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  • Writer's pictureTeam Oraan

Tipping the Scales, Gender and the Imbalances of Pakistani Banking

In 2018 Oraan’s co-founders were both independently on a mission to get themselves set up financially in Pakistan. What they found was opening a bank account, getting a credit card, or applying for a loan seemed to be unnecessarily complicated and almost designed to keep women out.

The traditional systems require a lot of people, and in Pakistan a lot of things are out of women’s hands, which means they end up being financially excluded due to a variety of reasons. From not having their own incomes to low mobility options to not having access to the kind of paper work banks demand of them.

Today 81% of the country’s 109.32 million women remain unbanked.

It was this exclusion in banking that sparked Oraan’s origin story. Figuring out exactly how the unbanked were managing their money led us to digitizing the trusted committee(ROSCAs), something nearly half the country was still regularly using.

The traditional systems are not crafted to serve women, enough so that the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) launched an entire policy in 2019 to work towards alleviating the gender gap in banking called, “Banking on Equality.”

According to SBP even with existing policies in place, biases, institutional and cultural roadblocks continue to leave women out.

“The growing gender gap has revealed that gender-neutral policies and practices of the financial sector, assumed to equally affect both genders, may not be effective against inherent gender inequalities, and will continue to create more obstacles in women’s financial inclusion,” SBP details on their website.

Institutionally, banks often still require a male present for a woman to be taken seriously.

“I never go to the bank without my father, even though I am 30 years old,” Anaya Irshad said. “It’s in their tone that talking to you is a waste of time.”

One of SBP’s targets for their policy is meant to directly address this, they plan to “impart gender sensitivity training to all staff members to improve elimination of implicit gender biases,” across banks by 2024.

But some things that policies cannot address is the patriarchal structures of Pakistan’s conservative societies and cultures which exclude women from money and conversations around it.

Majority of women in Pakistan do not work in formal sectors. In fact, of the population of workers in the financial sector only 12% are women, while only 2% of women make up agents for branchless banking.

Women and men mixing socially is frowned upon in most parts of Pakistan, sowhen women are not available to serve women in financial services there is already a blockade in place.

Other cultural sensitivities include understanding the importance of a woman having access to money, a woman’s mobility being dependent upon a man (which excludes her from visiting banks or collecting necessary papers), and a general lack of inclusion in financial decision making which can dissuade one from thinking that a bank account is something they need.

As a solution for the lack of women being available in banks to assist, the “Banking on Equality” policy also set a target of getting Women Champions across banks at a number of 75% by 2024 to make it more accessible and welcoming to women and their families.

Having a bank account allows for a person to manage their money for something as simple as making a bank transfer or an online payment. It allows them to be part of a system which later impacts their ability to purchase big items or have a line of credit. Financial exclusion leaves women out and that’s a big loss not only to them but Pakistan as a whole.

Oraan’s platform, committees and community wanted to invite women in to save with us and with each other and get comfortable in the world of finances.

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