Pathways to Women Empowerment through Smartphone-Enabled Digital Finance


The Indian government’s initiative Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) has substantially increased financial inclusion and minimized the gender gap in access to basic banking facilities. However, women are still disadvantaged in terms of access to digital financial platforms, which typically require a mobile phone to use. Only 59% of rural Indian women own a mobile phone, yet 80% of men own a mobile phone (Pew Research Center, 2019; GSMA, 2019). Furthermore, those women are substantially less likely to use mobile Internet and understand mobile money in comparison to men. In fact, only 9% of Indian women are aware of mobile-based financial services compared to 26% of men (GSMA, 2019). Identifying ways to increase women’s access to mobile phones is therefore critical for ensuring women can meaningfully engage with India’s rapidly evolving digital financial ecosystem.


The main objective of this project is to evaluate the economic effects of the Indian state of Chhattisgarh’s project SKY, which distributed smartphones to rural women while connecting unconnected rural areas to the LTE data network. The research team will evaluate whether SKY increased women’s access to phones, the internet, and digital financial services. The team will also assess how the program impacted women’s economic lives, as well as social norms governing women’s use of phones. The research team will answer these questions by exploiting SKY’s program rules, which permit use of a regression discontinuity design, using both primary and administrative program data. The primary data collection will target 500 local government units (gram panchayats) spread across the state, and include household-level surveys, surveys of local leaders, and shopkeepers. These surveys will collect key data on local economic activity, women’s access to phones and digital financial services, social norms, and women’s empowerment.

Proposed impact

There is growing policy interest in leveraging smartphones as tools of development. This project will provide novel evidence on whether gender-targeted smartphone distribution, coupled with LTE network improvement, can increase women’s engagement with digital financial services and the broader economy. These results will be relevant to multiple levels of government in India, as well as governments in other countries, interested in harnessing the power of mobile phones to achieve development aims, including gender equality and financial inclusion.

Photo credit: The White Ribbon Alliance via Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 License


Associated Institute: Institute for Financial Management and Research

Associated Investigators: Giorgia Barboni (Warwick University), Erica Field (Duke University), Rohini Pande (Yale University), Natalia Rigol (Harvard University), Charity Troyer Moore (Yale University), and Simone G. Schaner (University of Southern California)

Country: India

Implementation Partners: The state government of Chhattisgarh, India’s Sanchaar Kranti Yojana Program

WEE-DiFine thematic areas: access to finance, systematic discrimination, behavioral influence