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Gender Equality And Financial Inclusion Key To Ending Poverty

16/02/2015 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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Kids studying in a village, Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo by: IndiaPictures/UIG via Getty Images)

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With a population of over 1.2 billion people and as the largest democracy in the world, India is rated as one of the world's fastest growing emerging economies -

it is the fourth largest economy and the third largest by purchasing power parity.

In this vibrant country with a talented young workforce in technology and engineering, a massive wave of urbanisation sees 10 million people moving annually to towns and cities in search of opportunities. In this urban shift, major infrastructures and investments will be needed to sustainably support the change and make cities more livable and green. Global economic and inclusive growth means also lifting people out of poverty.

According to the World Bank's overview, of the country 400 million of India's people still live in poverty. And many of those who have escaped from it (53 million people) are still highly vulnerable to falling back into it.

Gender equality and education should be the first steps to tackle poverty, harnessing women's potential and empowerment in the socio-economic fabric of the country. Data from the UNDP Human Development Report, the Gender Equality Index is one of the lowest in the world, ranking India as 127 out of 148 countries in 2013. In 2012, a global poll of experts listed the best and worst G20 countries for women: India ranked the worst with alarming data showing that 44.5 % of girls are married before they turn 18 (International Center for Research on Women-2010), 56,000 maternal deaths were recorded in 2010 (UNFPA) and 52 % of women think it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife (UNICEF 2012).

To fight against patriarchal mindsets that restrict women to traditional roles and encourage child marriage, dowries and sex-selective abortion (a 2011 study by The Lancet estimated that 12 million girls were aborted over the last three decades), Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced the launch of a campaign called Beti Bachao Beti Padhao to promote gender equality through access to education.

Coupled with women's empowerment and social inclusion, financial access through bank accounts and digital banking technologies should be gradually implemented also in rural areas. The agriculture sector supports over two-thirds of India's population but failing crop yields and outputs threaten the incomes and food security of hundreds of millions. If given access to financial services and products, women could be empowered in a number of ways. Firstly, having access to their own account and to the tools that help them earn a living can increase women's bargaining power within a household and they can influence how money and other resources are used. Secondly, financial inclusion can help increase women' opportunities to earn an income or control assets outside the household. Thirdly, it can reduce women' vulnerability by, for instance, allowing them to insure against risk or borrow to meet unexpected expenses, such as medical treatments. Most importantly, women would most likely save, allocate and invest money in their children' education to give them better life opportunities.

The financial inclusion scheme introduced last August by PM Modi, aimed at eradicating poverty and fighting corruption, could be a key point in ending the "financial untouchability" by ensuring that the majority of households have a bank account. However, a mechanism for structured financial education should be put into place to also ensure that people can correctly manage their savings and expenses.

India is the country of the future, and by investing in women and in actively promoting gender equality, the Indian wheel will spin with all its strength and power, and that's exactly when significant and sustainable human progress will occur.

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