This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by India Development Review (IDR). Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Missing Women In The Financial Sector

More from India Development Review (IDR)

By Renana Jhabvala, Sonal Sharma, and Soumya Kapoor Mehta:

The Indian financial landscape is undergoing a dramatic change. India witnessed a surge in bank account ownership during the 2011-2017 period: 80% of Indians owned a bank account in 2017–an increase of 45 percentage points since 2011. This surge is primarily attributed to the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMDJY).

However, this push for financial inclusion has not achieved its true objective, which is to ensure that all citizens not only have access to bank accounts, but avail other facilities that come with it–formal credit, insurance, and overdraft, to name a few.

According to the Global Findex database released by the World Bank, roughly one out of two bank accounts in India remain inactive, about twice the average of other developing economies. Worse, the gender gap in these inactive accounts is notable: 54% of women account holders report not using their account, as opposed to 43% male account holders.

This gap needs to be considered against the more general narrative on outcomes for women in India, and progress therein. While there has been a big shift in girls’ education in the last decade or so–with more girls enrolling in higher secondary and college education–India’s abominably low female labour force participation rates mean that many girls, despite their aspirations, are passing out of schools with no employment prospects.

The debate on low female labour force participation and the reasons for it are intensive and have sparked an entire research industry. However, a study 1 we at SEWA commissioned as part of the World Bank’s Skill India Mission Operation (SIMO) focuses on the possible solutions, one of which is identifying work opportunities available for women in India’s financial sector.

Can the financial industry be a prospective employer for the many, now more educated women, seeking work outside their homes?

Why is this a matter of interest? Because evidence shows that women tend to use their bank accounts and save and borrow more if they are served by female bankers and financial intermediaries.

So, What Did We Find?

First, female staff comprise a very small proportion of the financial industry workforce. The Bharat Microfinance Report 2017 by Sa-Dhan reveals that the total microfinance workforce in 2017 stood at 89,785 workers. Women comprised only 12% of the total workforce and 11% of the total field staff.

Our primary study confirmed these dismal numbers on women’s employment in the financial sector. Most of the field agents and employees of the financial institutions we interviewed were male. Perhaps the most dramatic example was that of microfinance institutions where we found that while all the clients were women, all the officers in the field were male.

Second, SEWA’s own studies suggest that women tend to save and borrow more when they are served by female financial intermediaries.

A basic income pilot conducted by SEWA in the state of Madhya Pradesh in 2011-12 compared the extent of financial inclusion in villages where SEWA operated through its network of vitya saathis (female banking correspondents) and villages where SEWA was not present.

It was found that in non-SEWA villages where no basic income was transferred, women held only 24% of their savings in financial institutions such as banks and cooperatives (figure 1). In comparison, in SEWA villages, 64% of women’s savings were in formal financial institutions.

Other internal studies of SEWA in Bihar and Uttarakhand also show a positive impact of financial intermediaries on women’s savings, and livelihoods.

A chart from SEWA's study on women and finance

Figure 1: More women put savings in financial institutions in Madhya Pradesh when in touch with a female banking correspondent | Courtesy: SEWA

Putting these two facts together, it is clear that hiring women as financial intermediaries can serve the dual purpose of increasing women’s usage of bank accounts on one hand, and their employment on the other.

The Job Opportunity For Financial Intermediaries Is Tremendous

According to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), of the nearly 460 million basic saving accounts opened in scheduled commercial banks between March 2010 and March 2018, nearly one in every two was opened through business correspondence agents or financial intermediaries. Such is the importance of these agents that the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) estimates 3.7 million incremental jobs for financial intermediaries between 2016 and 2022.

This leads to three important policy insights:

  • Financial intermediaries are capable of carrying out financial functions and are perhaps better than a brick-and-mortar financial institution in reaching out to remote areas owing to their mobility.
  • There is ample opportunity for mobile agents to act as representatives of financial institutions.
  • The potential for hiring women as such agents is high.

Yet, a report by the Helix Institute of Digital Finance (2015) on the Indian financial agent network finds that of the 2,682 active financial agents surveyed across rural and urban locations, only about 10% were women.

If these levels were raised to 30%, then of the 3.7 million projected jobs, 1.1 million could be taken up by women financial intermediaries, benefitting women account holders in the process.

