Financial independence = Right to earn + Right to spend


Most women feel it’s pertinent to seek the man’s approval before making financial decisions

There was a time not so long ago when the idea of working women was taboo. Women are now allowed to have jobs but the money they earn is more often managed either by their husbands or by a male member of the family. Not having a say in how their hard-earned money is spent hardly qualifies to be called financial independence. 

According to a survey conducted by DSP Winvestor Pulse in 2019,  only 33% of women in India take investment decisions independent of their male counterparts. The study also found that in a household, men usually make decisions such as buying a car or a house. Women only make smaller financial decisions like buying household consumables or groceries. 

While women from upper income groups have at least some say in financial decisions, the scenario for women from lower income groups is different. Rubya Khatun, who works as a domestic help in Chandigarh, earns around Rs 2000 from each household, but cannot spend the money she earns. “Whenever I’d like to buy something for myself, I have to do so secretly,” she said. Many women like Rubya set money aside secretly, usually to ensure that their children are fed and schooled. 

On the other hand, employed women do take their husband’s opinion into consideration before they make any financial decisions. Preeti Bodas, an employee in Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) in Mumbai said: “When I feel like investing in a banking scheme or something else, I will consult my husband, but I’d be the one to take the final call. However, when I want to buy something which is expensive and over our budget, I would definitely ask him.” 

When asked about what financial independence means to Rekha Jagdish, a non-working homemaker from Mumbai, she said: “If I were to give an example, I feel that if I was earning during the coronavirus pandemic, which gave us all a hard time, I would have done my part to support my husband during the crisis. Since I was not working, I wasn’t able to contribute at all, which kind of made me feel guilty for not working.” 

While the concept of ‘joint decisions’ exists theoretically, homemakers often feel that they themselves have little or no say when it comes to finances. Rekha added: “My husband and I often sit down to discuss how to run the household, but the final call is taken by him only.” 

It is entirely possible that at least part of a woman’s dependency as far as finances are concerned, stems from financial illiteracy. Women like Rubya, who never had formal education, are not well-versed with banking terms and schemes. So, the scope of investing her money or even saving it narrows down. Since a lot of women, regardless of their income levels, have little experience in investment, they are forced to take assistance from their husbands or fathers, which in turn gives men an upper hand in dictating financial decisions. 

There are a number of platforms that assist women to get financially literate.  Priti Rathi Gupta, founder of one such platform called ‘LXME’ had to say this : “Women have different financial needs, different earning potential, career peaks and breaks, longer life expectancy, and a different approach and mindset towards financial planning. It is thus imperative for women to take charge of their money.” The platform creates a space for women to discuss money and suggests ways as to how they should manage their own money in order to gain financial freedom.

Mansi Malhotra, a fellow at The Ideosync-UNESCO Information Fellowship feels that in order to promote financial independence, efforts should be taken right from the school level itself. “Everyone should be taught how to manage their finances at an early age. We often leave such things to the last minute. But if a woman is taught about the various banking schemes and terms and how to manage their taxes at a very fundamental stage of her life, she will feel more independent when she actually has to manage her finances at some point in her life,” said she.

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