Women’s financial inclusion, digital empowerment vital to improve economy: President

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ISLAMABAD, Sep 17 (APP): President Dr Arif Alvi Friday said that the inclusion of women in financial mainstream as well as their digital empowerment would bring about economic stability besides many other intangible benefits to the society.

The president, addressing the launching ceremony of State Bank’s policy on “Banking on Equality” to ensure women’s financial inclusion, said a financially independent women could not be exploited.

First Lady Samina Alvi, parliamentarians, State Bank Governor Raza Baqir, SBP Deputy Governor Seema Kamil, CEOs of banks and financial institutions attended the event.

The president said the women’s financial inclusion would also significantly improve country’s GDP as women were more reliable handlers of the financial products as had also been experienced in Bangladesh as well as Pakistan.

He said with the changing dynamics of the society marking minimizing needs of physical labor, the women could easily play their role in the society by using internet and other digital tools.

With the five pillars of diversity, inclusion, accessibility, transparency and leadership, the policy has set target of around 20 million women bank accounts by 2023. Currently, only 13% of the bank staff and 1% of branchless banking agents are women.

Under the policy, the financial institutions would be asked to ensure minimum 20% female participation in workforce by 2024.

President Alvi told the gathering that opening a bank account of women was just one method of financial inclusion as it would open up more avenues.

He said a secure environment was inevitable for the women to make them play a productive role as the security of their children was always family’s top priority.

At the same time, the president said it was also equally essential to teach the society on ethics and its responsibilities, exemplifying the Minar-e-Pakistan incident where the people opted to film the female harassment scene instead of forbidding the wrongdoers.

The president said it was unfortunate that Pakistan lagged behind in number of women bank account holders comparing other Muslim countries and appreciated the SBP’s target of 20 million women bank accounts by 2023 as proposed in the policy.

He also suggested that the number of women bank accounts could have a quantum jump if Ehsaas disbursements to all 17 million women was switched through banking channel instead of cash. It will also ensure women’s enhanced control over the money, he added.

Referring to the passage of law to protect women’s property rights, the president also appreciated a decision of Balochistan High Court barring women from gifting their inherited property to anyone unless it was transferred to her.

President Alvi urged the women parliamentarians to aware women about the loan amount specified by banks for women which currently remained under-utilized.

At the end, the president also reiterated his message for self-examination and early diagnosis of breast cancer as October would be observed as a month for awareness on the disease. He said owing to delayed diagnosis, the mortality rate in Pakistan was 50%, comparing just 2% in the world.

Earlier, State Bank Governor Raza Baqir presented a copy of policy to the president which will assign outreach targets for saving and credit products to enhance access, usage and quality of financial services to women.

In his address, Raza Baqir said the policy had been finalized after detailed consultation with all the stakeholders.

He said Pakistan lagged far behind among Muslim countries vis-à-vis number of women bank account holders which was 70% in Saudi Arabia, UAE 76%, Turkey 54% and Malaysia 82%.

He said the extension of digital account opening facility to across Pakistan would also help enhance the number of account holders including men and women. He also thanked the banks and other financial institutions for supporting the central banks in policy formulation and also urged them to own and implement the document.

Earlier, Seema Kamil said it was a historic day for women of Pakistan as financial inclusion was their right. She said being gender neutral had not been enough, so it was required to adopt a gender intentional approach.

She asked the banks to provide a conducive environment, welcome, value and respect their women customers to encourage their financial inclusion.

CEO of Froward Sports Khawaja Masood, whose company was effectively promoting the objective, said women financial inclusion would cast substantial impact on national economy. He said the financial institutions should ensure that their respect and grace were not compromised.

CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Rehan Sheikh said in its report World Economic Forum had ranked Pakistan third from bottom for women bank accounts. He said SCB was one of the biggest supporters of gender balance and endeavoring to be best place to work and best bank for women.