The Indian government is planning to launch a women-only bank in October. Its architects argue that the bank will contribute towards empowering India’s female population in a big way. But critics disagree.
“Bharatiya Mahila Bank,” or the Indian women's bank, will have mostly female employees and only women can open an account in it. The bank will offer easy loans as well as insurance and pension policies. The first six branches of this bank will begin their operations in October this year in several Indian cities including the capital New Delhi.
“It's a very good idea,” Pam Rajput, vice-president of India's National Alliance of Women, told DW. “Women in most Indian families are still excluded from financial planning. Men still handle the finances, and women, who live in a very conservative environment, are reluctant to go to banks where they have to deal with male employees," she added.
Several studies confirm that women's economic empowerment generally improves their status in a family, which, in turn, also contributes to the country's economy. According to a 2012 World Bank survey, only about 26 percent of Indian women have their own bank account. The figure is even lower in rural areas where women are not part of the registered work force. Nearly 35 percent of the Indian women are still unable to read and write. “They cannot fill out complicated forms,” Rajput told, adding that in these cases "the banks should reach the doorstep of their customers instead.”
Rajput also says that in order to be effective, these banks should develop a liaison with existing financial networks.
A populist move
The Indian government says it is investing around US$ 146 million in projects related to women's' development. Women's bank is only one of the projects.
“It's a small amount,” says Jayati Ghosh, a professor of Economics at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. “The government wants to construct a building somewhere and say 'Look women, you have your own bank!'”
Ghosh is of the view that the Indian government has been embarrassed by multiple violent rape cases that have recently shaken the country, and for that reason it wants to give out the impression that it is trying its best to empower women. The expert considers a women-only bank to be a political gimmick to appease female voters ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.
Such a bank will also further isolate Indian women, says Ghosh. “It is synonymous with saying that women are not part of the mainstream.” Ghosh adds there are more ways to empower women than creating banks for them. “This bank will isolate their borrowing and it will soon be transformed into a women's ghetto.”