Financial literacy is a serious issue facing women and girls as they work to build their financial capability. This week, Mohammed Yunus joined several prominent figures in the world of financial literacy and capability for the New York Stock Exchange event, “Financial Capability: Empowering Girls and Women,” part of the NYSE’s Financial Capability Week.
Yunus, known for developing the concept of microcredit and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, founded Grameen Bank, which has 97% female clients and shareholders. It did not start that way. During his interview with Maria Bartilomo, Yunus discussed his intention at the start of the bank to serve poor women, most of whom had no access to formal banking in his home country Bangladesh. Women were at first very resistant to the idea of taking out a loan; they feared handling money and wanted to defer to male family members. Over time, women saw that they were capable. This led to the eventual revolution in microcredit and microfinance, bringing money access and control to women who could then invest in their families.
This lack of financial confidence and understanding is not unique to Bangladeshi women. In a panel following the Yunus interview, several experts in the field of financial literacy and capability used data to show an international trend in which women fall far behind men in their knowledge of basic finances and comfort with making financial decisions across countries and income brackets.
Anna Maria Chavez, Chief Executive Officer, presented a recent Girl Scouts study, “Having it All: Girls and Financial Literacy .” The study included 1,000 girls ages 8-17 years old, and found that girls today have very high rates of confidence in their ability to be financially successful; yet, far fewer are comfortable with financial decisions. Ninety percent say it is important for them to learn how to manage money. Girls also say they learn about money and finances primarily from their moms (85 percent); dads (61 percent); teachers (20 percent); financial classes in school (14 percent); and friends (12 percent). However, just 12 percent of girls surveyed feel “very confident” making financial decisions. There is a disconnect between the financial aspirations of young women in American, and their comfort with and knowledge about finances.
There is still more research and action needed so girls’ aspirations can become financial realities. What are ways we can engage young women and girls in our own homes and communities so they can be more knowledgeable about money and with their finances?