Women’s participation in financial transaction must increase: Speakers

(Clockwise) Mustafa K Mujeri, Md Abul Bashar, Sutapa Chowdhury, Lila Rashid, Sanzida Akhter and Fahmida Khatun
Prothom Alo

Speakers at a roundtable said women lag behind in receiving service related to depositing money through bank accounts, mobile banking and agent banking as well as loan, expenditure and transaction.

The discussants pointed out women are compelled to depend on others as they lack digital skills.

They said inclusion of women receiving mobile financial service (MFS) and microfinance institution (MFI) services can be increased by adding them to institutional bank accounts.

The discussants made these remarks at a roundtable titled “Women in financial inclusion: Challenges, prospects and ways out” at Prothom Alo office in the capital’s Karwan Bazar on Tuesday. Centre for Research and Development (CRD) and Prothom Alo jointly organised the event.

Speakers recommended making bank accounts more effective, speedy and easily accessible to increase financial inclusion of women. They stressed on identifying the type of social system that becomes barrier on the path to women empowerment through the financial inclusion and solving it.

A research report titled “Gender discrimination in financial inclusion” conducted by CRD with the assistance of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was presented at the event. Lila Rashid, member of the research team, and Arif Jawad, research associate, presented the report.

The report cited a Bangladesh Bank's survey released in 2019 saying 55 per cent of adult citizens have bank accounts in the country. As of December 2020, there were 10,671 branches of banks and 116 million (11.60 crore) account holders in the country. The central bank data, however, could not ascertain the number of women account holders.

At that time, 48 per cent of customers receiving mobile financial service were women and 42 per cent in agent banking. Some 22-25 per cent of women had access to microcredit and more than 26.8 million (2.68 crore) customers maintained Tk 10 account meant for students and underprivileged people.

The report mentioned old date to highlight the rate of male and female customers. Thirty-six per cent of women, according to the 2017 Global Findex Data, have access to at least a financial institution in Bangladesh while 32 per cent of women, according to the 2018 International Finance Corporation Survey, have institutional bank accounts.

Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development (INM) executive director Mustafa K Mujeri said the government targets to bring all citizens under financial inclusion by 2026. Though Tk 10 bank account has been introduced, it is not a big achievement in the eyes of financial inclusion. So, government and private originations will have to fight together to ensure women empowerment through achieving this target, he added.

Regarding the allegation of women facing hassles to get loans, Bangladesh Bank executive director Md Abul Bashar said there is a central bank’s instruction for banks that each branch of a bank will train at least three woman entrepreneurs and provide at least one of them with loan.

Many big banks do not want to give preference to women and they go for big borrowers. An Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) will be signed between the Bangladesh Bank and the banks to this end and, under the agreement women will receive a loan of Tk 500 to Tk 50,000 with a 9 per cent interest, he added.

Microcredit Regulatory Authority director Sutapa Chowdhury said 91 per cent of customers of 741 microcredit institutions are women. Women dominate among the borrowers but authorities concerned are not satisfied over the use of loan as yet. In many cases, loan is issued for women but male member of the family utilised it, she added.

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) executive director Fahmida Khatun said there is some limitation despite the rise in women’s participation in digital finance. Such as, many women receiving allowance under the social safety net programmes cannot control their money since they do not own a mobile phone. Perhaps, these women receive allowance through their sons’ mobile phones and their sons use the money, she added.

Sanzida Akhter, associate professor of Women and Gender Studies department at Dhaka University, said multidimensional poverty of women must be considered for financial inclusion of women as well as women must be trained up to keep their transaction secret.

Bank Asia managing director Md Arfan Ali said 63 per cent of their 5.3 million (53 lakh) agent-banking customers are women and if all banks coordinate among them, it is possible to fulfil the government’s target to bring all citizens under financial inclusion by 2026.

Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited deputy managing director Md Shahadat Hossain said two thousand apparel factories provided salary of their employees though Dutch-Bangla Bank’s mobile financial service Rocket. Previously, women received their salary in cash and spent it all. Now they withdrew as much as they need and spend it and they even save it, he added.

Chief external and corporate affairs officer at mobile financial service bKash Major General (retd) Sheikh Md Monirul Islam, said 42 per cent of bKash’s 62 million (6.20 crore) customers are women. However, it is necessary to make women’s access to smartphones easier since mobile banking is based on apps, he added.

Professor of Economics at Dhaka University, Sayema Haque Bidisha, said it is also necessary to see whether financial capacity of women, who have bank accounts, is being developed for connecting with the mainstream labour market through their purchase, general transaction, salary and allowance, social safety allowance, loan, savings and investment.

Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) deputy general manager Tanvir Sultana, private handicraft institution Taranga chief executive officer Kohinoor Yeasmin, among others, spoke at the event.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum delivered the welcome address. CRD founder and CEO Md Mokhlesur Rahman Rahman and professor of Women and Gender Studies department at Dhaka University and member of research team, Ayesha Banu, were also present.

Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury moderated the event.