Women at the BoP: what does it mean when your money belongs to you?

BOP1Photocredit: WSJ slideshow

I came across the following anecdote from the CGAP blog referencing biometric identification technology as a means for financial services to serve their BoP customers and it gives rise to some food for thought. Here's the snippet from Claudia McKay's post,

I remember encountering an elderly man arguing with a teller.  His son
had died, leaving a widow and three children, and he wanted his
daughter-in-law’s savings. It is tradition that all of the family’s
possessions belong to the husband’s parents, regardless of the wife’s
contribution.  The wife had accumulated about $150 in her savings
account, but because her account required her fingerprint, the man was
denied access. The next day the wife came to the bank, filled with
gratitude that she still had the money she needed to support her

This incident repeated itself many times and before long,
standard marriage advice to brides included opening an Opportunity Bank
account that offered ‘magic’ protection from drunken husbands and
desperate in-laws. Others called the ATMs a tool of Satan that scanned
your soul through your fingerprints.

Connecting some dots here, such as the future biometric ID cards to be made for all of India, not to mention the rural banking services now being made available, what will be the influence of "owning your own money" be on the women at the BoP? I'll focus for a moment on India, since my own experience makes it easier for me to ponder the consequences.

[Takes a moment to reflect on drunken husbands and desperate in-laws.]


Already we're seeing a sense of pride, accomplishment and empowerment among women in India, particularly outside the urban metros. And the ladies I interviewed at Dastkar Ranthambhore for the Prepaid project talked about the sense of power that their income gave them, enabling their evolution from passive daughters in law to decision makers in control of their own lives.

Now, if technology can prevent fraud, misuse or forgeries, and one hopes does NOT give rise to incidences of fingerchopping (akin, I imagine to dowry deaths and bride burning), then truly, its influence will be felt in the patriarchal hierarchies of rural Indian households far beyond what the actual earnings or income may provide to women who work for their livelihoods.

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