Issues and Challenges

What Bars Women from Financial Services

Women constitute 49% of the total population of Pakistan according to the 6th Population and Housing Census 2017 and only constitute 24% of female labor force despite considerable economic growth. Numbers tell us that 15% of the overall wage employment is shared by women, since majority is engaged as contributing family members and are working without pay. 

These facts are the baseline to the fact that, “It is less likely for women to have bank accounts; or personal bank accounts,” and this is not true regarding Pakistan only, the situation in developed countries is also no different according to a recent report from the World Bank. According to this report, 72% of men have bank accounts in comparison to 62% of women, which means that financial prudence has become a foremost norm for every individual today.
Unfortunately, there are 980 million women around the world who are deprived of basic bank accounts. According to Global Findex database by World Bank 2017, the percentage gap of holding bank accounts in developed countries is 9% but the situation is alarming in countries like Pakistan, India and Jordan where this gap is recorded at as high as 30%. It is also found that women are less resilient in times of crisis than men due to poor access to banking services. Where Women Fall Behind
Financial sector is the backbone of any country and access to credit is one way to open up economic opportunities for women belonging to any country. In this context, a bank account can play a vital role being a gateway for additional financial services. Female entrepreneurs, however, are witnessed to face greater challenges in getting access to financial services than men. There can be multiple reasons, but as a banker, and that too being a credit officer, I believe that men are more confident than women to take risks; which of course is involved in credit facilities both for the bank and clients. Women are less likely to have an access to saving accounts, insurance services and digital payments. Women lack in financial education and have a limited exposure of markets which also counts as a reason for women to not have a bank account. Additionally, many women are given access to the financial services by opening accounts in their names; which means that accounts are titled in the name of the women, but they do not have any authority to operate these accounts freely, without the permission of their male relatives. A study by The World Bank’s Gender at Work Report 2014, quotes, “On virtually every global measure, women are more economically excluded than men.”
Another major disappointment is the utilization of study loans. Majority of study loans are availed in the name of sons; daughters here too, are left deprived of higher education because of financial restrictions faced by their families. Though the literacy ratio has improved a lot with time, we still need to go a long way to catch up with the literacy ratio of men to women which prevails in developed countries. In an effort to improve this situation, government should take some steps to tackle low income sectors and female literacy, so that women may support their male counterparts in meeting the financial needs, which will also improve their capital in the long run. 
Why Should Women be Financially Sound?
With accelerating financial technology sector of Pakistan, it is the need of the hour for women to break their stereotypical roles and get into financial folds and engage themselves in activities that open up the gateway towards financial inclusion and financial security along with basic banking services such as savings accounts. 
Women are more prone to health risks like high maternal mortality rate, and it is very frequent that women are financially hurt during a divorce. So it is important for them to have their own personal investment accounts – their own emergency accounts which may serve them during a crisis. It is crucial, especially for women, to keep their money not only safe but saved in an account that they fully control. However, for mutual household expenses, a joint account is not a bad decision.
It is the responsibility of banks to market their financial services and the benefits attached for the customers in a way which does not restrict it to the stereotypical gender role. The advertisements mostly show women depending on their male relatives to fulfill their financial needs, and men working hard to save to get insurance which will benefit the family in the long run. Family, children and elders are responsibilities of men and women both. The question remains: why do women have to be worried about their financial needs? If we can make it possible for women to engage with their saving accounts to increase their capital, women are likely do outnumber men in using financial services and invest back in the economy, as women have a greater tendency to save more than men, in order to ensure protection against unseen circumstances and the rising financial needs for higher education of their children and to give a better livelihood for their next generation. We need to channel this natural tendency and once women experience greater financial agency, their participation will help power the engine of sustained economic growth in Pakistan. 
It is advisable for every woman to have a separate account where they can save their own money, may it be from a paid job or an investment. Women should get access to financial services, equip themselves with the knowledge and schemes going on by the government or banks in favor of women, and utilize them. It is high time to strengthen women as a new market of savvy financial-product consumers that can influence the economy and drive for change. Women need to work together efficiently and seamlessly with other stakeholders of the finance ecosystem i.e., government, financial institutions, technology providers and regulatory bodies, for sustainable financial inclusion. HH

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