Pakistani is moving towards digitization and is all set to introduce digital financial services given the increasing telecom connectivity and penetration of smartphone. The digital Pakistan initiative also aims at equipping different sectors of Pakistan with e-services, and promoting digital skills, entrepreneurship and connectivity, helping county grow. Despite working on these reforms, Pakistan has still the lowest financial inclusion ratio in South Asia. The growth in financial inclusion is just satisfactory, with a slight increase from 7.7 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2017. State Bank of Pakistan in its Financial Inclusion Strategy announced 50% target set for 2020, but it seems that will not be achieved anytime soon due to increasing gender gap in our society.
Global Gender Index Report 2020, ranked Pakistan on 151 position out of 153, which means Pakistan has the third-worst gender gap in the world. The scorecard for Pakistan placed the country at 150 in financial participation and opportunity, 143 in educational attainment, 149 in health and survival and 93 in political empowerment. All these factors are interrelated to each other, giving rise to gender disparity even when we have Aurat March asking for equal rights in Pakistan. Well, this gender gap is more than just marching on streets and asking for equal rights to wear, eat and education. It’s about closing the gender gap in financial inclusion which matters the most these days.
The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor’s (CGAP) analysis of the 2017 FINDEX report reveals that after a decade of investment in low-income segments, only 37 million mobile accounts have been created in Pakistan out of which only 22 percent belong to women. The gender gap in phone ownership in Pakistan is 37 percent. In most countries, unequal access to things like education, mobile phones, and work open up financial inclusion gaps. Of course, we know that much of that denial of access can come from social norms or legal discrimination against women.
With this meagre use of fintech, it’s nearly impossible to bridge the gender gap in financial inclusion which leads to economic growth in the country. These financial inclusion gaps are not just large; they should profoundly concern policymakers and motivate us to understand what other barriers are being erected around access to finance.
In Pakistan, many organization, including JazzCash, Karandaaz, FINCA and Telenor, are working to bridge this gap. However, these companies and policymakers collectively should design services that convince low-income users having minimal adjacent to their existing behaviour to sing up for mobile money services.
If Pakistan needs to achieve meaningful and sustainable economic growth, the most important aspect is empowering women as they represent half of Pakistan’s population. It can only be done through increasing education, improving technological capabilities and enhancing phone access, especially for women.