Govt needs to take extra steps to educate women on financial literacy, activists say

( March 10, 2021 )

Meera works as a domestic help in around half-a-dozen houses besides doing odd jobs to earn around Rs 30,000 a month. She manages to save around Rs 750-1,000 a month but does not know where to invest. She is unaware that she could even deposit money in post offices.

More and more women are working but several, especially among the underprivileged, do not know how to operate a bank account or tools available for investments and this financial illiteracy appears to have an adverse impact amid the Covid-19 pandemic when they are among the worst affected in the job market.

As the world observes Women’s Day on Monday, activists and NGOs urge authorities to take extra steps to ensure that women are educated on financial tools to enable them in exercising prudent investment options.

“There are women who inspite of earning money, do not know how to operate a bank account or invest their money. They don’t know about different financial tools available in the market. They do not even know about life insurance. Women generally leave all the decisions about finances to the male members of the family,” National Women’s Commission Chairperson Rekha Sharma told DH.

Seema Kumar, General Manager (Programmes) of Smile Foundation that runs a financial literacy programme for underprivileged women and girl children under its ‘Swabhiman’ programme, said a well balanced and just society comes with empowering women. “It cannot be denied that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the need for improved basic health care at all levels and as we celebrate International Women’s Day in the post-Covid world, there is acute need to work with underprivileged communities on women health and their economic empowerment,” she said.

An analysis by the Smile Foundation, which trained around 60,000 women and girls so far under the ‘Swabhiman’ programme, showed that there is a huge gap in information and awareness on financial management and opportunities among women, who need to acquire financial knowledge, confidence and skills to effectively participate in economic activities and financial decision-making within and outside their households. “If women are given relevant exposure and training, they can take better decisions to improve the quality of their family’s lives,” it said.

While the Swabhiman programme trains women in understanding interest rates and loans and availing schemes of government and NGOs among other things, the NCW has recently launched a business and management course ‘Empowering Women through Entrepreneurship’ to train 5,000 aspiring women entrepreneurs in collaboration with IIM-Bengaluru.

With Covid-19 changing the economic scene, activists and authorities also are aware of the vulnerabilities of women in the job market as well as dealing in finances.

Sharma said that the pandemic not only changed the way of working but it is going to impact the number of opportunities for women in the workforce.

“When organisations are cutting the number of employees, they first send women out because the mind set is that women are not the primary breadwinners and it’s only the duty of men to earn money. The gender divide at work is huge,” she said.

At the same time, she said, there are a number of women who started small ventures from home to support the family income when their husbands lost jobs or there was lack of finances.

“We have to give skill to women along with education and train them to take up entrepreneurship. We must teach them how they can take help of all the schemes of the government and how they can take loans etc from the bank. Financial Institutions also must give them equal opportunities and hand hold them even if they fail initially,” she said.

One of the issues highlighted by activists is gender inequality at homes where women, even if earning, are not given a say in financial matters. They argue that schools and colleges should also give basic knowledge on personal finances.

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