The State Bank of Pakistan has launched a gender mainstreaming policy titled “Banking on Equality: Reducing the Gender Gap in Financial Inclusion”.

In a statement, the State Bank said that the initiative aims to reduce the gender gap in financial inclusion and improve women’s access to financial services.

The policy was unveiled by the Honorable President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi in an event at Aiwan-e-Sadr.

In his remarks, the President said that the government recognizes women’s financial inclusion as a key driver for achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth of the country. Alvi said that it is the government’s declared policy to promote women‘s inclusion by providing equitable opportunities for access to financial services to all segments of the population and SBP’s BoE Policy will be instrumental for achieving this goal.

In his welcome remarks, Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan Dr Reza Baqir said that reducing the gender gap in financial inclusion has remained a priority for SBP as mainstreaming the role of women has widespread benefits at social, economic and financial levels for the entire country. Towards this end, the first step is to improve women’s empowerment giving them access to entrepreneurial opportunities through having a formal bank account.

Governor Baqir added that advancements in branchless banking have played a significant role in improving access to finance for people from various socio-economic backgrounds, without the added cost of setting up brick and mortar structures. As a result, as of December 2020, 62 per cent of adults have a bank account showing significant growth from 45 per cent in 2017.

Baqir said that under the National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS), a target was set to ensure that at least 20 million women must have an active bank account by 2023. However, despite overall growth in financial inclusion, the gender gap has continued to persist. He said as of December 2020, only 14.5 million active accounts are owned by women, compared to 38.7 million active accounts owned by men.

Governor Baqir said SBP has recently introduced a customers’ digital onboarding framework for banks, which allows bank account opening through digital means without the need to visit a bank branch and with simplified documentary requirements. The framework provides a convenient way of account opening, among others, for self-employed or unemployed women, freelancers, and recipients of remittances from abroad digitally with minimum documentation requirements.

He showed confidence that this initiative would also help in achieving SBP’s financial inclusion objectives by bringing the excluded segments of the society into the formal banking sector.

In her address, Deputy Governor SBP Sima Kamil said that women, especially in Pakistan, face distinct obstacles in accessing formal financial services. While explaining the policy features, she highlighted that the BoE policy is the first gender mainstreaming policy for the financial sector, which will introduce a gender lens in our policies and practices.

The BoE policy identifies five key pillars:

a. Improving gender diversity in financial institutions and their access points

b. Development and marketing of women-centric products and services

c. Creating women desks at bank branches for improved facilitation for women customers

d. Robust collection of gender-disaggregated data and target setting

e. Institutionalizing a Policy Forum on Gender at SBP

In accordance with these pillars, specific targets have been allocated. Financial institutions are required to increase the women employees’ ratio in the workforce to at least 20 per cent by December 2024. To improve women to women dealings at the retail level, branchless banking (BB) providers shall be instructed to increase the ratio of women BB agents to 10 per cent in their agent portfolios.

Similarly, dedicated and trained women champions shall be placed at 75 per cent of all banks to help guide female customers by June 2024. Moreover, all banks will give gender sensitivity training to their staff, both male and female, to eliminate implicit gender biases and improve their understanding of the requirements of women customers.

This story was originally published in The News International.


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