A few weeks back one of the top woman executives of a multinational corporate, who was in Srinagar for some business dealings, made a 'surprising' observation.
The observation was about the safety of women in Kashmir. She has so far made several visits to this 'conflict-torn' state and concluded the place as 'safest place for women'.
"World may call Kashmir as one of the most dangerous places to live, but I have myself experienced how safe this place is for women," she said, and the belief in her statement could be judged by her wish to get her daughter here in Kashmir for pursuing education.
Basically, I came across various posts on social media networks where debaters, while commemorating International Women's Day on March 8, were seeking pledge for safety and empowerment of women, especially in Kashmir.
Women in Kashmir have become prime victims of the conflict and a lot of rights' issues stand unresolved. And, of course, Kashmir is still a safe place for women when compared to many places in rest of India.
Women constitute more than half the population. They are already engaged in both the informal and formal sectors of economy. But most of their participation in these economic activities is not informed participation.
The effective participation, however, needs to be an informed participation. So financial literacy among them becomes an important part of this process at all levels.
Let them have a better understanding of their financial rights and responsibilities, and even their opportunities for income generation. So, empowering them financially would therefore not only enhance their own economic well being but would also contribute towards realizing economic potential available in our state.
When we speak of their empowerment, we should prioritize honing their financial skills. Even as our women folk stand in the 21st century, they are found shying away from managing finances because they lack the confidence to do so.
Precisely, they lack financial skills and even most of the well-read women succumb when it comes to managing money. I have observed the fear of not having enough knowledge about financial planning and the fear of making poor judgments in financial matters etc., keeps these women from achieving financial literacy. For example, if there is a sudden death of her husband, the wife is left at the mercy of her male relatives.
She has to undergo lot of trauma for lack of financial skills to understand the financial affairs left by the deceased.
What matters in achieving true women's empowerment is making them financially literate and encouraging them taking small steps towards financial planning. Women in the first place should crave for financial knowledge, not diamonds. Once they acquire the financial skills, diamonds will follow.
What is financial literacy? It's simply awareness, knowledge and skills to make decisions about savings, investments, borrowings and expenditure in an informed manner.
Once the women are skilled in financial knowledge and have clarity of financial concepts, they would be making better financial decisions and access right mix of financial products/services to accumulate wealth. Being financially literate would automatically render economic security to them.
We have over 40 banks operating in J&K state. Even as many banks run specially tailored schemes for women's financial empowerment in the rest of the country, none of them promote these schemes here in the state. We haven't seen any specialized financial product or service offered by banks to this gender, except a nominal interest rebate in certain loan schemes.
While devising a financial literacy campaign for women, banks should keep in mind that financial information needs of women differ from men. They should also mix financial intervention or financial advice which women require in their relationship transitions.
There are, of course certain barriers like social and cultural, physical, educational, and financial, which make it difficult for them to gain financial literacy. So tailor your financial literacy programmes in culturally appropriate manner.
Women's empowerment is a globally debated initiative and generally speaking Kashmiri women need to be stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. The empowerment should aim at enhancing their position in the power structure of the society by enabling them to move to the centre stage.
(The views re of the author & not the institution he works for)