Expressing concerns over the present big gender gap in financial inclusion in the country, experts at a webinar on Wednesday called for taking pragmatic steps to bridge the gap.
Speaking at the event, Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, professor of Economics at Dhaka University, cited a 2018 survey by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and said 61% women in the country did not have access to financial services, 32% had access to formal financial services, and a paltry 7% had access to informal financial services.
Dr Bidisha who was the keynote presenter at the online seminar entitled "Financial inclusion of women: The discriminatory socio-cultural norms in Bangladesh", however, said women's participation in mobile financial services (MFS) is somewhat noteworthy, 57%, thanks to various social security programmes of the government.
She attributed women's lagging behind in financial inclusion to their lack of knowledge on information technology.
Due to poor understanding of IT, women have to go through various hardships in getting digital access, Dr Bidisha observed, adding, "That is why it is necessary to increase women's knowledge on digital literature in the first place."
Sarder Akhter Hamed, deputy managing director of Bank Asia Limited, told the event that the introduction of agent banking services has played a crucial role in increasing women's, especially those in villages, access to financial services in recent years.
"Agent banking was launched in 2014 with a view to accelerating financial inclusion. Now 28 banks are providing services to people through 17,000 agent outlets across the country and 60-70% of the outlets are in rural areas."
About one crore customers are getting agent banking services and half of them are women, Hamed mentioned, adding, "Rural women were afraid to go to banks, but the fear has withered away following the introduction of agent banking. Women's participation in agriculture and fishery loans is on the rise."
Dr Sanzida Akhter, associate professor of Women and Gender Studies at Dhaka University, said, "Many men feel their wives do not need to have a bank account of their own. Many women also think they do not need their own bank accounts as their husbands meet their necessities. Such an attitude is also limiting women's financial inclusion."
"Besides, when a woman goes to open a bank account she is asked if she has discussed it with her husband or father. Do male customers are asked if they have discussed with their wives? This issue needs to stop."
Emphasising the need for recruiting more women in banking jobs, Syed Mahbubur Rahman, managing director of Mutual Trust Bank, said the banking industry has 1.07 lakh male employees while the number of female employees is merely 30,000.
There are only two women CEOs, she added.
Lila Rashid, former executive director of the Bangladesh Bank, called for more proactive measures from the government.
"The National Women Development Policy framed in 2011 states what financial benefits women will get. Although 10 years have passed, it has not been implemented yet."
She further said many women are being brought under the coverage of mobile financing services and banking services to receive benefits from various social safety net programmes, but in many cases, it is seen that they transact once in six months.
Jointly organised by a2I Programme, the Cabinet Division, the ICT Division and the UNDP, the webinar moderated by a2I Programme Manager Md Tohurul Hasan. The Business Standard was the media partner of the programme.