The time is now

Laura Fernández Lord, Women's Empowerment BBVAMF

Much has been written on the feminist movement over the last year worldwide. Some reckon that 2018 was “Women’s Year”. Yet, according to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate, one year is not what we need to close the gender gaps, but two hundred and seventeen years (yes, 217). Meanwhile, women continue to suffer from widespread gaps in their most fundamental rights, including the right to economic independence.  In fact, despite the progress of recent decades, no country has yet achieved parity of rights between women and men (which is the definition of feminism by the Spanish Language Royal Academy). Nonetheless, we know there are first-order losses to the economy when women are unable to contribute fully to its growth.

Without progress towards gender equality, it will be impossible to develop, let alone achieve both inclusive and sustainable development

McKinsey, in its now famous report, The Power of Parity, speaks of 28 trillion dollars loss (the equivalent of the annual GDPs of the United States and China combined). However, there is much more at stake here: women are the key to reducing poverty and meeting the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Without progress towards gender equality, it will be impossible to develop, let alone achieve both inclusive and sustainable development. Quite simply, we cannot afford to leave half the world’s population behind. Which is why the time is now. And why it is also the time to close multiple other gaps that are still on our “to-do” list: equal access to resources, to technology, to education, to healthcare, to social protection, to physical integrity, to jobs and to political participation. While recognizing that the millions of women living in exclusion and poverty in developing countries are especially hard hit by these inequalities.

At BBVA Microfinance Foundation, 84% of the female entrepreneurs serviced by its member entities are vulnerable and one third are in poverty or extreme poverty. Four of every ten only have a primary education at best, while nearly a half are the sole breadwinners in their household and are in charge of dependents. The majority of them are involved in retail trade (i.e. selling food and beverages or clothing). Such activities tend to arise as an extension of their domestic activities. Our data show that, although their initial loans and assets are smaller than men’s, they grow at faster pace, and in the second year, almost one of every four women overcomes its initial poverty level.

But there are other structural inequalities derived from gender roles and stereotypes. Domestic chores, childcare and care for other dependents continue to be unpaid, invisible and female jobs. 76% of such tasks are carried out by women, who dedicate three times as many hours than men. This radically limits their possibilities of finding work outside the home. In some Latin-American countries, such jobs take up some 53 hours a week, with absolutely no monetary payment or recognition.  The International Labor Organization’s recent report, Care Work and Care Jobs estimates that if the economic value of these jobs were calculated, it could reach 11 trillion dollars worldwide. This is more than the total GDP in Latam in 2018, according to International Monetary Fund (data at purchasing power parity).

This burden is exacerbated by economic insecurity, rurality, and the lack of access to electricity, safe drinking water and technology. This is referred as “time poverty”. Yet time is an essential asset, to access opportunities to which all men and women should have free access. Which is why, the time is now to recognize, reduce and redistribute the time invested in unpaid work, if we wish women to unleash their full potential. This is precisely the focus of the United Nation’s 63rd session of its Commission on the Social and Legal Status of Women (CSW63), the largest international forum on gender equality, in which the BBVA Microfinance Foundation is participating for the third year running.

For the Foundation, financial inclusion is vital to provide support for entrepreneurship and close inequality gaps for low-income women. Such women account for 60% of the entrepreneurs it services in Colombia, Chile, Peru, Panama and the Dominican Republic. Having access to financial services is especially relevant for them in a region where, according to the World Bank, only 60% of men and half the women have a bank account and where 5.9 million micro businesses have unmet financial needs, which are clear constraint to  their growth.


Since our outset in 2007, we have been committed to the economic empowerment of women. We have worked to help them gain greater economic autonomy, because we know what is at stake. It is not just their own well-being, but also that of their children, who are the driving force behind their entrepreneurial activities and the final beneficiary of their business surpluses, as well as the key to the future development of their countries. So, the time is now. And that is why we continue working to help them progress, by:

  • Developing financial products and services tailored to their needs (group banking, education and housing loans, female healthcare, targeted savings, female-farmer microcredits and loans for gender violence victims).
  • Financial literacy and specific technical skills trainings for their businesses, and education containing elements of family wellbeing, leadership and empowerment.
  • And finally, facilitating their access to markets, through partnerships and networking with other women, both face-to-face and online.

These initiatives aim to help meet their needs for economic independence and self-confidence, while fostering their sense of belonging Digitalization is also a powerful means to this end, reducing the opportunity costs involved in travelling to a distant branch office, leaving both home and business unattended.

We are fully committed to women’s economic empowerment. It is not just conviction, it is a moral and ethical imperative that enables the construction of fairer and more equal societies and, at the end of the day, a better world. Everyone, men and women together, must work urgently to achieve it. It is totally unacceptable to wait two centuries to reach gender equality.  The time is now.