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India opens 7 state-owned banks for Women

Louise Allain, 21 October, 2013

“Access to finance and banking not only helps empower women but also broadens the social base of development, thus fostering equitable growth. This is an area in which India lags far behind”

India has opened its first state-owned bank for women. The hope is to affirm and strengthen women’s role within the country particularly in light of the string of horrific, high media profiled sex crimes that have taken place in India, within the last year.

Commerce began on 19th November at 7 banks in India; the Lucknow branch, one of the first of these Bharatiya Mahila Banks (all women bank), was opened by India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The date for transactions to begin is significant as it is the birth anniversary of assassinated female Prime Minster, Indira Gandhi.

Bharatiya Mahila Banks will focus on lending to women, though men will be able to open accounts too. As Usha Ananthasubramanian, chairperson of Bharatiya Mahila said in an interview for the opening ceremony:

‘We welcome both men and women, but there will be a positive bias towards women..’

Meaning that deposits will flow equally from everyone but lending will be predominantly for women. In terms of loans, it will lend to individuals or to businesses which are either managed or owned by women.

“Access to finance and banking not only helps empower women but also broadens the social base of development, thus fostering equitable growth. This is an area in which India lags far behind,” said Prime Minister Mr Singh in his opening speech.

The bank, which is fully owned by the government, was given an initial funding of 10 billion rupees ($161 million) and an all-women board comprising eight members. Despite the confidence of many women's charities and feminist groups that the banks are a positive step forward for the female members of India's populaton, other commentators are skeptical that it is just a measure to attract female voters ahead of federal elections in May next year.