.g. identification cards, birth certificates), which also directly hinders their ability to access formal financial services. There are also geographical and financial limitations to women’s access to credit such as distance, lack of transport, banking fees and other associated costs.

While the number of female-run enterprises is steadily increasing, female entrepreneurs continue to face an uphill battle because of restricted access to formal financial services. In 2016, approximately 163 million women were starting or operating new businesses across 74 countries (GEM, 2017[14]). In developing countries, women-owned firms are growing: there are roughly 8 to 10 million formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with at least one woman owner (IFC, 2014[15]). However, women entrepreneurs are more likely than their male counterparts to be in the informal economy or in traditional female sectors (World Bank, 2014[16]), decreasing their likelihood of benefiting from formal financial services. Furthermore, lack of collateral used to access formal financial services is an important barrier to the growth of woman-owned businesses and women’s entrepreneurship. Female entrepreneurs can only have access to small, short-term loans, compared to their male counterparts (GEM, 2017[14]).

Workplace rights

Key messages

  • Despite legislative efforts, discriminatory laws continue to curb women’s access to employment. Nearly half of all countries (88) proscribe women from entering certain professions and in 51 countries women cannot work the same night hours as men. In addition, in 24 countries women need to have the permission of their husbands or legal guardians to choose a profession or work.

  • Most jurisdictions offer some form of paid maternity leave, but there is largely a failure to recognise the benefits of other forms of child-related leave. While paid maternity leave is guaranteed in all but two countries, only 91 offer paid paternity leave. Implementing paid paternity and parental-leave policies have benefits for all: these schemes can improve the well-being of parents and children, the increase the likelihood that women will return to work and advance on their career paths and they help tackle traditional parenting norms and gender inequality.

  • Social norms defining gender roles are still biased towards a male-breadwinner scheme. Social norms still consider caring responsibilities to be a female prerogative, preventing men from enjoying their paternity leave (which is often only a few days, in any case). As a result, uptake remains low. Moreover, women are still not expected to work outside the home, especially when they have children. Even when there has been a shift in gender norms related to the increasing awareness of women’s economic contribution to the family, women are relegated to low-skill and low-paid jobs. Women only hold one in four managerial positions globally and under one in seven in Eastern Asia, Northern Africa, Southern Asia and Western Asia.

  • Latvia is the best performer globally: women and men have equal rights to work, to have fair, safe and healthy working conditions, and to receive fair work remuneration. The law prohibits an employer to ask about pregnancy or family status during a job interview. In addition, paid maternal leave is available for 16 weeks and the duration of paid paternity leave is 10 days. Paid parental leave be taken by the mother and the father for a period not exceeding 18 months. Women account for over 46% of all managerial positions in Latvia.

Key policy recommendations

  • Remove discriminatory legal provisions affecting women’s equal access to employment (Box 5.7). For instance, lists of banned professions for non-pregnant and non-nursing women should be eliminated. These discriminatory labour laws deprive women from freely choosing their profession or type of job and from exercising their legal right to work. It also reinforces the idea that women should be confined to their domestic and reproductive roles in society. In the Kyrgyz Republic, women are excluded from up to 400 jobs and tasks. Women are not allowed to engage in certain manufacturing jobs, performing heavy work in the construction sector or operating heavy machinery (EBRD, 2015[17]).

  • Eliminate the vertical gender-segregation at work. Develop policies and programmes in partnership with the private sector to ensure equal access to companies’ boards and managerial positions.

  • Implement measures aimed at promoting work-life balance such as free or affordable early childcare services, particularly for low-income families, and flexible work arrangements (e.g. flexible hours or flexi-time schemes) for both fathers and mothers.

  • Provide employees with paid maternity, paternity or parental leave benefits and progressively increase the length of these entitlements. Longer child-related schemes lessen the disparities in leave-taking between low- and high-income families and reduce the burden of women’s unpaid care and domestic work.

  • Accompany changes in labour laws with national awareness-raising campaigns to help women and the community generally better understand their workplace rights.

  • Encourage men to take paternity and parental leave entitlements. Promote awareness-raising campaigns about healthy masculinities and the importance of equally shared parenting responsibilities. Partnerships between the private sector and CSOs can have a major role in changing attitudes on caregiving. For instance, Dove and MenCare have recently launched a global media campaign to tackle restrictive masculine stereotypes around parenting and child rearing.

  • Address social norms restricting women’s economic contribution. Promote awareness of the benefits for children and the family of a fulfilled mother, including both home makers and mothers who work outside the home. Challenge social norms that assume that men should be favoured when jobs are scarce or that men make better managers than women.

