Millions of women are out of work as the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down economic activity in wealthy and poor countries alike. The IMF warns of drastically slower growth through 2021, setting us up for a slow recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have only emphasized the vulnerability of low-income women, making financial inclusion ever more critical as a means for women to recover from the global crisis and build resilience in the long-term.
On the other hand, Digital financial services through 4 lakh CSCs in the country have expanded opportunities for millions of women. Due to CSCs’ efforts now, 79% of Indian women now own a bank account against 43% in 2014.
In Naubatpur town of Patna, Bihar, CSC Banking has come up as a powerful tool to empower citizens, particularly women. VLE Rajeev Ranjan has been working progressively in the field of women empowerment since the last few years.
Rajeev’s town is away from a lot of recent developments that take place in the country. Many people are not able to connect to banks in order to take advantage of even basic banking services. He recollects, “People in the area were hesitant to use banking services; to keep their hard earned money in banks. Above all, it was very difficult to travel to the main bank branch for accessing any service. Being one of the customers myself, I was also facing similar issues and was looking for an alternative. In May 2016, I went to attend a program on digital India being organized in my village. While returning from the event, I was intimated about the Common Service Centre by a friend of mine. Straightaway, I began working on getting an ID for myself and soon in February 2017, I became a Banking Correspondent for Bank of India.
In the next two years, 6000 bank accounts were opened through Rajeev’s CSC and it is worth noting that around 95% of these accounts belonged to women. Considerable work is being done for school going girls. Earlier, hardly any of these young girls had bank accounts. Most of them used to attend schools during bank working hours and lack of guidance did not allow them to get their accounts opened.
With the help of VLE Rajeev, women’s participation in Naubatpur has been increased in the formal economy. Their resilience to financial, economic and health shocks is improving.
One of the beneficiaries named Radha sells vegetables for a living. She could not afford travelling to the bank on a daily basis to deposit or withdraw money. Radha was constantly worried about her daily earnings. Her bank account was opened by Rajeev and she regularly deposits money now.
In another case, Smt. Lalmati Devi has started receiving her old age pension after getting in touch with Rajeev. She is 100 years old and lives alone in the village. It was really difficult for her to meet ends. Rajeev visits her home monthly and hands over the pension to her. Lalmati even started crying on receiving the first instalment of her pension and bought sweets for everyone. Many such old age people have been benefited through CSC.
Many of these women are daily wage workers or farmers and they were not able to receive government subsidies due the absence of a legit bank account. Hence, their identification issue was solved through CSC banking services.
VLE says, “Financial inclusion through CSC provides these women the tools for accumulating assets, generating income, managing financial risks, and fully participating in the economy. Women tend to contribute larger portions of their income to household consumption than their male counterparts do. Targeting women with financial inclusion is also benefiting households, communities and society in Naubatpur, Patna.”
Rajeev also remembers how he ended up saving the life of Smt. Madhuri Devi. She was undergoing an emergency operation and needed money urgently. It was 4 in the morning when her family member contacted Rajeev and within moments, she was able to withdraw money from her bank account resulting in a successful operation.
Health and Sanitation
Rajeev’s team has also been working in the domain of women health and sanitation. A sanitary napkin manufacturing unit was set up in the village and more than 40 ladies acquired training on the process of making a napkin.
Since January 2019, sanitary napkins have begun to manufacture at the local level. Slowly the team grew and currently, 8 females work in the manufacturing unit wherein more than 200 napkins are made on a daily basis. Another set of 4 women go home to home in order to sell these affordable and hygienic napkins. Local shop owners prove handy in selling these pads to villagers. Regular awareness camps are also being held through the ‘Jivika Didi’ group in order to spread awareness about the importance of women’s health and hygiene.