The COVID-19 pandemic affected women in India in many ways. A Women’s World Banking survey conducted in the Fall of 2021 in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal gives light to the ways in which women in these states were impacted by the pandemic. Women in these two states responded to questions on how COVID-19 impacted their households, as well as on their financial account use, savings behavior, borrowing behavior, phone usage, decision-making ability, and insurance. The results of this survey show that factors like insurance coverage, employment status, pre-pandemic situation, and savings may have impacted the ways in which some women were able to be more resilient than others during the pandemic.
Analysis of the findings
Women who reported having insurance and being formerly employed are more likely to report higher levels of confidence in their recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. This finding is consistent with the expectation that access to insurance and employment tends to provide individuals and households with greater financial stability and security. The statistically significant results provide encouraging insights into the relationship between financial resources and resilience. Households’ high confidence in their capacity to recover from the pandemic due to their access to insurance and employment is a promising indication of the effectiveness of these resources in enhancing financial recovery and resilience.
Households that reported a high level of financial security before the pandemic, indicated by the statement “we could afford whatever we wanted,” experienced more difficulty in recovering from the negative effects of the pandemic. This finding may be explained by the fact that households with lower levels of financial security did not have as much to lose and therefore did not need to recover as much. Higher resilience reported from the lower income households may also be a result of the effectiveness of government social support programs, such as the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), a major social protection package covering both in-kind food distribution and cash transfers to women, the elderly, and farmers (Gelb et al, 2021). However, higher income households still face challenges in returning to their pre-pandemic levels of financial security. The results imply that lower income households may have demonstrated greater resilience in recovering from the pandemic.
Another factor that may contribute to women’s confidence in their recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is the presence of savings cards. Our analysis revealed that women who received a savings card, specifically designed to facilitate tracking of savings when they obtained an individual loan from a small finance bank, were more likely to report higher levels of confidence in their recovery. A National Bureau of Economic Research report found out that reminders such as SMS, email, and posters is an effective tool for encouraging savings (Karlan et al, 2010). It is suggested that savings cards serve as a physical reminder to save and encourage individuals to deposit more money into formal financial institutions. Women who have more savings in such institutions tend to have a greater sense of financial ownership and security, thereby enhancing their confidence in their ability to recover from the pandemic.
Finally, evidence suggests that temporary closures of bank branches during the pandemic may have had the biggest impact in women’s confidence in pandemic recovery among the options tested (branch permanently closed, protocols made it difficult to access, reduced interest rates, and less money to save.)Temporary closure of bank branches decreased access to financial institutions of the community, which decrease women’s formal savings. Decrease in formal savings can lead to feelings of financial insecurity and uncertainty. This can be particularly problematic during a pandemic, when many individuals may be facing job loss, reduced income, or increased expenses related to healthcare or other necessities.
Fallback position discussion
The findings from this analysis underscores the crucial role that access to financial stability and support plays in empowering women and enabling them to navigate through economic shocks and hardships. In light of this, a fallback position becomes a vital tool in providing women with a safety net that can help them overcome financial challenges and build resilience against unforeseen circumstances like and beyond the pandemic.
Fallback position is part of women’s agency that is correlated with decision making, freedom, bargaining ability, and power. The original definition of fallback position comes from Amartya Sen who argued that a woman’s ability to get her preferred outcome from an argument with her husband is dependent on the resources she could fall back on if the marriage ends (Sen, 1990) In the realm of women’s financial inclusion, the concept of a “fall back position” refers to a contingency plan or safety net that can serve as a backup in the event of primary plan failure. For women, having a reliable fall back position is essential in accessing the resources necessary to support themselves and their families.
