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Women’s Participation Essential For Financial Inclusion: Dr Rebecca Tavares

Women’s participation is essential to the sustainable development goals framework of which India is major participant. As women build their capital assets, they will become more successful in terms of financial inclusion

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The third session at the Conclave for Financial Inclusion in New Delhi was on “Financially empowering women and other vulnerable population groups”, which was moderated by Naina Lal Kidwai, Chairperson, Max Financial Services. The Conclave aimed to bring together leaders of the financial revolution, with senor level stakeholders from the government, the banking sector, microfinance institutions, innovators, technology providers, CSOs, intergovernmental organizations and the UN in a day-long conclave to discuss financial inclusion.

“We are seeing better use of Jan Dhan, but the issue remains how these accounts will empower women”, said Kidwai, adding that, “We need to increase and improve bargaining power of women with their homes vis-à-vis control of their account”. She also said, “It’s also about the products we are creating, can these women save and make finance available to them when they feel is important, other than husbands forcing them to withdraw when they don’t want to”. “There are obviously challenges like for example in MGNERGA, women get 78% of what men get. The question is why do women get lesser in government schemes”, she added.

Dr. Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Representative, UN Women Multi-country Office for India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives said, “Investments in women’s financial mechanism will set a direct path to poverty alleviation and economic growth. The four key elements are- Women’s access to digital technology, women’s digital and financial literacy, impact on women from financial programs underway, sustainability of financial tools.” She also added, “Without women’s full participation, all the expected gains of financial inclusion instruments will not be realized. Women’s participation is essential to the sustainable development goals framework of which India is major participant. As women build their capital assets, they will become more successful in terms of financial inclusion”. “In India female entrepreneurs only make 6% of the overall population. In agricultural sector, women compromise 65% of the workforce, but only hold 15% of operational land holdings and have little access to credit. To achieve financial inclusion, women need digital and financial literacy”, she said, adding that, “We need to strengthen women’s control over financial inclusion schemes. Benefits of financial inclusion will be realized when women are empowered. We as UN Women are working with Ministry of Statistics to improve the databases, in terms of financial inclusion and schemes which target these women”. She concluded by saying, “The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda puts the onus on us to not leave anyone behind. We look forward to working together with all the multi-sector stakeholders to improve financial inclusion and women’s access to financial and digital technology. It is critical to ensure women’s equal control over productive resources such as land, labour and capital”

Dr. Shamika Ravi, Senior Fellow at Brookings India said, “Gender audit of Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhar and Mobile is needed to give us a sense of the preparedness of this platform. There is a need to work towards innovative design to understand cash flows of households ensuring insurance and safety”. “There are two reasons why women should be targeted for financial inclusion, first is the profit motive. Women made conservative investment decisions. And secondly, when more women were given loans, literacy rate increased, height and weight of children increased”, she added. She also added “As far as PMJDY is concerned, we were in the Guiness Book of world records for the highest amount of accounts. As far as financial literacy is concerned, it is a black box” and that “The promise of PMJDY is much more than direct cash transfer”. She went on to say that “Government has to invest in enabling type of institutions. Financial inclusion has a lot to do with protection against health-shock eventualities”.

Dr Ravi Kota, Principal Secretary, Finance Department, Assam said, “Technology for enhanced access and cash dispensation is needed while also providing access to digital and financial literacy”. With respect to Assam, he said, “Within 70 days we had opened 6.5 lakhs of PMJDY accounts. We said whoever opens the account gets Rs 2500 from the state governments, and another 2500 after 6 months of transactions.” He also went on to add, “We need to have a different type of combination, different stakeholders, different technology to do this low-intensity kind of banking transactions. Whatever we have been trying to do, conventional banks and government together, we need to talk about financial inclusiveness in these secluded areas”. The four pillars of financial inclusion according to him were, “Innovative financial products, cash dispensation mechanism, behavioural changes of the customer, financial technology and financial access”. He also added, “A sustained thrust is required with various private and public players and the use of innovative technologies. Women in tea gardens of Assam are hard to reach and spend their savings without any recourse”.

Mr Peeyush Kumar, Joint Secretary, Direct Benefit Transfers, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India said, “There are about 400 million beneficiaries across 300 government schemes. Today technology is giving us the tools to reach across to people directly.” He also added, “With Aadhar each individual becomes an entity. We need to do a social audit of what is really happening. What I see from the DBT point of view is that we have technology moving across to people”. He also went on to say that “For the next year pr 2 from the DBT point of view the path is well chartered out” ad that “After Jam and DBT’s success, stakeholders have to converge  to create more innovative products using technology. Technology is giving us an opportunity to reach women directly, it has an unsettling effect on patriarchal norms”

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