The Covid-19 pandemic accentuated several social inequalities. Amongst many others, inequalities in terms of access and use of information technology and financial services were stark. While the gender, social and geo-political barriers to digital financial access and the severity of barriers differ vastly by country, in India, the gender divide is sharp with underprivileged women being the worst affected.
The Reserve Bank of India’s Committee Report on the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion 2019-2024(1) sets forth the vision and objectives of financial inclusion policies in India. According to the report, financial inclusion can reduce poverty and income & gender inequality while promoting empowerment of women.
There is a compelling body of evidence suggesting that women, especially in rural India and Tier II and III cities, lack awareness in financial matters and have little say in financial matters in their families. A study commissioned by the CII Foundation and conducted by InFacto Consulting in select districts of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh revealed that most of the respondents (83%) relied on a male figure for decision making when it came to family expenses, and while 84% of the respondents had a bank account in their own name, 60% reported not knowing the process of opening a bank account. Only 7% of the respondents reported being aware of online payment methods and only 15% of the respondents had an ATM card.
Therefore, the CII Foundation, supported by Birlasoft, launched the E-Vidya project in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in August 2021 to strengthen digital and financial literacy amongst women. The project is led by the CII Foundation Woman Exemplars. Rama Sharma is working with the women of Banjara communities in Tonk district, Rajasthan; Reeta Kaushik is supporting women from backward communities comprising the Dalits and the Musahars of the Kushinagar region in Uttar Pradesh and Geeta Tiwari is uplifting women landing last in the minority index in Sultanpur district, Uttar Pradesh.
The first of the project’s central activities, designed in collaboration with Mann Deshi Foundation, includes training Master Trainers in financial literacy, digital literacy and digital financial literacy. Under Financial literacy, the women will learn about financial planning, cash flow & budgets, savings and banking services. Under digital literacy, use of the internet, YouTube, WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business will be covered and under financial digital literacy, using ATMs and online payment methods such as Phone Pe and Google Pay will also be covered.
Until now, 24 Master Trainers have trained 1,440 women – 480 each from each geography. The project aims to go beyond training and aims to make these women confident and competent in the application of the acquired skills, knowledge and information. This will help them to move out of exploitative informal jobs to pursue their own ventures with enhanced self-confidence and take control of the finances to bring financial stability to the family and contribute to the society at large. It will help them establish scalable entrepreneurial ventures which will not only empower them, but will also generate employment for other women too, strengthening financial independence for all.
Through the E-Vidya project, the CII Foundation and Birlasoft have taken collective efforts to steer transformation in the country by creating a second rung of women changemakers at the grassroots vis-à-vis digital and financial literacy.