Promoting gender equality: Financial inclusion and economic empowerment of women

Financial inclusion means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs – transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance – delivered in a responsible and sustainable way (World Bank). Financial inclusion is when everybody in the society to be involved and participate in financial management judiciously. However, the poor and marginalized are excluded due to several factors including caste, creed, education, gender etc. Women are more vulnerable to this exclusion.

Much has been discussed and debated over economic empowerment for women and financial inclusion.Let’s look at just the statistics first on why it is still necessary for us to advocate and ask for equal rights for women.

 According to studies by international agencies[1], about 70% of the world’s poor are women and ‘women own only 2% of the world’s farmland where as ’. The gender gaps get much larger as studies reveal that women comprises of  1/3rd (one third) of the official labor force; perform nearly two-thirds of work hours; women comprises of more than 50% of the labor force, but according to some estimates receive only one-tenth of the world income and possess less than one-hundredth of world property. When we look at the ‘unpaid work’ According to the ILO report, globally, women perform 76.2 per cent of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three times as much as men. 

So, it comes as no surprise to know, that despite their contributions, women are frequently ignored by stakeholders. Majority of the societies including India, are highly patriarchy driven, which does not allow women to have control over resources or participate in any formal decision-making processes especially related to money and property. While women remain as the main labor force in the production system, their level of involvement in economic decisions both at the production system level and at the household level remain verylimited. The value chain related economic transactions and decisions are largely made by men and their mobility which is hugely restricted including the marketplace which is mainly male dominated.  Women end up getting just labor rates (which is also much lesser than the rates paid to men) when they go for work, and do not even get the same when they work on their own lands (as family labor).  Even when they receive certain amounts as labor or for family expenses from their male counterparts, women do not have any control over assets and resources including land and money. They do not any option or way to ‘save formally’ that can provide them safe mechanism to save, withdraw and grow their own investments.  Most women do not have access to bank accounts; and the general norms in the society does not allow women to get economic assets such as land, house or other financial investments in their names/ in their control.

So, what are the key aspects for women’s economic empowerment and how?

Fundamentally, social norms orientation leads to a mindset where women are groomed to be the caregivers. They never prioritize themselves and their basic rights leading to less or no control over resources, assets, information and choices. Getting access and control over resources, income and assets improves their self-esteem and self-worth. However, access alone is not enough, women needs to embrace and practice negotiation for equal rights and opportunities. Such skills are generally not acquired as a part of upbringing and the gap exists among women irrespective any socio-economic background. Our education and technical skill building programs need to adapt such life skills that teaches gender and life skills. Being financially literate and well informed about financial products and services are equally critical for women. Also, that every woman should have equal access over earning opportunities, thereby the marketplace and workplaces needs to be more women friendly. Access and control over money, resources etc. encourages women to access better services and support leading to better health and wealth outcomes. They are in better position to ensure their rights. For such, as discussed earlier, we need an inclusive society and a workplace which is enabling for women to have equal access to paid work, property, education, information and other resources. We need better workplace policies and systems, better education of men and leaders who can influence and ensure such outcomes.

By Ms. Shaonli Chakraborty, Associate Director, Swasti Health Catalyst

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