BIGD’s WEE-DiFine Initiative Discusses the Role of DBS on Women’s Empowerment in Bangladesh

Effective use of digital financial services (DFS) will economically empower women, said panelists at BIGD’s international conference titled “Digitalization and New Frontiers of Service Delivery: Opportunities and Challenges” on June 22, 2022 at BRAC Inn Auditorium.

Bangladesh is a rapidly developing economy facing complex gender dynamics. According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2020, Bangladesh ranks 50th out of 153 total countries in gender parity. Women in Bangladesh particularly lag behind men when it comes to economic participation and opportunity, a press release read.

However, increasing the participation of Bangladeshi women in the financial market could reduce these inequalities.

Digital financial services (DFS) have the potential to advance women’s economic empowerment (WEE) through several pathways, including generating greater account ownership; facilitate greater opportunities for savings or access to credit; reduce risk by improving privacy, confidentiality and security; strengthen women’s control over their own finances; reducing transaction costs and time, and diversifying economic activities.

However, the WEE is complex and its interaction with digital financial services is rarely studied. “Understanding the causal mechanisms between SFN and WEE, as well as ways to overcome barriers to women’s access to SFN, is critical,” said Kym Cole, Director of the WEE-DiFine Initiative.

Transaction costs are one such barrier to women’s access to digital financial services, both in Bangladesh and globally. Interestingly, evidence suggests that women may value transaction cost reductions differently than men. Identifying the role of transaction costs in women’s demand for DFS has the potential to close gender gaps across a wide variety of economic indicators and ultimately advance women’s economic empowerment .

The Women’s Economic Empowerment and Digital Finance Initiative (WEE-DiFine), housed at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development at BRAC University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was established to address these gaps in knowledge.

Currently, WEE-DiFine supports a portfolio of 12 rigorous qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods projects – with 6 additional studies under contract – that examine the causal links between DFS and WEE in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Ultimately, WEE-DiFine anticipates that this strong evidence will advance practical recommendations for the effective use of DFS to economically empower women.

Mara R. Wilmoth