About WEE-DiFine

WEE-DiFine is a research initiative that seeks to generate a comprehensive body of evidence that addresses the impact of digital financial services (DFS) on women’s economic empowerment (WEE) and the causal mechanisms between the two by funding rigorous research across South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Why WEE-DiFine?

Digital technology, the fastest-growing innovation in history, has reached about 50 per cent of the developing world’s population in two decades, fundamentally transforming societies in the process. Similarly, the use of digital technology in the financial sector and the rapid expansion of DFS build inclusive economic infrastructure that offers new opportunities to marginalized communities, especially women.

The economic empowerment of women is a crucial development issue, which DFS has the strong potential to advance. DFS can create economic opportunities for women and bridge the economic gender gap by increasing their participation in the financial system through several pathways: generating higher account ownership; facilitating greater opportunities to save or access credit formally; lowering risks associated with improved privacy, confidentiality, and safety; strengthening women’s control over their own finances; reducing costs of transaction and time; and diversifying economic activities.

However, WEE is also a complex development issue and it would be ill-advised to assume that DFS will automatically advance WEE. While there are numerous theoretical reasons to believe that access to DFS can increase WEE, DFS may actually adversely affect women if, for example, DFS displace important social networks related to existing financial arrangements. Moreover, given the gender disparity in access to technology, such as mobile phones and identification, DFS could also further exacerbate gender disparities.

Thus, understanding the pathways or causal mechanisms between DFS and WEE, as well as ways to overcome the existing barriers to women’s access to DFS, is essential. However, literature on the intersection of DFS and WEE is sparse. To identify and address the gaps in our understanding of causal mechanisms, the WEE-DiFine Initiative seeks to finance rigorous research that contributes to the empirical record in this regard. Ultimately, WEE-DiFine anticipates that this robust evidence will advance practical recommendations for the effective use of DFS to empower women economically.

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Regions: South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia

Timeline: 2020-2026