• Financial Inclusion: Where’s the Data on Women’s Accounts?

    On the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) website, the Department of Financial Services (DFS) offers a lot of information about the largest financial inclusion scheme in the world – it tells you that a total of 190 million accounts have been opened, banks these accounts are in, Aadhaar seeding, percentage of zero balance accounts etc. Interestingly, the website doesn’t tell have any information on the number of accounts opened for women, one of the key objectives of the scheme.

    Obviously, it is difficult to get more nuanced data on whether the accounts owned by women actually have money in them, are they being used for transactions or just exist as part of the government’s achievements in the Guinness World of Records. The Indian Express on a recent fact finding mission found that a majority of the PMJDY accounts only had INR 1 in them, generously put in by the bank officials to reduce the percentage of zero balance accounts! Field experience instinctively suggests that a chunk of these one rupee accounts must be in the name of women!

    Financial Inclusion

    Also Read: Win-Win: Financial Inclusion of Women Could Boost the GDP

    Moving on from PMJDY to the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS) for the first time measured women’s empowerment across socio-economic indicators including women’s ownership of land and bank accounts. To think that in India – there was never any measure of how many women own land!

    Why is it important to have gender disaggregated data in the public domain? Men and women have different experiences, particularly of government schemes and programs. The vulnerabilities, access to resources, bargaining power within the household and responsibilities of women are different from men – and therefore it is impossible to understand the effects of a scheme in an aggregated way or design new schemes without fully comprehending the journey of women as separately from men. As the UNDP says, indicators and information must be disaggregated; averages hide disparities and the recognition of disparities is essential for human rights-based programming.

    Understanding how women experience schemes would allow the government to design more sensitive programs instead of just telling us high-level numbers. For example, with PMJDY – the government could address the issues of mobility and time constraints that women face and push mobile banking for them, or provide capacity building to make sure that women know to use their accounts effectively, from accessing government payments in their names to developing a transaction history and also provide them with softer skills on dealing with bank managers etc. Understanding usage of accounts among women of different geographies, age-groups, income levels etc. would allow both the government and banks to serve women better.

    To collect more gender disaggregated data on many things requires an investment of time and resources. New household surveys (like the NFHS), focus group discussions, key informant interviews need to be carried out by the government and non-government organizations. In a country like India, with so many surveys (NFHS, DLHS, NSSO, Census) it is a question of prioritizing gender-level information, and the growing digital foot print makes it easier to collect this data.

    There are disproportionate benefits to gender sensitive programs to a country – and it’s important to count women to make them count!

    Astha Kapoor is a strategy consultant at MicroSave working on public policy issues. Views expressed here are personal. She can be reached @KapoorAstha