Women have always worked – and sometimes excelled – in India, and the rise of the corporate female in the country’s corporate fabric over the last 20 years has often been noted.
The country has no fewer than eight women banking bosses, including Arundhati Bhattacharya, recently appointed as the first chairwoman of the State Bank of India, the country’s largest bank.
Yet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has noted women still lag behind men with regards to entrepreneurship, general employment, literacy and health.
Enter the Bharatiya Mahila Bank; India’s first state-owned bank for women.
A ground-breaking launch
“The setting up of the [bank] is a small step towards economic empowerment of our women,” Prime Minister Singh noted during the first bank’s launch in Mumbai last Tuesday.
“The sad reality is that women in India face discrimination and hardship,” he continued, “at home, school, at their places of work and in public places.”
He therefore stipulated that equality between women and men in terms of economic, political, and social empowerment was still a distant goal, heralding the launch of the bank.
Bharatiya Mahila Bank, a ground-breaking initiative communicated in the Union Budget, was put in motion by the federal government with USD 184 million of initial capital.
Beginning with seven core branches in major cities, plans to open a further 500 branches across India should be completed by 2017.
This includes branches in villages, where women face increased amounts of problems opening an account.
Currently, only 26% of women in India hold an account – whether in a bank, co-operative, credit union, microfinance institution or post office – compared to 46% of men.
“We have gathered here to witness the beginning of a unique institution,” Singh said, noting that the bank will give, “financial services predominantly to women and women self-help groups.”
The situation in India
In India, women typically give any earnings to their husbands to take care of.
This is despite the fact the county’s women are noted as more astute savers.
Only 35% of Indians have access to banks and banking services; compared to a global average of 50%, due in large part to there being only approximately 100,000 bank branches across the country with a large proportion of India’s rural villages not containing a bank.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram has noted the bank will be listed on stock exchanges in due course.