Ensuring women’s voices are heard in financial inclusion

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Women taking a survey w/child on her lap

Sri Lanka’s first national financial inclusion survey took a gender-sensitive approach, ensuring that women’s voices were heard.

The survey was led by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, with technical assistance from International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, under IFC-DFAT’s Women in Work Program in Sri Lanka. It was conducted via face-to-face interviews, with a nationally representative sample of 4,800 households, from both urban and rural areas, with randomly selected respondents over 18 years of age.


“Come around 3.30 in the afternoon, next Tuesday, that’s the day my mother can babysit for me and I would be free of my household chores,” explained the survey respondent to Wasanthamala. As the chief enumerator in the Gampaha district for Sri Lanka’s National Financial Inclusion Survey, Wasanthamala was sympathetic and understanding to this and she readily agreed. She was trained to accept such requests in order to ensure the voice of women like this one.

In November 2018, our team began working with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka on its first ever nationwide financial inclusion survey. This information would lay the foundation for developing the country’s first National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS). For this survey, we knew that it was necessary to disaggregate the data on the basis of sex. This would be vital in identifying the differences between women and men’s responses which was a key input in developing Sri Lanka’s NFIS. To ensure that women in particular were receptive towards participating in the survey, special efforts were made to encourage the inclusion of female enumerators.

Why is this? Because the gender of survey enumerators can play a critical role in the quality of data collected—particularly in face-to-face surveys—but this is often ignored. Social norms, sensitivities, or biases can influence individual responses. For example, a female respondent may answer differently to questions posed by a male enumerator compared with a female enumerator.

In Sri Lanka, national wide surveys are not frequent, and the availability of career enumerators is limited. Most people who do become enumerators are men. This has the potential of increasing the probability of response bias. Female enumerators are less motivated to apply largely due to cultural norms around women’s ability to remain away from homes for extended periods of time, especially when they need to travel to rural areas for data collection.

To increase the number of female enumerators, the team worked with the survey firm on providing incentives to attract women, such as allowing them to choose their regions, providing them with transportation, and often pairing them with female colleagues.   After finding that the women were less familiar than the men in using technology to administer the survey, we requested the firm provide the necessary training to make them comfortable.

In addition, all the 107 enumerators received training to be sensitive to female respondents’ security needs and to cultural norms. The improved sense of appreciation for time poverty and cultural norms surrounding women respondents, resulted in enumerators such as Wasanthamala, reaching out to the selected survey respondents ahead of time to set up appointments.

Taking steps to make sure enumerators were sensitive to respondents’ gender took more time and resources, but the process ensured that both men and women’s voices were heard. In the end, 56 percent of the respondents were female.

The team also worked with survey specialists, statisticians, gender specialists, and experts from the financial sector to ensure that the survey process was robust. The collection of sex-disaggregated data allowed for new analysis, demonstrating the usefulness of this approach. And more importantly it helps to ensure that financial policy interventions are inclusive and targeted.

If not for such effort, the NFIS would have reported aggregated results and would have missed out on the fact that for example, most women relied more on informal channels such as community banks for their savings (24 percent of women compared to 14 percent of men). Similarly, more women than men tend to simply store funds in some secure place and borrow from non-bank sources.

Such insights helped shape priority areas for the NFIS, with financial education and consumer protection particularly for women, being one.

Sri Lanka gender-focused survey infograph


Rathnija Arandara

Senior Financial Sector Specialist

Shanuki Gunasekera

Financial Sector Specialist

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