Demand-Side Barriers

Demand-Side Barriers

Sociocultural and Normative Barriers

Restrictive social norms around women’s education, employment, right to inherit, and mobile phone ownership, among others, are impediments to women’s financial inclusion, often engendering further obstacles.

For instance, in some countries, there are unfavorable perceptions regarding women’s access to and use of mobile phones, which might put pressure on families to restrict this access. In other contexts, women’s economic independence via ownership of a financial account may be frowned upon and policed. Poor internet and electricity connectivity may force people in remote rural areas to leave their house to acquire a signal or charge their cell phone; this may not be possible for women, due to social expectations regarding their mobility, safety concerns, and the housework they are often required to perform.

Social conventions can also restrict women’s attendance at school, which in turn can limit their literacy and smartphone navigation skills.5 Moreover, mobile phone ownership and the inherent exchange of information that comes with it can increase instances of online harassment and gender-based violence for women clients (UN Women 2019).

DFS: An Efficient Tool to Address Women’s Time Poverty

Women’s competing domestic and caregiving obligations take up much of their time, limiting their ability to engage in income-generating activities and to interact with the financial sector, affecting their perceived need for financial services.

Research shows that digital financial products and services have the potential not only to lower transaction costs but also lead to significant time savings. A study in rural Niger showed that payments made via digital means saved an average of one hour of travel time and more than three hours of waiting time per transfer. This finding may be especially important for rural women, given their extensive work responsibilities.


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2022).

Lack of Financial Education and Digital Literacy

Globally, women have lower levels of literacy than men6 and less access to mobile phones, both of which contribute to women’s lower levels of financial education and digital literacy. Their limited financial and digital literacy can lead to a perceived lack of need and mistrust toward DFS (Bailur et al. 2021) and can hamper their ability to use mobile internet and services confidently on their own. The Findex notes that women are five percentage points more likely to require help using their mobile money account, which places them at greater risk of illicit fees or financial abuse (Demirgüç-Kunt et al. 2022). Given this, it is unsurprising that women often have concerns about the security and privacy of their financial information when using digital platforms and may worry about the risk of fraud, theft, or other forms of cybercrime, which can erode their trust in DFS.

For women-owned SMEs, information asymmetries also play a role in limiting women’s access to finance. Women-led SMEs may not have adequate access to information about available financing options, eligibility requirements, and application procedures, and women often do not have the same networks as their male counterparts to obtain information on financing options and opportunities (Ali 2019; Ndenje-Sichalwe 2004).

Unequal Access to Technology

Lack of access to mobile phones: Gender disparities in mobile ownership are another deterrent to women accessing DFS. Across low-and middle-income countries, women are 16 percent less likely than men to have access to mobile phones and to use mobile internet, mobile money, and other mobile services (GSMA 2022). As financial services are increasingly digitized, this gender gap presents a fundamental barrier to women’s financial inclusion. Furthermore, the gap widens when accounting for women with limited literacy, rural dwellers, and women with disabilities (GSMA 2021). Several interwoven reasons account for this gap, including access to handsets and data plans affected by affordability, low levels of literacy and digital skills, and restrictive social norms dictating women’s mobile phone usage.

Affordability of cellular and data packages: Even when women do own mobile phones, affording the ongoing costs of mobile phone usage can be a challenge. For instance, women who have little to no income of their own and depend on their family members for a daily or weekly allowance may face limited access to mobile data vouchers or minutes to access network provider services (Summers et al. 2020).

Lack of Formal ID Documents

In many countries, formal identification is required to open a bank account or register for a SIM card. Across the globe, 850 million people still lack an official ID, and women in low-income countries are eight percentage points less likely than men to have an ID (Clark, Metz, and Casher 2022). Obtaining an official or government-issued ID, such as a passport, driver’s license, voter registration, or other national ID, can be complicated for women due to a number of legal, administrative, financial, and social obstacles.

For instance, in certain jurisdictions, men and women face the following differing legal requirements when applying for ID cards (Dahan and Hanmer 2015):

  • Married women are required to provide marriage certificates and state the name of their spouse, while married men are not.
  • Married women are required to obtain additional signatures/permissions from a male relative (father or a guardian).
  • ID cards are mandatory for men but not for women.

Additionally, in some societies, women may not be able to (or must receive explicit permission to) travel independently to identity-registration sites. Their lesser representation in the formal labor force may leave them with few financial resources to travel or pay any fees associated with obtaining a formal ID. Finally, women’s greater household and care responsibilities may reduce their available time to visit registration locations.

5. CGAP Pakistan research.
6. Literacy rate, adult male (% of males ages 15 and above), World Bank Data,