International Women’s Day is an annual celebration of the social, political, cultural, and economic achievements of women. After centuries of being disregarded from important discussions, at some point considered ‘inferior to men’, much has changed for the better today. However, it cannot be denied that some forms of prejudices and inequality in treatment are still faced by women today, most of the time because such acts and attitudes are deeply ingrained in the different cultures of our society.

Gender Equality – Are We There Yet? 

Despite the goals we have achieved, the progression towards gender equality has significantly slowed through the years. In fact, it was predicted by the World Economic Forum in 2015 that based on our current rate of change, it would take until 2133 for us to completely fill the gender gap and finally achieve global gender parity.

It is for this reason that the International Women’s Day (IWD) is themed #PledgeForParity this 2016. It is a call to everyone to take a stand with the rest of the women all over the world to fight for and help achieve gender parity in different aspects of our lives; these include equal opportunities and pay in the workplace, opportunities for leadership, giving women and girls the chance to achieve their goals and ambitions in life, a more flexible culture that is as inclusive to women as it is to men, and many others.

While some would claim that we are not far from finally achieving gender parity, statistics and data about girls and women from all over the world would prove otherwise. According to the World Health Organization’s estimation in 2013, at least 35% of women worldwide experienced violence – physical and/or sexual – at one point in their lives, by a partner or non-partner. This means that 1 in every 3 women will experience violence at least once in their lifetime.

Around 120 million girls suffered sexual abuse – forced intercourse or other uninvited sexual gestures – at least once. More than 130 million girls and women went through Female Genital Mutilation, the practice of removing parts or the whole external female genitalia which is not medically/scientifically-approved. Of the 1.2 million children who are trafficked into slavery and prostitution every year, 80% are girls. Around 15 million girls as young as eight years are forced into marriage last year alone.

Financial Literacy Among Women In Asia
Rooting from the issue of the lack of total gender parity is a more particular problem that affects not only the lives of women but both women and men alike and our economy in general. Let us take a look at the financial aspect of this theme with the question:

How much of our women are financially literate?

Before getting to anything specific, we first need to answer to these central questions: “why do women need to be in control of their finances in the first place?” and “what does it mean to be ‘financially literate’?”

In response to the former, here are some facts to reflect on:

  • women generally have longer lifespan than men, so they need to be more prepared for those ‘additional years’ they will live
  • most women have shorter time to save and prepare for their retirement because of events and responsibilities like pregnancy and raising children
  • women generally still earn less than men (even for the same position in some cases)

As for the latter, the following are some of the conditions to be considered “financially literate”:

  • Able to make well-informed financial decisions
  • Know and make well-calculated financial investments
  • Able to budget and manage debts & credit
  • Able to make & act according to long-term financial plans

Problem Of Financial Literacy Among Women

Financial illiteracy is a major problem faced not only by Asian countries but the whole world. In fact, the results from the 2014 Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services Global Financial Literacy Survey reveal that only 1 in every 3 adults is financially literate.

While these statistics include both men and women of age, it remains to be a fact that it is a bigger problem for women as some of them are even deprived of the chance to be financially literate, especially in particular countries. On top of that, a quick look at statistics would show us that a bigger percentage of the women all over the world today remains to be financially illiterate. Data from the same survey show that there is a 5-point gap between the literacy rate of men and women; while 35% of men worldwide are financially literate, only 30% of women are considered so.

Study on Financial Literacy Among Women In Asia

Financial illiteracy is an even more prevalent issue in Asia as seen from the Financial Literacy Index by Mastercard last year. According to their study, there is a continuous declining trend in women’s financial literacy in Asian countries during the past few years; in 2015, the rate continues to decline in 12 out of 16 countries.

The progression in terms of financial literacy continues to be unsatisfactory even in developed countries such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand. Singapore, which placed second in terms of financial literacy in Mastercard’s 2014 Financial Literacy Index, dropped to the sixth place. This decline is the biggest one for the country.

Financial Literacy Among Women In Asia

Addressing the Problem of Financial Illiteracy

After we are made aware of the facts and the statistics, another challenge rises for us: what can we do to address this issue of financial illiteracy among women?