Without a fallback position women have less choice, and are therefore subject to various threats like domestic violence, loss of entitlement to property, financial insecurity, and mental health issues. These effects of lacking fallback position not only have adverse effects in domestic spheres, but also on the state level. Take domestic violence, a threat that increased significantly during the pandemic for women, as an example: a World Bank report finds that strong impacts of Gender Based Violence (GBV) deteriorate women’s physical and mental health, which subsequently increases women’s usage of health services (Arango et al, 2014). A UN report also categorized costs of GBV to the society into justice cost, health cost, social service cost, education cost, business and employment costs, personal or household costs, and intangible costs (Day et al, 2005). These costs range from the use of police forces, physician support, crisis lines, to loss of job-readiness, reduced productivity in the workspace, and, taking younger generations into account, the cost of special education for children who witnessed violence.
It is therefore important to take fallback position into account when making policies and designing capacity building projects in the realm of women’s financial and social empowerment.
As this analysis shows, having sufficient savings in a bank, insurance coverage to address pandemic-related losses, and a supportive job and community are all crucial components of a robust fall back position. To achieve the goal of expanding fallback position and increasing women’s financial resilience in difficult situations, several recommendations could be taken into consideration for policymakers and non-governmental organizations:
- Enforce laws and policies that ensure gender equality in:
- financial services, including banking, savings, loans, and credit cards.
- property rights, including land and housing ownership
- Opportunities in the workplace, including equal pay of equal work, equal opportunity of promotion, and non-discriminatory hiring practices
- Increase access to insurance coverage, particularly in rural areas, to bridge the gap between urban and rural areas. In addition, establish social programs such as cash transfers to support families and women in need.
- Encourage the development of social support systems such as community gatherings and focus groups to promote relationship building and foster mutual support.
- Offer vocational training and skills development programs for community members in need of employment opportunities, particularly for women who face greater obstacles in accessing the job market.
- Promote financial education and literacy programs to equip women with the skills and knowledge necessary to manage their finances and plan for the future.
- Facilitate access to microfinance and other financial resources for women entrepreneurs, particularly those in low-income and marginalized communities.
- Foster greater participation of women in decision-making processes related to financial policy and resource allocation, to ensure their perspectives and needs are taken into account.
- Encourage partnerships and collaboration among government agencies, NGOs, and private sector stakeholders to develop comprehensive and integrated strategies for promoting women’s financial resilience.
These recommendations are made with the recognition that there are gaps between policy and implementation. Therefore, further monitoring and evaluation of present and future program policies should also be taken into consideration when adopting these recommendations.
Overall, this provides valuable insights into the factors that may impact women’s confidence in their ability to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. It highlights the importance of access to financial stability and support, as well as the role that financial institutions and services can play in helping individuals weather a crisis. As we continue to navigate the challenges of the pandemic, it is important to consider these factors and how they can impact individuals’ ability to recover and thrive in the face of adversity.
Written by Xiaoming Zhang, Women’s World Banking Internship Program Alumna and recent graduate of Columbia University
Arango, D. J., Morton, M., Gennari, F., Kiplesund, S., & Ellesberg, M. (2014). Interventions to Prevent or Reduce Violence Against Women and Girls: A Systematic Review of Reviews (No. 92713; Women’s Voice and Agency Research Series). World Bank Group.
Day, Tanis, et al. (2005), The Economic Costs of Violence Against Women: An Evaluation of the Literatures. United Nations
Gelb, A., Mukherjee, A., & Webster, B. (2021, July 22). Delivering Social Assistance during COVID with a “Digital-First” Approach: Lessons from India. Center For Global Development | Ideas to Action. https://www.cgdev.org/blog/delivering-social-assistance-during-covid-digital-first-approach-lessons-india
Karlan, D., McConnell, M., Mullainathan, S., & Zinman, J. (2010). Getting to the Top of Mind: How Reminders Increase Saving (No. 16205; NBER Working Paper Series).
Morrison, A.W., Orlando, B, (2004). The costs and impacts of gender-based violence in developing countries: Methodological considerations and new evidence.
Sen, Amartya, (1990). “Gender and co‐operative conflicts”. Persistent Inequalities: Women and World Development.