Deputy Managing Director Zhang’s Remarks At The Reykjavik Global Forum

November 10, 2020

First, let me thank the organizers of the Reykjavik Global Forum for all they have done to advance the cause of gender equality, and for bringing us together for this important panel on fintech and inclusive economic growth.

It is fitting that this initiative would come out of Iceland – a country that has led the way on women’s empowerment for many years.

It was forty-five years ago last month that 90% of women in Iceland went on strike in what became known as the Women's Day Off.

It was a turning point. To quote the woman who would five years later become Iceland's first woman president and the world's first woman elected president, "Things went back to normal the next day, but with the knowledge that women are as well as men the pillars of society."

This knowledge is why I felt it was so important for me to participate today. Gender equality is not a "women's issue." It is everyone’s issue. Women and men together are better off when there is gender equality and IMF research backs this up.

Sadly, this pandemic threatens to roll back gains in women’s economic opportunities, widening gender gaps.

That’s why today’s discussion is critical. Financial inclusion of women, supported by fintech, is one of the best ways to increase growth and reduce inequality after the crisis. In fact, our research shows that the largest reductions in income inequality can come from women gaining access to finance .

Unfortunately, we still see a significant gap.

IMF data shows that the average share of female depositors and borrowers is at about 44 and 40 percent, respectively . Digital financial services help narrow the gap, but challenges in financial infrastructure, financial and digital literacy, and social norms remain major roadblocks.

Governments can help in three big ways.

First, build up digital infrastructure. This includes addressing gender gaps in access to electricity, mobile, internet, and digital ID. In some countries, men are 20 percentage points more likely than women to have their own phone.

Second, support education for women. Education of women in STEM will improve financial and digital literacy, and help break down social norms that have held women back in the technology field.

Third, create the right fundamentals for inclusion. Ensuring more competition in the fintech industry and avoiding biases in the data that exclude women are key to creating an inclusive and sustainable recovery.

I know you will have much to discuss on these important topics today. I wish you a productive conversation and great progress for the future. Thank you.

IMF Communications Department


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