The celebration of the IWD is a great way to bring this issue to the attention of the masses. After all, it is one of the event’s goals to call for more advocates for causes like this. However, more than that, we need concrete actions and projects that can actually help women to be financially literate. What we need is to provide the opportunity for women to learn about these things, or in short: education.

Having said that, we also need to consider that not all who are educated are financially literate. That is why, it is the role of the government and the academic institutions to make sure to be inclusive of financial lessons when updating, rewriting or revising their curriculum. It is also a must to provide channels and venues for the educators themselves and other professionals to learn more about financial management.

Considering the problem above, The New Savvy made it one of its primary goals to be a venue for women to learn and educate themselves about financial matters. The website prides itself with the countless insights they share that help address and solve the different struggles a woman faces in managing her finances.

Planning for a Comfortable Retirement

Among the many things that financial literacy covers is the ability to plan and prepare for a comfortable retirement. However, even those who can be considered “financially literate” are not as knowledgeable when it comes to this. While most of the ways to plan for retirement require only our common sense such as saving and budgeting, what many do fail to think about are the actions and habits they either have to avoid or forget to do that can serve as obstacles to them achieving the retirement they want for themselves. Here are some tips worth hearing on the matter:

  • Maintain an affordable lifestyle
  • Consider the costs of health care
  • Don’t waste time and save early
  • Consider insurances
  • Study the movement of the markets, estimate your future income & expenses, and update & revise your retirement plan accordingly

Financial Literacy Among Women In Asia

Best Financial Instruments for Women Today

Now, what about the financial instruments women can utilize and explore to grow their money? Big spenders and those who can hardly save to avoid using the credit and to opt for paying with cash, the reason being that it is easier to be more aware of your spending this way.

Because the markets are unstable and may go up and down unpredictably, there is no one answer to this question. However, do know the value of investments despite the risks that come with investing, and there are different options available when it comes to investing – stocks, starting a business, or the different funds.

Should Women Handle Their Own Finances?

Perhaps some who do not understand the severity of this problem think that instead of teaching women to be financially literate, they can just let their partners handle the financial matters. However, this is not really a solution to the issue; for one, a greater portion of the world population of men are financially illiterate as well. Second, not all women have male partners or plan on having one.

Another good reason women should be educated about finances is because it is not enough that men are able to make financial decisions. In fact, according to a survey by SunTrust Bank in 2015, money troubles and financial disagreements are some of the leading causes of problems in relationships in marriage. On top of this fact, for decades, it has also been one of the major reasons for divorce. It is for this reason that financial illiteracy of women should not be taken lightly.

So how exactly are couples supposed to handle their finances? The best advice is to treat them as a couple – together. This means that neither is dominant. While consulting each other every time is not a necessity, what is important is that you maintain a balance. Talk to each other and try dividing the tasks and responsibilities between yourselves. When it comes to major financial decisions in the family, make it a habit to consult each other before deciding.

A Step Towards Gender Parity – Financial Literacy Among Women

It is not an overstatement to say that to solve the problem of financial literacy among women would be a massive step towards gender parity. After all, women have been excluded from financial discussions for centuries.

We have gone a long way from our ancestors in terms of women rights, but the battle is far from over. The fight for its achievement continues today, and it is the goal of both IWD and The New Savvy to call each man and woman all over the world to support and share this advocacy. Humanity still has a long way to go, but it is not an impossibility if all people unite to make it happen.

FINANCIAL LITERACY AMONG WOMEN IN ASIA

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C.E.O @ The New Savvy
Anna Haotanto is passionate about finance, education, women empowerment and children’s issues. Anna has been featured in CNBC, Forbes, The Straits Times, Business Insider, INC and The Peak Singapore. She was nominated and selected for FORTUNE Most Powerful Women conference in 2016 (Asia) and 2015 (San Francisco, Next Gen). Anna has 10 years of experience in the financial sector and is currently a Director in Tera Capital. Her previous work experience includes positions at Citigroup, United Overseas Bank, a regional role in Business Monitor and a boutique private equity firm based in Shanghai. She graduated from Singapore Management University (Finance and Quantitative Finance).