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View from India: Women are still being short-changed

Women sit outside their house in their village in Madhya Pradesh, India. Srimathi Jayaprakash/Unsplash
Women sit outside their house in their village in Madhya Pradesh, India. Srimathi Jayaprakash/Unsplash

A childhood memory forever engraved in my mind is that of my mother, handing over her salary to my father each month – and him handing her back a ‘stipend’. It was the 1970s, and my mother had bagged an enviable government job as a police officer, yet she could not apparently be trusted to spend her own cash.

Almost five decades later it would seem that she was actually rather good with money – it was my father who wasn’t. When they both retired, my mother had far more savings than he did and this has enabled them both to live a comfortable retirement.

While I was writing my book Lies Our Mothers Told Us, I interviewed hundreds of women across India. I was surprised to learn that today men are still trying to control women’s finances. I spoke to one woman in her mid-forties who said her husband doesn’t let her spend her money. ‘He doesn’t take it but he won’t let me spend it either,’ she told me. ‘If I need to buy something, he would insist on buying it for me.’

While much has changed since the 1970s, women, including in India, have remained stereotyped as bad money managers. In India, 67 per cent of women rely on a male family member for financial decisions, although over 90 per cent contributed to household expenses.

This continues, despite the fact that most women are responsible for administering their household’s budget. On average 89 per cent of women across the world reported managing or sharing responsibility for daily shopping needs, compared to only 41 per cent of men. So, you trust a woman to run the household but not to handle her own money? The popular media has played an important part in propagating this harmful stereotype. One 2018 study examined around 300 articles about finance in women’s magazines and found that a majority stereotyped women as ‘excessive spenders’.

For women financial independence goes beyond lifestyle, daily needs and luxuries – it spells liberty, freedom, self-confidence and security. One-third of Indian women surveyed said they were motivated to work for financial independence.

But independence doesn’t always spell financial equality, for example women are still struggling for pay parity. According to statistics from the International Labour Organization (ILO), across the world women continue to be paid on average about 20 per cent less than men for the same work.

Women also tend to have more insecure employment. For example, in India, over 80 per cent of women work in the informal sector in poorly paid jobs without any benefits.

Women are not terrible with money. In fact, their understanding of money goes beyond its purchasing potential. They understand its liberating power. And that is exactly why they are kept away from experiencing it.

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