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Social norms change for women’s financial inclusion

In 2016, village elders banned mobile phones for unmarried women in a community in Gujarat. The male elders had decided that there is no benefit to unmarried women’s access to a phone and that such access is a nuisance to society. Any unmarried woman found using a phone is fined, and anyone reporting them receives a reward.These social norms negatively affect women’s ability to benefit from outside economic opportunities—in turn, many women are not able to access and use financial services that would help them. It is imperative that organizations working on women’s financial inclusion understand the social norms that limit women’s access to and use of financial services and the degree to which these norms can be shifted to achieve development goals. This requires going beyond supply-side solutions that focus on investments in financial services providers. The focus should be to better understand the social norms at play and to devise strategies that engage a broader range of stakeholders at different levels of the market needed for more impactful change.This Brief is intended for funders, practitioners, and policy makers who are committed to women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment. It introduces basic concepts of social norms change theory, reviews current practices regarding gendered approaches to financial inclusion, and explores how lessons learned from other sectors that are embedding norms changes in their design can be applied to women’s financial inclusion programming.Understanding the social norms at play and the potential influence they may have on financial inclusion programing is not always straightforward, given the hyperlocality of informal rules, which can differ dramatically by context, even within the same country.Common norms, such as restrictions on women’s mobility and safety, intra household decision-making, and unpaid work and perceptions of appropriate roles for women in the community, tend to restrict women’s access to and use of finance. Knowing exactly how norms apply in any given context and the opportunities for shifting behaviors through both normaware and norm-transformative efforts will be critical for closing the gender financial inclusion important that programs specifically targeting women incorporate a social-norms dimension to any upfront diagnostic work to look beyond classic supply side constraints to access and use of financial services.Diagnostics that explore how women use existing financial services, expectations around women as financial actors, perceptions around access, and ownership ofnew technology will be critical to designing programs that bring together men and women to promotedevelopment goals that benefit the entire community. A client-centric approach, where practitioners and donors collaborate with organizations that understand social norms change and experiment to imbed this learning into future programming will be essential as their thinkabout impactful and transformative approaches to women’s financial inclusion.