Box 5.7. International standards concerning women’s workplace rights

Women’s rights in the workplace have been guaranteed through numerous international agreements and conventions, including:

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) calls on State parties to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:

    • The right to work as an inalienable right of all human beings;

    • The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment;

    • The right to free choice of profession and employment, the right to promotion, job security and all benefits and conditions of service and the right to receive vocational training and retraining, including apprenticeships, advanced vocational training and recurrent training;

    • The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work”;

  • The Beijing Platform for Action (1995) further underlines the need to “eliminate discriminatory practices by employers and take appropriate measures in consideration of women’s reproductive role and functions, such as the denial of employment and dismissal due to pregnancy or breast-feeding, or requiring proof of contraceptive use, and take effective measures to ensure that pregnant women, women on maternity leave or women re-entering the labour market after childbearing are not discriminated against (para. 165 (c);

  • Core International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions establish key labour standards that promote effective equality between women and men in employment, including:

    • C100 – Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100);

    • C111 – Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111);

    • C156 – Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981 (No. 156);

    • C183 – Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183);

    • C189 – Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189);

  • The Sustainable Development Goals Frameworks (2015) recognises the importance to “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, and equal work for work of equal value by 2030” (target 8.5). Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set two indicators (8.5.1 and 8.5.2) to measure and monitor progress in this area.


Governments have made progress towards improving women’s economic and employment conditions under labour laws, but enforcement remains an important challenge. Some 92% of countries have ratified ILO Convention No. 100 on Equal Remuneration (1951) and 82% have introduced legislation on equal remuneration for work of equal value (Box 5.9). In addition, 90% of countries prohibit discrimination in employment based on sex. There are specific bodies tasked with receiving, investigating, adjudicating and enforcing complaints based on discrimination in employment in 107 countries. However, only 27 countries legally require companies to report on how they pay women and men and only 20 of these countries impose penalties for companies in case of gender discrimination in recruitment and promotions.

Discriminatory laws and practices continue to impede equal employment opportunities. While discrimination on the basis of sex in employment is prohibited in 90% of countries, the legal framework of 28% of these countries is comprehensive, specifically covering: non-discrimination on the basis of sex in in job advertisements, selection criteria, recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, assignments and termination of contracts. Legal restrictions range from laws prohibiting women from working the same night hours as men (51 countries) to barring them from pursuing the same professions as men (88 countries). Furthermore, in 24 countries women need to have the permission of their husband or legal guardian to choose a profession/occupation or work. In 113 countries, customary, religious or traditional practices or laws discriminate against women’s legal right to enter certain professions and 12 countries do not protect all groups of women.

Box 5.8. Moving towards gender-neutral parental-leave schemes in Sweden

In 1974, Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce gender-neutral parental benefits. Paid paternity leave is mandated for a period of 10 days after the childbirth or the day the parents receive the child in case of adoption. In addition, parents are eligible for 480 days of parental leave in total when the child is born or adopted, including 420 days paid at nearly 80% of earnings. Unemployed parents are also entitled to paid parental leave. 90 days of leave are reserved for each parent exclusively and cannot be transferred. Parental leave benefits can be taken until a child reaches eight years old. The leave entitlement applies to each child, allowing the accumulation of leave from several children. In addition, a “Gender Equality Bonus” (2008) offers an economic incentive for families to divide parental leave more equally between the mother and the father.

Box 5.9. The principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value

The principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value is set out in ILO Convention No. 100 (1951). It calls on State members to “ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value”. To date, 173 countries have ratified this convention.

Considering the horizontal gender segregation of most labour markets and that minimum wages in female-predominant sectors are lower in many cases, countries are recommended to respect the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value rather than equal pay for equal work. While the former covers broader cases where women and men carry out different work in different sectors, the latter limits the application of the equal pay principle for work done by two individuals in the same area of activity and within the same working unit. Examples of jobs that are of equal value include: cleaners (mostly women) and drivers (mostly men); social affairs managers (mostly women) and engineers (mostly men).

Men still dominate managerial positions around the world. In 156 countries where data is available, 24% of all managers are women, ranging from 1% in Jordan to 59% in Jamaica. While gender equality in decision-making positions in business is gaining ground in the Americas and Europe, where women respectively hold 39% and 35% of all managerial positions, African and Asian countries still lag behind with 23% and 17%, respectively. Five of the top ten countries with the highest percentage of women in managerial positions are located in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Most governments have adopted measures to offer paid maternity-leave schemes, but women’s employment protection is still weak (Figure 5.6). Almost all countries require employers to offer paid maternity leave. To date, 99% of countries guarantee paid maternity leave schemes, but only 53% of countries fully meet the requirements of ILO Convention No. 183 on Maternity Protection (2000) and provide for at least 14 weeks of paid leave. Furthermore, 20% of countries have ratified ILO Convention No. 183 on Maternity Protection (2000) and 92% protect women’s employment security when they are on maternity leave. However, only 26% of countries prohibit employers from asking about a woman’s pregnancy or her intention to have children during recruitment or promotion processes.

