Empowering Pakistan: The imperative of financial inclusion for women

By: Ahmad Khalid

In the bustling world of finance, where numbers often dominate conversations, it’s crucial to remember the faces and stories behind each transaction. As a Pakistani banker, I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the transformative power of financial inclusion, especially when it comes to women. Today, I share my insights on the pressing need for enhancing the financial inclusion of women in formal banking channels, drawing from both my professional experiences and the impactful stories of my clients.

Pakistan, like many developing nations, is at a crossroads where economic empowerment and gender equality converge. While strides have been made in various sectors, the financial sector remains a critical arena for fostering inclusive growth. According to the World Bank, only 7.6% of Pakistani women have access to formal banking services, highlighting a significant gender gap that hinders the nation’s economic potential.

In my years as a banker, I have encountered numerous instances that underscore the urgency of addressing this issue. One such poignant story involves a determined young woman named Aisha, who sought a loan to start her own small business. Aisha, like many women in Pakistan, faced societal barriers that discouraged her from venturing into the male-dominated business world. However, she had a vision and unwavering determination.

Aisha’s journey mirrored the challenges that countless Pakistani women encounter when trying to access formal financial services. Limited access to credit, a lack of financial literacy, and deeply entrenched gender norms contribute to the financial exclusion of women. Recognizing the potential within these women is not just a matter of economic prosperity but also a step towards dismantling systemic gender inequalities.

According to the State Bank of Pakistan, women-owned businesses contribute only 1% to the country’s GDP. This alarming statistic underscores the untapped economic potential that could be unlocked through targeted financial inclusion measures. Empowering women economically not only benefits individual entrepreneurs like Aisha but also has a ripple effect on families and communities.

Financial inclusion is not just about opening bank accounts; it’s about fostering an environment where women can access credit, insurance, and other financial products that are tailored to their unique needs. Aisha’s case exemplifies the transformative power of a well-structured microfinance program. With a small loan and financial literacy support, she not only started her business but also became a source of inspiration for others in her community.

The benefits of financial inclusion extend beyond individual success stories to broader economic development. McKinsey estimates that closing the gender gap in economic participation could add $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030. For Pakistan, a nation aspiring to strengthen its economic foundations, the inclusion of women in formal banking channels is not just a social imperative but an economic necessity.

As a banker, I have witnessed the positive impact of financial inclusion programs tailored to women. These programs not only provide access to capital but also offer training and mentorship opportunities, addressing the multifaceted barriers that women face. The Pakistani government, in collaboration with financial institutions, must prioritize and implement such initiatives on a larger scale.

Government and financial institutions need to collaborate to create an ecosystem that encourages women to become financially literate and participate actively in the formal economy. According to a report by the Global Findex Database, 42% of women in Pakistan cite the lack of documentation as a barrier to accessing financial services. Simplifying documentation processes and creating awareness about their importance can significantly enhance women’s access to formal banking channels.

The benefits of financial inclusion extend beyond individual success stories to broader economic development. McKinsey estimates that closing the gender gap in economic participation could add $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030. For Pakistan, a nation aspiring to strengthen its economic foundations, the inclusion of women in formal banking channels is not just a social imperative but an economic necessity.

Moreover, the implementation of digital financial services can play a pivotal role in bridging the gender gap. The State Bank of Pakistan reports that mobile banking usage is significantly lower among women compared to men. By promoting digital literacy and ensuring the accessibility of mobile financial services, we can empower women in both urban and rural areas, fostering a more inclusive financial landscape.

In my role as a banker, I have been fortunate to witness the transformative power of financial inclusion for women. Beyond statistics and figures, each success story represents a step towards a more equitable and prosperous Pakistan. As we navigate the challenges and opportunities on the road to financial inclusion, let us not forget the faces and stories behind the numbers – the resilient women like Aisha, who, given the chance, can reshape the economic landscape of our nation. It is time for Pakistan to invest in its women, not just as a matter of social justice, but as a strategic imperative for a brighter, more inclusive economic future.

In conclusion, the journey towards financial inclusion for women in Pakistan is both a moral and economic imperative. The stories of women like Aisha underscore the transformative impact that access to formal banking channels can have on individual lives and the broader community. However, achieving widespread financial inclusion requires a concerted effort from policymakers, financial institutions, and society as a whole.

It is heartening to see the global momentum towards recognizing and addressing the gender gap in financial inclusion. International organizations, non-profits, and advocacy groups are playing a crucial role in shaping the narrative and pushing for tangible changes. As a Pakistani banker, I believe our nation has the potential to lead this charge by implementing comprehensive policies that prioritize women’s economic empowerment.

To bridge the gender gap in financial inclusion, we need to go beyond rhetoric and implement practical strategies. This includes targeted financial education programs, simplified documentation processes, and the promotion of digital financial services. Additionally, fostering a culture of inclusivity within financial institutions is essential, ensuring that women feel welcome and supported as they navigate the formal banking landscape.

As we strive for a more inclusive and equitable financial system, let us remember that the benefits extend far beyond economic indicators. Financially empowered women contribute to healthier, more resilient communities and serve as role models for future generations. By investing in the financial inclusion of women, Pakistan not only unlocks economic potential but also builds a more just and prosperous society for all. It is time to turn the aspirations of financial inclusion into a reality, creating a future where no woman is left behind in the journey towards economic empowerment.

 The writer is a former banker.

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