People take risks at the face of what to them is insurmountable adversity. One of the key situations that force people to resort to behaviours and practices that make them vulnerable to and at risk of HIV is the “constant financial needs and inadequate levels of fall back mechanisms at individual and family levels”.
Lack of savings and loans at high cost and from informal sources make communities ‘accept’ unsafe behaviours (e.g. not using condoms, untreated STIs, multiple partners, etc.). The relatively smallest shock or a disaster at the individual or family level pushes them back into poverty without access to any fall back mechanisms such as insurance. Even when there is money in hand, there are no safe and appropriate sources to save and withdraw. Often, cash kept in their hands is forcefully taken away. And despite possibilities to access services, low levels of literacy and capability limits them from accessing these.
This forces people to earn a living in any manner without an opportunity to negotiate safe practices.
Economic empowerment support provides critical assistance to individuals. It enables them to generate income, increase bargaining power and transform that bargaining power into desired actions and outcomes. It also enables them to build a savings base for emergencies, and avoid selling assets that may affect their future livelihood.
It is important to ensure that citizens do not face financial crises and when they do, are able to access formal financial systems, products and services effectively. The inequity in our country can only be addressed when we focus on the poorest and the most marginalised and empower them economically.
This will mean they they have financial plans and access to critical formal financial services that are essential to help them overcome vulnerability, build stability and confidence to overcome hardships. The minimum package of financial products essential for all—savings (regular, recurring and fixed deposits), insurance (medical and life), and pension. Credit, remittances, investments and wealth management plans and access to safe deposits are additional support that can be provided, based on specific needs and context.
Given this background, the policies and programmes of the Government have been highly favourable. The focussed and accelerated programme of Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana provided great opportunity to open bank accounts, with the functional accounts providing the account holders insurance and a cash credit to an extent of R5,000 per account. The financial literacy centres across the states have helped to ensure basic financial literacy and access to bank accounts.
The Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana provides access to accidental insurance with a cover of R2,00,000 in case of accidental death or permanent disability and R1,00,000 in case of partial but permanent disability for a nominal sum of R12 which is to be renewed every year. Mudra, on the other hand provides microfinance support to micro enterprises through refinancing. The push through Aadhaar card provided many opportunities to access these schemes.
For most women in sex work, gay men or transgenders, sex work is a supplemental source of income. If given an alternate source, they would like to exit sex work and be dependent on other activities for their bread and butter.
Many of us may take the concept of savings, useful and wasteful expenditure for granted, but a large majority of Indian’s are financially illiterate, especially marginalised people. Evidence from large scale programme implementation shows that marginalised are less vulnerable to HIV due to access to financial security and social protection; they are 1.061 times more likely to undergo regular HIV testing and 1.64 times more likely to adopt safe behaviours.
Raghunathan Narayanan & Shama Karkal
Narayanan is member, governing body and Karkal is director, Swasti.
Views are personal.