Figure 5.6. Length of paid maternity leave and paid paternity leave by region

Note: Number of weeks of paid maternity/parental leave available to mothers and paid paternity leave reserved for fathers.

Source: OECD (2019), Gender, Institutions and Development Database,

Family-friendly policies need to be adopted to promote gender equality in the workplace as well as in the family sphere. Paternity leave and paternal leave schemes are important measures to encourage fathers to share caring responsibilities, allow mothers to return to and advance in the labour force, as well as challenge prevailing gender stereotypes and parenting norms. Globally, paternity leave is available in 103 countries, among which, 91 have paid entitlements. Only 39 countries grant paid parental leave, mostly in high-income countries. However, men are unlikely to take all, if any, of their paternity or parental leave entitlements (OECD, 2017[18]).


[11] AFI (2017), Bridging the Gender Gap: Promoting Women's Financial Inclusion, (accessed on 20 January 2019).

[6] CEDAW Committee (2016), “General recommendation No. 34 on the rights of rural”, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, (accessed on 31 January 2019).

[4] Cherchi, L. (2018), “Incentives for joint land titling: experimental evidence from Uganda”, Paper presented at the Land and Poverty Conference 2018: Land governance in an Interconnected World, March 19-23, 2018, Washington, DC.

[17] EBRD (2015), Legal Barriers to Women’s Participation in the Economy in the Kyrgyz Republic, (accessed on 26 January 2019).

[1] FAO (2011), The State of Food and Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, (accessed on 26 January 2019).

[14] GEM (2017), Women's Entrepreneurship 2016/2017 Report, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, (accessed on 26 January 2019).

[7] ICRW (2016), Property Ownership for Women Enriches, Empowers and Protects, International Center for Research on Women, (accessed on 31 January 2019).

[15] IFC (2014), Women-owned SMEs: A Business Opportunity for Financial Institutions, International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group, (accessed on 31 January 2019).

[3] Kenya Land Alliance (2018), About the Women Land Rights Project, (accessed on 27 January 2019).

[2] Markham, S. (2015), The Four Things You Need to Know about Women’s Land Rights, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), (accessed on 20 January 2019).

[18] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[8] Panda, P. (2003), “Rights-based strategies in the prevention of domestic violence”, ICRW Working Paper, Vol. 344, (accessed on 27 January 2019).

[12] Pro Mujer (2018), Pro Mujer 2018 At a Glance, (accessed on 31 January 2019).

[10] USAID (2017), Midterm National Survey on Property Rights in Kosovo, (accessed on 31 January 2019).

[5] USAID (2016), Tanzania: Mobile Application to Secure Tenure, (accessed on 28 January 2019).

[9] USAID (2015), Property Rights Program. Gender, Property and Economic Opportunity in Kosovo, (accessed on 31 January 2019).

[13] World Bank (2017), The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution, The World Bank Group, Washington, DC, (accessed on 28 January 2019).

[16] World Bank (2014), Supporting Growth-Oriented Women Entrepreneurs: A Review of the Evidence and Key Challenges, Policy Note, The World Bank Group, Washington, DC, (accessed on 28 January 2019).


← 1. However, we have to acknowledge the shortcomings of this indicator due to data scarcity. Indeed, women share of bank account is used to proxy gender inequality in the practice, as this is the only variable available, comparable and reliable for cross-country comparisons. First, both women and men in developing countries have low access to formal financial services, explaining low levels of discrimination. Second, having a bank account does not necessary lead to better access to formal credit.

← 2. 13 Goals: 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16; 17.

← 3. Indicator 1.4.2 Proportion of total adult population with secure tenure rights to land, with legally recognised documentation and who perceive their rights to land as secure, by sex and by type of tenure.

← 4. Indicator 5.a.1 – (a) Percentage of people with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land (out of total agricultural population), by sex; and (b) share of women among owners or rights-bearers of agricultural land, by type of tenure.

← 5. Coexistence of statutory and customary laws.

← 6. Ecuador, Honduras, Malawi, Rwanda.

← 7. Marital property refers to property acquired by either spouse during marriage. This is also called matrimonial assets, matrimonial property or family assets. There are different legal regimes that governments may implement concerning marital property. Separate property regimes mean that property acquired by one spouse during marriage remains the sole property of that spouse. A community property regime means that all property acquired during marriage by either spouse belongs equally by both spouses.

← 8. E.g. women living with HIV/AIDS, women with disabilities, rural women, older women, female-headed households, indigenous women and women belonging to minority groups.

← 9. Chad, Guinea Bissau and Niger.

← 10. Law 16-008, 2016.

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