Although India pledged to end gender disparities in its financial markets, however, studies show otherwise.
Besides the persisting wage gaps, gendered segmentation of labour markets has often hindered economic participation amongst women, ultimately feeding into the existing inequalities. In India, the battle for gender parity in labour force participation has been an uphill climb as resounded by the Global Gender Gap Report of 2021—with its female workforce confronting one of the largest gender gaps in economic participation and opportunity. Over the last decade, female labour force participation in India has declined from 23 percent (in 2012) to 19 percent (in 2021). No doubt, these income inequalities also serve to accentuate disparities in asset ownership and wealth inequalities among men and women. Several social security schemes have been launched in the past to address these economic inequalities and their impact, specifically targeting the poor and other marginalised groups. However, they have often failed to engage adequate women participation. In fact, in an attempt to universalise social security benefits for the Indian population, the Government of India (GOI) announced a trinity in Budget 2015-16 focusing on pensions, life insurance, and risk insurance. The Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (2015) was launched with the aim to create a social security system for the poor and underprivileged in the age group of 18–50 years but the programme has not seen effective women’s participation. Similarly, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (2015), intended to provide an insurance scheme for the poor and underprivileged, has only 41.5 percent of enrolled women beneficiaries. Even in the case of direct transfer schemes like the Atal Pension Yojana (APY) (2015), which primarily targets the unorganised sector in India to provide government-backed pensions, only 44 percent of women are covered under the scheme.
Studies have shown that for working women in emerging market economies (EMEs), investments in nutrition, healthcare, and education expenditure occupy 90 percent of their total earnings.
Several social security schemes have been launched in the past to address these economic inequalities and their impact, specifically targeting the poor and other marginalised groups.
Third, designing financial products targeted towards women will need a client-centred approach informed by studies on women and their interaction and relationship with money, financial products and technology, accounting for regional and socio-cultural variations as well. Designing elements like vernacular communication, voice and video enablers might reduce the friction that exists between women and technology. Fourth, gender budgeting and targeting at an institutional level can enable in-design changes in public schemes that take care of specific needs and preferences of women and enhance their access to financial products. Such financial products should allow a greater degree of control and privacy related to income and spending decisions. Fifth, digital literacy as well as banking awareness need to be more widespread. Banking awareness can help mobilise small savings and deliver these to last-mile women users. To advance this agenda, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has already launched a ‘Financial Education Initiative’. Lastly, there is an urgent need for making available and using gender-disaggregated data to inform policy reforms and the creation of products and services, especially suited for women from low-income households. For example, the use of sex-disaggregated data can help financial service providers deploy mechanisms under the Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) focusing specifically on women, especially from marginalised segments. Hence, a periodic publication of such data on various parameters of financial inclusion can help policymakers track the gender gap in policy design and implementation, and the financial service providers to build women-centric products.
To further resolve issues of mobility, mobile financial services can be made increasingly available and accessible such that women can conduct transactions from their homes.
Reductions in financial inclusion gender gaps in India, through suitable reforms, innovations, and practices, can play a significant role in addressing economic inequalities, empowering women to play a more proactive role in advancing growth and development. Moreover, the inherent interlinkages in the SDG framework entail that improvements in SDG 5 are likely to prompt progress along other related goals on no poverty (SDG 1), food and nutritional security (SDG 2), good health (SDG 3), access to education (SDG 4), and, access to improved sanitation (SDG 6) and clean energy (SDG 7), besides directly impacting economic growth and levels of inequalities. Ensuring increased agency and meaningful participation for women can play a key role in the promotion of holistic progress along all the sustainable development goals, enabling a stronger and more resilient future for India.
Gender budgeting and targeting at an institutional level can enable in-design changes in public schemes that take care of specific needs and preferences of women and enhance their access to financial products.
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Debosmita Sarkar is a Junior Fellow with the Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth Programme, Centre for New Economic Diplomacy at Observer Research Foundation. Her research ...Read More +