Financial independence is an umbrella term. It may or may not include all of the following factors:
1. Being employed with a fair share of remuneration;
2. Being financially secure where all your current lifestyle choices and future needs are taken care of;
3. Having a corpus that can be used at the time of contingencies;
4. Having as little debt as possible; and
5. Being insured.
Also, it's not as if women do not know how to handle finances, they do, often a lot better than men. In most Indian households, domestic expenditure and budgeting is taken care of primarily by women. This surely gives them a sense of financial freedom but for them to be truly financially independent; they need to expand their horizons.
Personal finance is a very significant area in this respect. A lot of us, not just women, tend to hesitate when it comes to educating ourselves about personal finance. We assume it's enough for a single member in the family to know and remember all the financial details or sometimes we think it would be difficult for us to understand the jargon or sometimes it's sheer laziness. But all it takes is a little bit of initiative to equip ourselves with at least the basic facts. Even then, if there are any doubts and queries, professional help is always available.
Women living in urban areas do have exposure to a lot of financial concepts and products owing to their advertisement campaigns on various media platforms. So, awareness is not a problem here, lack of initiative and interest is. They should realise that it is much more rewarding to take control of their finances as it will stand them in good stead in the long run.
For women living in rural areas, financial independence is an even greater struggle. They have to battle not just conservative mindsets but also lack of education, awareness, resources, finances and avenues. They do not have access to financial services as much as they would like. Also, because of their lack of awareness and education, they are often duped by corrupt money lenders and officials and get caught up in the intricacies of financial schemes.
A lot of rural women are an active part of some workforce or the other. They work in the agricultural sector, handicrafts and textile industry, as unskilled labour, etc. But their terms of payment are not always regularised and fair. They are often underpaid and also forced to work as unpaid labour at times. Exploitation is very common as they have to struggle very hard to receive wages for their hard work and labour. For them, personal finance is a very far-fetched dream. To move in the direction of financial freedom, it is very necessary to first educate and encourage them to stand up for their rights as free and equal citizens of the country.
A woman working as household helps in urban areas also face similar problems since it’s not a much organised sector. A lot of women employed as domestic helps also come from rural areas, do not have much education and lack awareness regarding fair payment terms. Their aspirations and goals may not be the same as those of a middle-class woman but their need for financial independence is equally important.
So, the one thing we need to be careful of when looking at the issue of financial independence of women is not to make any gross generalisations. Just as a woman's aspirations and ambitions are different from that of a man's, they are also different from that of another woman's. It would be useless to find a solution to make women financially independent in terms of a "one size fits all", because it won't. Rather, what needs to be done is to make each and every woman capable enough to make her own decisions. And the first thing we can do in this regard is to encourage ideas and attitudes that promote education and awareness among women.