How to make financial inclusion work for women

Updated: Aug 12 2014, 05:55am hrs
A striking thing in the BJPs maiden Budget was integrating gender in the macroeconomic policy framework. The earlier Budgets were largely reaction-based, such as setting up a Nirbhaya Fund of R1,000 crore, or were limited to setting up a Mahila Bank; they were driven more by visibility value rather than the real change. Instead, equal partnership between women and men and equitable sharing in the growth outcomes of the country should have been the norm. For half a billion women, one bank qualifies for nothing but tokenism. What women need is access to every bank and access to credit as equal citizens.

Looking at this years Budget, the change from tokenism to commitment is evident. Major changes are in the area of financial exclusion, infrastructure, safety and security, gender mainstreaming, education infrastructure, awareness generation, female survival disadvantages and entrepreneurial skills.

While in the previous Budget there were only three announcements related to genderNirbhaya Fund, womens bank, and an additional allocation of R200 crore to the ministry of women and child developmentin the present Budget there were 11.

l Allocation to ministry of road transport and highways for pilot testing a scheme on safety for women on public transport;

l Allocation to ministry of home affairs to increase the safety of women in large cities;

l To set up crisis management centres in all government and private hospitals, with provisions from Nirbhaya Fund;

l Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao yojana to help improve the efficiency of delivery of welfare services meant for women;

l Gender mainstreaming to focus on campaigns to sensitise people towards the concerns of the girl child and women, and to have a separate chapter in school curriculum on the same;

l Changes in the Aajeevika scheme where women SHGs are provided bank loans at 4% on prompt repayment in 150 districts and at 7% in all other districts, and to extend the provision of loan for women SHGs at 4% in another 100 districts;

l To set up a start-up village entrepreneurship programme for encouraging rural youth to take up entrepreneurship;

l Financial inclusion mission where two bank accounts in each household are proposed;

l A special small savings instrument to cater to the requirement of educating and marriage of girl child will be introduced;

l Providing toilets and drinking water in all girl schools;

l Training of sportsmen and women for Asian and Commonwealth games.

Clearly, the sense one gets is of women being viewed as stakeholders. But the implementation of these plans will need breaking away from the earlier piecemeal, spread over multiple ministries approach, which resulted in much duplication and more activity than outcomes for the intended beneficiaries. The administrative expenses on each issue need to be kept within the 10% limit and gender impact analysis must be mandatory.

Modis approach is to deepen financial inclusion, where the unit of analysis is not the village but the household. The promise to open two bank accounts per household is a women-integrative financial initiative. Women SHGs too will benefit from the concessional rate of interest at 4%. This will lead to financial and social inclusion in the development process. What is encouraging is the underlying recognition that womens economic activity has a trickle-up effect.

Among the advocates of equal partnership between women and men has been NIPFP, which provided technical and research support to the finance ministry in institutionalising gender budgeting, based on the recommendations of Lahiri Committee on the classification of budgetary transactions. Unifem, ministry of women and child development, and Womens Political Watch have also remained major forces in the process.

Now, women look forward to the Prime Ministers speech on August 15 which could set a pace and pattern for integrating one half the country better. We hope this Independence Day brings freedom to women from stagnating at the bottom of every single development indicator.

Veena Nayyar & Lekha Chakraborty

Veena Nayyar is president of Womens Political Watch and Lekha Chakraborty is associate professor at NIPFP.

Views are personal