A woman with a financial accounts book
Hiring women as financial intermediaries can serve the dual purpose of increasing women’s usage of bank accounts, and their employment | Photo courtesy: Pixabay

Women Face Barriers In Entering The Financial Workforce

  • Women are not aware of jobs in the financial sector. There are few counselling centres in schools and colleges that expose girls to jobs in this sector.
  • Not many girls and women think of financial institutions as possible employers, and if they do, the government ones are the most coveted.
  • Women also feel that they do not have the skills required to make a career in finance; some fear the pressure of targets.
  • Constraints on mobility and security present further restrictions as does the hesitation of seeing no female peers among existing staff.
  • A male culture in the sector also serves as a barrier, with male staff often socializing over a drink, late after office hours; bonding over events that tend to exclude women.
  • Managers, on their part, are reluctant to hire women. When asked why there were almost no female staff in his bank, a bank manager emphasised “daudne wala sales officer chahiye” (we need sales officers who are capable of running).

It is clear that most of the obstacles cited above seem to be related to the socially determined roles that women have been traditionally assigned. Both men and women view women’s abilities and aspirations through these lenses. This determines why women are either unaware of the opportunities, or are hesitant to enter the field. It also illuminates why managers fail to encourage women to apply, or when they do apply, only assign women back-office jobs.

These barriers call for more awareness campaigns in communities about the importance of employment for women. Equally, some supply-side shifts are needed.

They may include:

  • Employing more female financial intermediaries
  • Raising awareness about these jobs, knowledge building and career counselling
  • Raising awareness among potential employers about the advantages of employing women and what they need to do to attract and retain them
  • Providing financial support to buy laptops, point-of-sale machines, and two-wheeler vehicles for women who wish to become intermediaries
  • Enabling access to technology
  • Examining existing training modules and re-orienting them towards training women as financial intermediaries.

At the policy level, it requires partnerships between organisations like the NSDC, the Sector Skill Councils and the Association of Banks to create an ecosystem that works towards employing more women as financial intermediaries.

It also requires the collection of gender-disaggregated data by financial institutions on employees, agents, banking correspondents, customer service providers and other financial intermediaries and making these figures publicly available to track gender discrepancies in the sector.

*Sanchita Mitra was a contributing author to the larger study that this article draws on.

  1. Between August and September 2017, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), India, which has been working for decades to empower women in the informal sector, commissioned a study as part of the World Bank’s Skill India Mission Operation (SIMO) to identify work opportunities available for women in India’s financial sector. The study drew on primary interviews with staff of financial institutions and technology service providers (TSPs) to banks as well as women themselves  across four states in India: Delhi, Bihar, Maharashtra and Punjab.  These were buttressed with desk reviews of other reports, and insights from many small areas studies that SEWA has been conducting on the obstacles women face to opening, using bank accounts and to accessing funds should they want to finance any entrepreneurial venture.

This article was originally published on India Development Review.

About the authors:

Renana Jhabvala: Renana Jhabvala is an economist, with a 40-year-long association with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), known for her writings on informal women workers. She served as the Chancellor of Gandhigram Rural University from 2012-2017. She was a member of the UN Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, and has also been honoured with the FICCI Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1990, she was awarded a Padma Shri by the Government of India.

Sonal Sharma: Sonal Sharma is an urban development practitioner who works on issues of informality, gender and land rights. She currently leads monitoring, evaluation, and learning for an urban land rights project for women workers in the informal economy at SEWA Bharat. Previously, she has worked with SEWA’s affordable housing finance company and researched on the issue of manual scavenging. She was an Urban Fellow at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, and has completed her MA in Development Studies from Ambedkar University.

Soumya Kapoor Mehta: Soumya Kapoor Mehta is a development economist who has been writing on issues of poverty, social inclusion, social protection, and female labour force participation for the past 15 years. Formerly with the World Bank, she has several articles, World Bank and UN reports, and two books to her credit including one on the potential of basic income as a policy for India. Soumya holds degrees in economics from the University of Cambridge and St Stephen’s College, Delhi.

You must be to comment.

More from India Development Review (IDR)

Similar Posts

By India Development Review (IDR)

By Anshula Mehta

By Samir Debbarma | Adivasi Awaaz Creator

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below