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“There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved."— Swami Vivekananda

Do women need insurance? The answer in our minds may be an obvious ‘yes’. If so, then why don’t we see enough women (financially independent or otherwise) buying life insurance? The answer to this isn’t obvious.

The answer to this question is a deeply nuanced one. It has been shaped by various views through a cultural prism to define what is ‘socially acceptable’—right from what a girl has seen in her early days to what she sees around her today. Growing up, what a young girl saw was her father handing over a set amount of money to her mother to run the house, thereby not seeing the woman as either the family’s breadwinner or financial decision-maker. This sociological conditioning is too deep to be able to cast aside, even after the girl gets educated and becomes financially independent.

Today, more women earn than ever before, and yet, only a few take financial decisions. The average woman is still conditioned to asking either her father or brother or husband or even a friend when it comes to taking a financial decision. This boils down to the sad fact that women are not participating in decision-making processes about their own finances and future.

The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (Irdai) is an autonomous, statutory body tasked with regulating and promoting India’s insurance and re-insurance industries. Over the years, Irdai has undertaken various initiatives to strengthen the sector. One such initiative is a study done on the participation of women in life insurance, which appears in its annual report of 2017-18. Against their proportion in India’s population of 48%, women account for only 32% of policies and first-year premiums. Further, only 139 women were found to purchase life insurance policies for every 10,000 of the female population. This shows a huge shortfall in women’s adoption of life insurance, especially given their increasing contribution to household finances in recent years.

Women are natural multi-taskers and possess the ability to wear different hats. I am inspired by women who work effortlessly both as homemakers and professionals and manage to strike that difficult balance. In modern society, the importance of financial independence is gaining increasing attention and dialogue.

I would encourage every woman to carry out her own financial planning: it could be to buy a car, save for a wedding, protect her dependents(parents, spouse, children), or for health schemes. Retirement planning is also a good reason to save, invest and spend smarter. These are very clear financial needs that exist in a woman’s life today, but to move to this role, she needs to see herself as a provider, and not merely a supporter. In addition to these, given that women typically live longer than men, they also need to plan better for old age.

This is not to say that the situation is all bleak. We have already seen a lot of positive changes in the past few decades. More women are beingeducated and more are joining the workforce. We’ve seen a steady decline in dropouts as more women are staying on in the workforce, employers are becoming more flexible in terms of women’s careers, and the government is actively supporting them through the introduction of various laws and regulations. Examples include enhanced maternity leave, crèche facilities at the workplace, mandatory inclusion of women in corporate boards, sexual harassment laws, and so on.

These changes didn’t take place overnight. It has been a long journey. But with the increasing spread of social media and with women increasingly making themselves heard, I believe that a change in women’s outlook towards financial planning is round the corner.

While it may sound clichéd, I would say that spreading awareness, designing products aimed at women, and engaging them in a dialogue on money matters are what we can do while we wait for this social change to reach a tipping point.

I would also like to encourage every woman to invest in herself, holistically. All of us have varied life goals. Accordingly, we must identify what will help us achieve a fine balance between happiness and satisfaction. Happy and successful people follow a passion. It is important to invest in professional training around your passion, continuously upgrade your skills, network with like-minded people, connect with old friends, and be financially responsible, which means making your finances a priority and getting them in order. The role of money in fulfilling varied aspirations cannot be underestimated.

The realization of the financial value of one’s life and the confidence to take financial decisions are interlinked. One feeds into the other. On this International Women’s Day, I would urge women around the world to recognize their financial worth and acquire the confidence needed to drive financial decisions.

Happy Women’s Day!

Vibha Padalkar is managing director and CEO of HDFC Life.

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