Six of India’s last eight medallists at the Olympics are women! In this year’s edition, all the three medals won and assured are by women till the time of writing this article. Clearly, they have been the saving face for India and for all of us.

What is more inspiring is the number of difficulties and challenges that these women have faced in order to become who they are today.

Cut now to an average Indian household, especially in small towns and villages across India. The financial and social status of women is often treated secondary to men. While we may love our mothers, sisters, daughters and our spouses, the same is not reflected in terms of the trust we have in them when it comes to money or wealth. We may cheer the medal winners, but at home, we don’t trust our own to even make small decisions in financial matters.

By culture, all the financial decisions are vetted or approved by the ‘men’ of the house. And frankly, there is no similar accountability or checks on the financial decisions taken by the men, right or wrong.

Slowly, but steadily, we are now seeing the increasing participation of women in the financial world. Starting with the opening of bank accounts, having PAN cards and filing returns is now happening as women start working. However, financial decision-making and independence is still a far cry.

We will not trust them easily with new ideas and business ventures. Banks will do a second check even for small loans and will ask for spouse KYC when they won’t ask the same from the men.

It won’t come as a surprise to note that a report indicated that 47% of women do not even have bank or savings accounts for their own personal use. We may have varying degrees of financial inclusion, but we are yet to have true empowerment.

Why do we need financial empowerment for women?

Why not? Perhaps that may be the right question. Everyone must have an equitable share of opportunities and should be equally trusted. That’s the basic underpinning of any progressive society, developing society. At a broader level, unleashing the potential of women, as labour force, savers and investors will also boost India’s economy.

One study indicated that if women had the same financial incentives and opportunities in the labour force, the GDP would rise over 26%. Yet, about 51% of the work done by women is unpaid. Unfortunately, the work-life of women is also less than men because of various reasons like marriage, raising a child, social commitments, homemaker duties, health issues, and so on. Generally, women also receive less pay than men. This makes things already a lot more challenging for them.

A study indicated that earning women spent over 90% of their income on families, directly improving the health and education outcomes. A man may or may not be a bread-earner, but a woman is always the homemaker, irrespective of whether she is earning or not earning. With urban, nuclear families, the spouse/homemaker is the one you turn to for support, either social, emotional or even financial.

In case anything happens to the sole-bread earner of the family, the lady often has to carry the burden of the family. Imagine what will happen in situations where there is divorce with or death or disability of the husband? Women generally don’t have any clue about their family finances and are left totally lost in case of an emergency. Women also find it hard to get a fair distribution of inheritance and business legacies. For so many reasons and more, women continue to be vulnerable and financially dependent, something we don’t want them to be. And hence, financial empowerment is the need of the hour.

How can we move ahead?

There is no doubt that financially literate, independent and empowered women can be transformational for families, communities and society. However, the onus of change is upon the women themselves, rather than again depending on the men to do so. They have to step up and stake their claims for a fair share of financial independence. And as responsible, mature men, we should encourage our women to do so.

Here is the path one can pursue…

  1. Realise the necessity for you as a girl/woman to be financially literate. If you are earning, start aspiring to be financially independent and empowered.
  2. Have a conversation with your father and/or your spouse and share your desires /aspirations.
  3. Start on your own by increasing your knowledge and understanding of financial matters. There is no dearth of resources easily available to do so.
  4. Start questioning, understanding and participating in important financial decisions that affect you and your family.
  5. Keep proper documentation and records of bank //insurance /investment /property, etc and details of important advisors to the family, as a preparation for any emergency.
  6. Open your bank savings and investment accounts. Start saving independently and learn from your financial products’ distributor /advisor.
  7. Start taking ownership of your money and deal with it the way you deem fit.
  8. Start investing for an emergency fund and for your own financial goals.

Women have been known to be smart savers and money managers at home. It is time to take the next step. Being financially independent will boost one’s self-image, confidence, and will command greater say and respect in the family. Let us work together, lend support to the women of the home for not just financial empowerment, but also to realise their own dreams in life. Let us begin the change in our own homes first.