By Anjali Malhotra
Financial inclusion and gender equality have been important subjects of discussion in most developing economies. In a UN report, “gender equality and empowerment of women and girls” has been touted as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), integral for inclusive and holistic development. However, the gender disparity remains at large and calls for a global effort towards bridging the gap.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day signalled at the need of the hour—the right balance of power. The initiative #BalanceforBetter is a move to acknowledge the perils of the gender gap and highlights at the necessity of revisiting the policies to achieve an inclusive society. While there has been an increase in the adoption of pro-women initiatives by corporates, public bodies, social institutions, the change is just setting in and the journey has only begun.
Women make almost half of the population in India; therefore, to drive economic growth, it is imperative to empower them. However, according to a 2018 report by the World Economic Forum, India ranked 139th out of 144 countries, with a 66% gender gap, in terms of economic participation. One of the reasons for this impending gap is low financial inclusion across the nation and more distinctly in rural pockets. Financial independence is one of the important factors that would accelerate growth rate. While in the last five years, through awareness campaigns and initiatives around women empowerment addressing to their needs and safety requirements, implemented by public bodies and private enterprises, we have seen a decrease in gender disparity, but on a macro level the condition is still alarming.
Financial independence of women is generally addressed as a secondary need for women development and is strongly prevalent across India, and most significantly in rural pockets, which accentuates the need to drive financial literacy programmes. Initiatives such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana, Mahila e-Haat, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, and an array of campaigns focusing on supporting ‘Sheroes’ reiterate the significance of women’s financial independence to achieve empowerment. To drive economic growth, financial inclusion is key, which can only be achieved through aggressive financial literacy programmes. Increased financial literacy will lead to better cash management at an individual level. Further, with women’s augmented access to financial services like banking, insurance and other forms of investment tools, they are likely to achieve economic freedom with their household savings and further check for formal credit from financial institutions to safeguard their future.
Financial independence in today’s scenario can no longer be identified as an option. It is imperative for women to free themselves from financial over-dependence on family members to guard against unknown emergencies like medical needs, sudden death, or losses due to natural or man-made calamities. An array of investment options are available, ranging from insurance products, health insurance schemes, flexible loans, etc, by public and private enterprises to boost financial independence amongst women.
The first step towards a secured tomorrow is acknowledging the need to invest in financial tools, followed by an understanding of the benefits offered by available options. An unplanned investment gets starkly visible on the returns and it often becomes a cause of de-motivation to further invest, especially amongst younger generation. There are a few factors that must be taken into account before making an investment choice, which starts with a clear understanding of the primary need of making an investment, evaluating the long-term objective and short-term requirements, weighing the benefits offered by the available options, and accordingly make a choice. With an aware approach, customers can multiply resources through smart investments.
Indian socio-economic environment is currently propitious to drive financial literacy programmes targeting focused communities to accelerate the rate of financial inclusion. The journey to install a just society with increased gender and economic parity is a collective responsibility of state actors, public bodies, private enterprises, and individuals in their personal capacity for a better tomorrow.