Fundamentally, one can have a three-pronged approach: (1) Providing education to females – to educate them at least up to middle or secondary level so that they understand the value of financial security in sustaining life; (2) Providing adequate gainful employment and income opportunities to women; and (3) Making available appropriate banking facilities, including suitable products and services at convenient locations and time.
By Dr Manas R Das
Lack of adequate education constitutes one of the significant factors responsible for the persistence of lower access to institutional financial services by the females. Without some level of basic education, it is very difficult for any female to ‘understand and appreciate’ the role of formal finance in her life and therefore, she would not be inclined to avail of the products/services from banks. However, the status of female education is less than desired, as revealed by the UNESCO’s latest eAtlas of Gender Inequality in Education.
The second hindrance is the practice of getting the female children married before they are economically enabled, more often than not, against their wishes. This, along with early motherhood, makes them entirely dependent on the husband or in-law’s family. Lack of financial capability chokes their voice. And if, at all, the husband loses job or meets with any unfortunate incident or there is a crop failure, her life gets financially doomed.
Third, in many countries, females do not have the necessary ID proofs without which financial institutions find it extremely difficult to render any service. In many cases, their family members do not allow them to have an ID.
Fourth, in many developing and low-income countries, females are not allowed to go to a bank office which is generally staffed with more males than females. Further, their so-called ‘protectors’, the elderly males in their families (maybe husband or father or brother), restrict them from opening any account or taking loan from a bank – a male ego issue which is difficult to tackle. They may pawn ‘her’ gold jewellery, but not by opening an account in ‘her’ name! Therefore, even if the ‘other-than-land’ collaterals are actually owned by the women, these are ‘usurped’ by the males in the family at times of need or sometimes to meet unreasonable expenses.
Fifth, the inheritance and marriage laws constitute yet another impediment. In a patriarchal society, it is the sons who inherit the ancestral property, not the daughters, more so, after the latter’s marriage. In many countries, laws have been changed or are being changed in favor of women, but observance of the laws is seen more in flouting than obeying.
Sixth, since women lack financial empowerment and hardly do any financial dealing, it is difficult for the credit information bureaus to prepare any financial history in their respect and this, in turn, restricts the financial institutions, which go by the books of financial discipline, to lend to women.
Finally, appropriate data and information about women’s financial inclusion and progress of women-specific programmes are lacking to various extents for preparing and executing plans for women’s access to financial services.
Fundamentally, one can have a three-pronged approach:
• Providing education to females – to educate them at least up to middle or secondary level so that they understand the value of financial security in sustaining life;
• Providing adequate gainful employment and income opportunities to women; and
• Making available appropriate banking facilities, including suitable products and services at convenient locations and time.
While the former two will enhance the socio-economic empowerment of women, which is essential for bridging gender disparity in general, the latter will enable the ‘empowered’ women to contribute to the mainstream economy and thus enjoy a feeling of prestige, in turn bolstering their interest in contributing to the economy.
The economic empowerment would be leak-proof if salaries and wages are directly credited to their bank accounts. This aspect has to be made clear to their male guardians (e.g., husband, father or brother). Here, the Indian government’s efforts in moving towards Aadhaar-based DBT completely are noteworthy.
In general, we believe that the women are more frugal than men by nature, and they plan their household budgets in such a way that at the month-end there is always some saving, howsoever little it may be. Therefore, banks should focus not only on the ‘existing’ potential women customers but also on ‘creating’ potential customers.
The financial inclusion drive should specifically target enrolling the maximum number of financially excluded women. Several ‘social protection’ programmes launched by the governments in the form of micro-insurance and savings schemes targeting females is laudable. Exclusive financial literacy campaigns meant for females, coupled with ‘catch-them-young’ policy, hold good promise.
At the same time, efforts are needed to reform the traditional male perception towards women. Uncongenial attitudes towards females are still rampant in many countries. The fangs of such attitudes originating from archaic traditions, customs, beliefs, superstitions & taboos, pre-conceived notions, etc., should be squelched. A woman is as equal a partner as a man is in the task of economy building. More than women, men should be taught about attuning their perceptions, attitudes and wave lengths.
The government programmes aimed at women empowerment should be free from implementation ‘imperfections’. NGOs, MFIs and the corporate sector (via Corporate Social Responsibility) have big and active roles to play in this regard.
In situations, where women cannot go to bank offices, agent-driven banking will do the needful, and with the ubiquity of digital banking, the work becomes further hassle-free.
Consumer protection laws need to provide optimum and unbiased cover to the vulnerable women.
Banks need to hold special campaigns for opening accounts for the women. Postmen are well-positioned to spread the awareness and/or motivate the females about opening accounts with Post Offices and save. Financial literacy or awareness will also protect the gullible females against falling into the trap of unofficial and fraudulent money-raising schemes.
All these, combined with the availability of relevant data and information, will further help in designing bespoke financial products and services for women which will, in turn, diminish the gender disparity in the availability of institutional finance.
About the Author:
Dr. Manas R. Das is a former senior economist of State Bank of India. He has over 30 years of experience as an economist in two large commercial banks. Academically, he is a gold medallist in Bachelor of Arts with Economics Honours from Utkal University, followed by Master’s in Economics from Delhi School of Economics and Doctorate in Economics from Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics. He is also a Certified Associate of Indian Institute of Bankers. He has won several awards, besides being a prolific writer.