India’s Women Business Correspondents are Struggling: Three Steps to Increase Their Viability – And Boost Financial Inclusion

Posted on 05/12/2022

India is home to 17% of the world’s total female population. Yet the country has traditionally viewed women mainly as caregivers and homemakers. And though the workforce participation rate of women has seen a marginal rise from 17.5% to 22.8% between 2017 and 2019, the gender gap persists. Men’s involvement in the labor market stood at 56.8% in 2019-2020, more than double the rate of participation of women in the same year.

In light of this persistent challenge, Grameen Foundation has worked to increase women’s employment as Business Correspondents (BCs) – retail agents engaged by banks to provide banking services at locations other than a bank branch or ATM – through our Grameen Mittras program. The program aims to bring more women into India’s labor force while also addressing a persistent gap in the country’s financial inclusion efforts. Though the BC model, introduced by the Reserve Bank of India in 2006, has been a key driver of financial inclusion in India, it has struggled to appropriately support the full inclusion of underprivileged populations, especially the 223 million women who hold bank accounts through the country’s Jan Dhan Yojana financial inclusion program. While these women account holders represent 53.3% of the program’s total base of 420 million Jan Dhan Yojana accounts reached by 2021, 55% of these women remain registered inactive users.

Grameen Mittras (which means “friends of the village” in Hindi) are well-placed to reach these women while also empowering themselves in the process. Results from an internal assessment of the Grameen Mittras model in the district of Nashik found the job enabled women to overcome personal, cognitive, material, and perceptual barriers as they progressed toward economic empowerment. The study showed that women who became BCs through the Grameen Mittras program improved their financial independence, gained greater buy-in within their families to partake in household financial decision-making, and increased their ability to mobilize and manage money. They also understood financial instruments, which helped them support their communities’ efforts to plan their finances better and achieve their short, medium and long-term goals.

Read the full article on Next Billion

Vaishali is one of our Grameen Mittras. You can learn more about her experience here.

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