Champions of Financial Inclusion

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Women Empowerment: Factors Beyond Finance!

Hi! I am Swati and this is my first post in the blog.

I am really excited to share a perspective of women empowerment, what makes a difference? Is it mere higher income in numbers or financial and social prudence or what practitioners allude to as financial education packed with social esteem? In our bharat desh there are various financial schemes for upliftment of garibs whether by Government or market led solutions like MFI credit. Development agencies have targeted women as client for their vikas aur pragati yojanas (development schemes). Many a times the idea echoes vociferously---“Financial independence (as in earnings) is the symbol of women emancipation”. However, on my recent trip to the districts of S24Pgs - South 24 Parghanas in West Bengal and Ramanagara & Kolar in Karnataka, I met with a different kind of experience. As inquisitive interns my friend, Mandy & I met a number of women who were “self-employed” and were involved in local sales of different FMCG products. One particular woman is etched in my mind – Bharati - a 58 yrs old “self employed” housewife. Amongst all the women we had met, her sales figures were booming which stood testimony of her flourishing business, and translating into higher monthly income than her peers. However, when we met her, she was so shy that she couldn’t even speak for herself and for the entire period of interaction, remained behind her sari ka pallu. On the contrary, Sakamma who didn’t show up much high on the income scales, but was brimming with confidence and self-esteem. She was clear about her priorities in life ---- a dream to provide a better life to her kids through education. And in spite of earning less; she put aside some savings every month to fund her kids’ school expenses.

The observations were startling and quite against popular belief that higher income means empowerment of women in household. While financial independence is most definitely a necessary condition and can be seen as the first step towards economic-empowerment, it is not a sufficient condition and thus should not be seen as the only criteria for judging whether a woman is empowered or not; a generalization which is made by many. And thus it necessitates to look into other parameters, may be social and psychological ones to fully understand the immediate effects and long term impacts made by a yojanas (schemes) on the lives of the women and their families. At the same time, real empowerment entails information and independence to contribute in decision making process like Sakamma had. In this context, in addition to yojanas and finance, initiatives like financial literacy and life skills gain currency and prominence to help poor women folk to help themselves Save and deposit a portion of their incomes, invest wisely and strive for better standards of living. This would ultimately aid women at the bottom of the pyramid to come out of the cycle of financial exclusion.