Even in this 21st Century, women in India are deprived of equal opportunities. They are in a disadvantageous position in almost every field – like education, employment, entrepreneurship, etc. While the urban areas have shown some progress on this front over the past years, the situation in some rural areas is not very encouraging.
Women empowerment is an important component of socio-economic growth in India, and the government and many other agencies are taking measures to improve the situation by implementing various policies and social reforms.
One of the important factors that would lead to women empowerment in India is their financial independence. Women need to be empowered economically. This will make women self-reliant and give them the freedom to choose. This will enable them to benefit from the different options available at their free will.
This will make women’s lives enriching and joyful.Once a woman becomes financially independent and can exercise her choices, she can also help her mother, sister, daughter, and other women in the society to become empowered. This will elevate women’s position in the society and will bring equality.
The banking sector in India is playing an important role in women’s financial independence which has far-reaching effects on women empowerment. They give women access to bank accounts and financial assistance. They open investment channels for women. Many have a special focus on women empowerment schemes. Banking is empowering women in India in multiple ways.
- Bank accounts:
Studies have revealed that “women are more likely to save, allocate, and invest money in order to be protected against unexpected expenses, and in their children’s education; giving an opportunity for a better livelihood to the next generation” (World Bank ‘Empowering women through financial inclusion’ August 2015). Once women get access to a bank account, their natural tendencies to save are channelized in a productive financial discipline that earns them interest and gives financial security. They get the decision making power on that money which increases the possibility that it is used for productive purposes.
- Educational loans:
It is said that when you educate a man, you educate a person; but when you educate a woman, you educate the entire generation. An educated woman is a possibly the best way to ensure that the next generation is also educated. Education helps women to practice the trade of their choice. Many banks offer educational assistance schemes for women at concessional terms and lower interest rates. Education helps in a big way in women empowerment.
- Financial assistance:
Women too have entrepreneur skills and have demonstrated capabilities of managing small and big businesses successfully. Banks offer credits and loans to such businesses that help women to grow their ventures. Many banks support micro-small and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs) specifically run by women under different programs
- Priority banking (Mahila Banks):
A bank run by women for women is a concept where priority is given entirely to women empowerment. Community-based Mahila Banks are set up in some parts of India where the local women run the bank offering benefits to local community women. This is an innovative approach to encourage women to take benefits of banking in male-dominated communities.
- Self-help groups:
Women’s bargaining power in the society increases with access to financial services. Self-help groups increase it multi-folds by bringing several women together to achieve economic independence. These groups promote small savings among its members which are kept with a bank and invested in a revenue earning economic activity of the group. This forms their own capital resource base. Banks too offer financial assistance to self-help groups on concessional terms.
Many banks have initiated special training programs for their women customers who have started self-help groups or own businesses. This training enables them to get knowledge of different aspects of trade and commerce. Banks also offer training to women from an economically weaker section in various vocations that give them access to jobs.
Banks give employment opportunities both qualitatively and quantitatively to women and we see several women bank employees in urban and semi-urban areas. Growth in women education and financial inclusion will result in the growth of women employees in rural areas too. There is also no glass ceiling in the banking industry as we see many women reaching senior and top-most positions in state-owned as well as private banks.
The views expressed in this article are of Dr Manisha Ketkar, Director, Symbiosis School of Banking and Finance (SSBF).