Just a week back we observed International Women’s Day and made the case for a balanced world. Organizations along with the entire male fraternity, joined hands in celebrating the women worldwide, and hashtags such as gender equality, a balanced world, women power, women’s rights, etc., made their presence known on the web. The entire humdrum lasted throughout the day but the moment we opened doors to March 9th, everything vanished. And it seemed like someone just pulled the plug on the entire subject of Women Empowerment.
It isn’t something new! Every women’s day, the world goes gaga in celebrating the women in our lives and as soon as the day ends, we’re back to square one. So how to change this recurring problem?
One way to go about empowering women is through Financial Literacy. Ensuring financial literacy among women can go a long way in not only establishing a gender neutral world but can also target a plethora of issues gunned towards them.
Multiple studies have shown that both in developed and developing countries, women, in comparison to men, have lower financial literacy levels. More so, with certain specific sections of women which include widows, young women, those in the low-income groups, etc. But at the same time, some of the same studies have also gone on to suggest that when women are educated about investing and their personal finance, they make better decisions regarding their future and also do better financial planning.
Where Does The Problem Lie?
Women make up almost half of the 1.3 billion Indian population and a huge majority of them live under 300 Rs a day. According to the 2014 Global Findex report, there remains a 7 percent gender gap in bank account ownership, and a 14 percent gap in account usage. A recent research conducted by Women’s World Banking puts the percent of un- and under-banked Indian women at an astonishing 62 percent, or 411 million women – India is at the 2nd position for the largest unbanked population.
Even the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), which works toward providing access to financial services to all Indians does not ensure the participation of women. The program mandates one bank account per household, which again is most likely to be held by the senior male member of the family. And the most disheartening thing is that all these facts are there even though 55% of all the new bank accounts opened globally, are from India – Global Findex Report 2017.
And it’s not just about having bank accounts as well. The same 2017 Global Findex report also said that in India, as much as 54% of women with a bank account made no deposit or withdrawal in a year which is just 43% for men – comparatively quite low.
The problem lies in the age old notion of “money is a man’s problem” which needs to go, for women to be financially literate.
Making The Case For Women Empowerment Through Financial Literacy
The first step towards empowering females is understanding the meaning of financial literacy. Let’s start by taking the most common example – women live longer than men – a scientifically proven fact.
This means that women are more likely to be single parent as well as primary caregivers to relatives and friends. Add to this the gender pay gap and the fact that women have shorter working lives in paid employment. Hence, we can clearly establish that women’s retirement savings should stretch longer than that of men’s and also understand why financial inclusion is of extreme importance to women.
Taking control of their finances from the very start will help women live a financially unchallenged life, till the very end.
So, How To Ensure Women Empowerment in India?
The entire context of financial education for women rests on three basic questions.
What skills do women need to be financially empowered?
The two biggest skills women need today are confidence with money and spend management.
Confidence with money because majority of women (homemakers) do not generate any income to just start managing it. They need to start taking control from the male managers of the family and then show their expertise with it. Over time with increased accountability and more savings, they can start bringing more money related aspects under their purview.
Spend management because it’s the overarching term for managing all the aspects of money. How? The method is to work backwards here. For the first couple of months you need to take stock of your spends and cut down on the unnecessary ones. This will help you with savings management and with these savings, you can invest the money to then start investment management. The idea is to increase savings and then invest it to grow the money [and not keep it stacked somewhere].
Do women have equal access to basic financial services?
Secondly, today we cannot say that the access to financial services, even for women, is limited. The rise of Fintech industry has made the access to financial instruments, like savings account, debit / credit cards, mutual funds, loans, etc, possible. So yes, equal access is there and there’s no impediment to it as well. The only thing is women need to start coming out of their shells and do the finance related tasks themselves. They should not depend on the male members of their family for these. Doesn’t matter how complex these are, with increased participation from the women fraternity, the access issue will cease to exist.
What formal / informal hurdles keep women from using financial services?
And finally, apart from the traditional notion of men being better at money management, women themselves have not done enough to take control of their finances. Yes, the industry is complex and difficult to understand too, but to be financially literate, efforts need to be taken. They need to start reading more about the best practices for aligning their finances and also getting themselves accustomed to the various tools and services available today.
Pushing for women empowerment through financial inclusion in India can make our women independent and confident in more than one facets of their lives. A financially literate women workforce could make India light years ahead of its current economic positioning.