Maggio 23, 2022

Learnings from Budget Rani, a financial inclusion programme targeting women in India

A large body of research has shown the transformative impact financial inclusion can have on the lives of women, increasing their agency with multiplier effects that impact their household and community (Hendricks, 2019). Yet despite huge efforts, women constitute two-thirds of the world’s remaining unbanked population (Demirgüç-Kunt et al., 2018). Poverty and inequality are invariably linked. The goal therefore for financial inclusion is to reduce poverty through women’s economic empowerment while driving progress on gender equality. This article focuses on women’s financial inclusion in India and reflects on the learnings of a financial inclusion programme named Budget Rani implemented by the NGO, Yugantar in collaboration with the US Consulate General, Hyderabad. Budget Rani aims to train 1000 women in Hyderabad on financial inclusion by 2023.

In recent years, India has witnessed a large growth in bank account ownership and a shift to digital financial services. The introduction of Prime Minister Jan Ghan Yojana (PMJDY) in 2014, saw more than 15 million bank accounts open on inauguration day alone. The aim of the programme was to ensure access to financial services in an affordable manner to the unbanked population. Consequently, between 2014 and 2017, women’s bank account ownership rose from 43% to 77%, decreasing gender disparity from 19.8% to 6% (Chatterjee, 2021). In the advent of the Digital India campaign coupled with the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, financial inclusion has become synonymous with digital literacy. With increased investments in digital infrastructure, we have seen a rise in bank accounts and digital payments presenting an opportunity for increased financial inclusion.

As women lined up to register at Budget Rani workshops, the disparities in literacy and access to technology became evident. Older women came with basic phones with their numbers sellotaped to the back while some of the younger women came with smartphones. Low levels of literacy, numeracy and ability to use mobile technology continued to be apparent through the workshops. Women’s uptake of new financial practices is dependent on their literacy levels and access to technology. IAMAI (2020) indicates that just 45% of Indian women own any type of mobile phone compared to 75% of men, this reduces to 10% and 24% respectively for smartphone ownership. This creates barriers in financial inclusion programmes, given that if women do not have access to the technology that facilitates financial inclusion they are further excluded. This is coupled with women’s literacy levels and their ability to use technology. Women’s inability to access and operate technology is reflected in the fact that 48% of women’s accounts opened under PMJDY remain inactive (MicroSave Consulting, 2019). With the majority of Budget Rani’s cohort depending on cash wages, making bank accounts appealing is difficult when there are barriers in accessing and utilising technology. Central to financial inclusion and digital literacy, is the design and implementation of better products that take women’s needs into consideration.

Historically, women have faced difficulties in approaching financial institutions such as banks. The exclusionary nature of financial institutions makes them intimidating places for women and creates distrust. This excludes women from gaining financial information and makes them reliant on informal methods of finance. JAM Yojana (Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile number linkage) provided a further incentive to open accounts through direct benefit transfers. When receiving direct benefit transfers, the gender gap between men and women is reversed (Chatterjee, 2021). Nevertheless, for women to experience economic empowerment through financial inclusion they must not only have increased access to assets and services but they must also have the means to increase their household decision making authority (Jaeggi et al., 2014). For this to occur women require easy access to transfer and payment methods and knowledge on how to use them. Currently, Budget Rani participants predominantly own bank accounts, however, they are often used solely to receive government transfers as they give their cash wages to their husbands. Technology provides an opportunity to overcome the difficulties faced in approaching financial institutions, however there is a knowledge gap surrounding banking, the digital services available and how to utilise them.

During the workshops women would make comments such as, “This is very useful information, however, surely you should be telling my husband this?” To ensure women benefit as much as possible from financial inclusion programmes, it is important to understand why it is more difficult for women to access financial services and gain the full benefits from them. It is important to view women not in isolation, but in relation to men and the communities in which they live. Looking at women in isolation distances them from their social realities and the nature of gendered power and the interdependency of men and women (Jaeggi et al., 2014). The government has made great strides in digital innovation and easy access to financial services through schemes such as PMJDY, however, there is a requirement to involve different stakeholders to engage communities and assist with behavioural change.

Budget Rani aims to design a programme that can meet the different needs of women by navigating government policy, gender norms, literacy and access to technology. As demonstrated, there is a need for the inclusion of different stakeholders to assist government policy for financial inclusion. The NGO sector can help to fill this gap and reach women to support them to gain the skills and confidence required for the realisation of economic empowerment through financial inclusion.


Chatterjee, S. (2021). “Women’s Financial Inclusion in Digital India.” Social and Political Research Foundation Issue Brief, September 2021. Accessed 5 May 2022,

Demirgüç-Kunt, Asli, Leora Klapper, Dorothe Singer, Saniya Ansar, and Jake Hess (2018). “The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution.” Washington, DC: World Bank.

Hendriks, S. (2019). The role of financial inclusion in driving women’s economic empowerment, Development in Practice, 29:8, 1029-1038.

Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) (2019). “Digital in India : Round 2 Report.” Mumbai, Maharashtra: IAMAI.

Jaeggi, Thomas, Melamed, Claire, Napier, Mark, Taylor and Georgia (2014). “Promoting Women’s Financial Inclusion: A toolkit.” Department for International Development (DFID), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Accessed 5 May 2022.

MicroSave Consulting. (2019). “The real story of women’s financial inclusion in India.” New Delhi, India: MicroSave Consulting. Accessed 5 May 2022,

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About Zoe Kennedy Hughes

Zoe Kennedy Hughes

Zoe Kennedy-Hughes is the Chief Research and Development Officer at Yugantar, a rights based NGO in Hyderabad, India. Zoe has vast experience working with grassroots organisations in health, education, sport and development and gender based issues. Zoe’s work is currently focused on the intersection of technology, policy and gender. Zoe holds an MSc. in Management from the University of Bristol.

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