The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is taking initiatives under its comprehensive National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) to prioritise financial inclusion of women and it will soon launch its gender mainstreaming “Banking on Equality” policy, said SBP Governor Dr Reza Baqir.

Speaking at an in-house event held at the SBP on Monday to commemorate the International Women’s Day, he lauded the excellent work being done by women, who were part of the SBP and its subsidiaries. He appreciated the vital role played by women all across Pakistan in shaping and strengthening the economy and society.

“Promoting equal opportunities for women and men for accessing and pursuing financial and professional endeavours is critical for sustainable and inclusive economic growth in any country,” he stressed. “Improved gender parity in financial and economic opportunities can enhance socio-economic development outcomes for the present and future generations.”

Women’s equal access to financial services was a key priority for a country like Pakistan whose female population of over 100 million significantly lagged behind men in terms of financial inclusion and contribution to economic activity, the SBP governor emphasised.

Citing data, he said only 29% of women in Pakistan had bank accounts, a number which was among the lowest in the world. He lamented that the disparity was severely impeding Pakistan’s economic development.

Baqir highlighted that although Pakistan achieved some progress in terms of financial inclusion in recent years, gaping gender divide remained visible in the country.

According to him, the social and economic potential of Pakistan will remain constrained without active participation from women.

“Incorporating a gender perspective in existing policies and industry practices is imperative to build an inclusive financial system that serves both women and men equally,” the SBP governor said.

Cognisant of the prevailing issues and difficulties faced by women with regard to access to financial services, he said that the central bank was making efforts to provide a more enabling environment.

Giving details of the initiatives undertaken by the SBP, he said they launched a comprehensive NFIS to prioritise women’s financial inclusion and RAAST.

In addition to promoting financial literacy in the female segment in rural and peri-urban areas, the SBP had launched the Credit Guarantee and Refinance Scheme, which offered 0% refinance rate and 60% risk coverage for small businesses run by women entrepreneurs, he announced.

Elaborating the Banking on Equality policy, he said the goal of the scheme was to promote equality in banking and reduce the gender gap in financial inclusion. According to him, the proposed policy identifies and targets improvement in five key pillars.

These include better institutional diversity, incorporating a gender lens for development and marketing of tailoured bank products, modification of approaches towards women customer facilitation and collection of gender-disaggregated data.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2021.

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