• 1 No Poverty
  • 2 Zero Hunger
  • 3 Good Health and Well-Being
  • 4 Quality Education
  • 5 Gender Equality
  • 6 Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 7 Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 9 Industry Innovation and Infrastructure
  • 10 Reduced Inequalities
  • 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 12 Responsible Consumption and Production
  • 13 Climate Action
  • 14 Life Below Water
  • 15 Life on Land
  • 16 Peace Justice and Strong Institutions
  • 17 Partnership for the Goals
5 Gender Equality 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth 10 Reduced Inequalities

How can we end the exclusion of women from financial markets?

Women around the world lack equal access to financial markets.

No matter how brilliant their ideas or how great their needs, under-served women must overcome lifetimes of stigma and pressure to be considered in the same context as men. To change that, financial markets must not only begin speaking more directly to women, but also give those women a voice — all without sacrificing investor returns.

The good news is that impact investing is gaining traction for its social and financial effectiveness alike. As issues like climate change, income disparity, and gender inequality grow more apparent, socially conscious investors are increasingly leveraging their capital to pursue returns both on paper and among real communities in need. Worldwide impact investing assets grew from $2.5 billion in 2010 to more than $500 billion in 2019.

From a distance, this growth looks incredible, but the specifics need work. Financial markets continue to neglect the needs of women, especially those who live in under-served communities. Impact investors and the Wall Streets of the world hold the keys to help women raise their voices and be heard on a global stage. If we ignore the crucial role played by women in our economies and sustainable development, it may wind up costing us the world.

Staff of MiBank in Papua New Guinea. Photo: ADB

Impact investing and the exclusion of women

Impact investing cannot realize its core promise of making financial markets more equitable and just without bringing  women front and center of the equation.

Underserved communities (and the women within them) continue to face wholesale exclusion from financial markets. People within these excluded groups do not have a voice or value in the system, even though they routinely feel the effects of decisions (and non-decisions) made by those who do have a say.

As much as we would like to believe that gender equality allows women the same opportunities as men, the reality from the ground is that we still have much to overcome. Through a decade of work empowering women as solution builders to sustainable development, IIX has seen how women still remain less likely to have formal bank accounts, especially in developing countries where the gap in access to financial services hasn’t improved over the last decade. According to Oxfam International, women are also more likely to live in poverty than men due to lower wages, limited employment options, unpaid care work, and longer work days.

These injustices also represent market inefficiencies, which impact investing needs to address. Despite the obvious opportunity, investments benefitting underserved women continue to fall short of the need. Women-owned small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries face an investment gap of $1.48 trillion. Even if impact investing managed to correct that imbalance, SMEs only represent a fraction of the economic inequality women face.

Women’s Self Help Group in Purba Medinipur, West Bengal. Photo: ADB


Why women can’t access capital

Gaps in opportunity and income only provide a partial explanation for the exclusion of women from financial markets. At the top, many financial institutions and investors fail to recognize the business case for investing in women, especially those who live in underserved communities. Furthermore, members of these groups in power usually do not recognize the gender biases inherent in the current investment process.

Everyone in the investing world, impact and otherwise, must aspire to correct this imbalance. Given the chance to participate in the economy on an equal level, women could add $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025, per McKinsey. If today’s power players focused more on women, they would not only do the world a favor, but would increase profitability and generate more capital for everyone to access.

Beyond economic considerations, women face continuing inequalities that create a major roadblock to achieving sustainable development goals. Gender inequality impacts all aspects of social development. When groups do not share opportunities, new investments only highlight the struggles of those who start from a weaker position. Whether considered from a social or financial position, investing in women presents an urgent need and an exciting opportunity at the same time.

Give women a financial voice

We must invite women into the fold to end their systemic exclusion from financial markets around the world. Because women have a unique capacity to reshape their lives, families, communities, and countries, we must address the deeply embedded dynamics that lead us to treat women as victims, and instead empower them as the solution-builders they can be.

As impact investing gains momentum, the investors and institutions involved should consider whether they truly give women a voice. That goes doubly for women in underserved communities. If our financial markets do not value women for the force they can be, we will miss out on contributions that should help us change the world for the better.

Placing value on people who were previously excluded from and invisible to financial markets will let us ensure the long-term sustainability of impact enterprises and the investments funding them. More operations should consider the voices of beneficiaries in their impact assessments to get a better picture of how their investments work in practice. By tying the experiences of beneficiaries to assessments (and those assessments to investment dollars), we can hold everyone accountable for building an equitable, inclusive future.

At IIX, we’ve been working to correct these imbalances through innovative finance solutions such as our Women’s Livelihood Bond Series, the first of which was the world’s first publicly listed impact investing instrument, and the first listed product in the history of stock exchanges that was focused on women’s livelihoods. Having demonstrated that private investors can participate in women’s empowerment while earning a financial return, IIX is now launching a Women’s Livelihood Bond 2 that gives a value to over 2 million women in Asia while bringing their voices to the forefront of financial markets.



  • Durreen Shahnaz

    Founder & CEO at IIX


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