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Women empowerment, financial inclusion and sustainable development: public choices and private partnership

Rome, 03/10/2019, International Conference

The empowerment of women calls for a combination of measures capable of invoking the Sustainable Development Goals and their social, economic and environmental dimension; and in equal measure the financial dimension, which is gaining growing importance in this contemporary world and where women are under-represented. What is needed are policies and actions aimed at a sustainable finance sector that sees women as essential players in economic growth and, even more importantly, in all aspects that regard inclusion. Awareness of this crucial issue must be raised from the earliest years of schooling onwards: i.e. financial education as a theme cutting across all school curricula and that also affects gender equality and encourages active citizenship.

The economic dimension is where gender inequalities are felt most clearly and which in turn produce vulnerabilities that expose women to violence. Women in general are paid less than men and thus more vulnerable to economic crises and, for the most part, they do lower profile jobs. A full 1.8 billion work hours have been lost in recent years in Italy, and mainly among female employees, 6 out of 10 of whom have often been forced to work part time, leaving 35% of working women earning less than 780 euro a month; this gradual fragmentation of the career path also penalizes women when it comes to pensions. To be discredited also is the myth that women are present in fewer numbers in the workplace because they are at home being mothers. On the contrary, the countries with the highest reproductive rates are those that have the highest levels of female employment. On a positive note, women are becoming more numerous on the boards of corporations that, among other things, have adopted a more engaged approach to the themes of sustainability and social responsibility. Good governance in the private sector and pro-active government policies are essential to encouraging women’s participation in the circular economy, which is one of the challenges that companies that are trying to fight gender inequality are facing.

Education, especially in what are known as STEM subjects, is one of the keys to the greater economic, financial and employment inclusion of women, who could bring greater creativity, flexibility and team-work skills to the world of science. Much depends also on the near total absence of females in academic streams – and subsequent employment sectors – concerned with technological and digital disciplines, which are precisely the areas where the majority of future jobs are predicted to be. All this has a major influence on women’s financial inclusion and on the idea of sustainable finance, a producer, in turn, of sustainable investments. Moreover, many forms of discrimination around the world continue to be enshrined in legislation governing rights ranging from property ownership to accessing credit or having a bank account.

The theme of financial inclusion is all the more urgent when it comes to the community of immigrant women. A study commissioned by CeSpi on the financial inclusion of the immigrant women of four different communities – Filipino, Ukrainian, Moroccan, and Senegalese – shows how women who immigrate to Italy, although they make an average of 24% less than their male counterparts – manage to send more money home and more frequently. Nevertheless, and regardless the differences between one community and another, they generally enjoy fewer “financial” rights, and are often forced to use informal systems for sending money. Thus it is also for them that “financial literacy” instruments and ad hoc measures to foster inclusion in the financial system need to be developed, in the awareness that they are an important economic driver not only for the countries they emigrate to, but for their countries of origin as well, to whose stability they indirectly contribute. They are, therefore, the focus of policies that embrace the theme “women, peace and security” as intended in United Nations resolutions and the positive efforts promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.