On International Women's Day, Union commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday chided lenders for being gender insensitive while dealing with female entrepreneurs' loan proposals in small cities and towns.
"What I find missing, and that is where I think the government should also look at (is) how can it enhance the role of women in business (through) the sensitivity with which banks deal with women," Sitharaman said, addressing an event organised by Moneylife Foundation in Mumbai.
The Minister said banks in metropolitan cities generally look at a loan proposal on merit, irrespective of the borrower's gender, but those in smaller cities and towns tend to create many problems for women borrowers and this is "not a comfortable situation."
She said banks ask questions like 'are you ok', 'is everybody around you ok'. "In other words, (it means) is your husband ok, is your father ok," the minister said, describing the attitude of the lenders. "That sets a lot of hurdles in the way in which the mindset of banks work when they deal with women," she said. There are many innovative women entrepreneurs, who have gone beyond the businesses like "making papads and pickles," Sitharaman said.
Initiatives like the Bhartiya Mahila Bank can help in sensitising other banks, she said, adding that even though the network of the BMB, launched by the previous UPA government, is small, it can help sensitise other lenders. "They (BMB) should help other commercial banks to be able to reason it out for them, saying the entrepreneur, be it a male or a female, does not matter. It is the professional excellence which has to be looked at," she said.
Sitharaman said it is a "desperate situation" when it comes to women entrepreneurs, adding that there are few of them and hence, they require full support.
Personalising her argument, Sitharaman conceded that she herself owes her rise within her party to the affirmative action of reservations, but stressed that after getting into a role, it is about merit. She said the government's initiatives like the Budget announcement to set up the Micro Units Development Refinance Agency (MUDRA) Bank will help women entrepreneurs through both refinance and credit guarantee.