India’s move to withdraw high-value rupee bills from circulation to crack down on corruption and counterfeit currency has hurt rural women particularly hard, as most of them are outside the banking system, activists said.
The shock currency move cancelling 500- and 1,000-rupee notes from circulation overnight, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, aims to bring billions of dollars worth of unaccounted wealth, or “black money”, into the mainstream economy and check corruption.
But it has also curbed consumption, hurt the agriculture and real estate sectors, and triggered long lines at banks and ATMs as people wait to deposit cash, withdraw money and exchange old notes. At least a dozen people are reported to have died while standing in queues across the country.
The move has had a disproportionate impact on women, more than three-quarters of whom are outside the banking system. Daily labourers and informal workers, who tend to save their money in cash, have also been hurt, activists said.
“The impact on such women is disastrous; they are facing a severe financial crisis,” said Kiran Moghe, national joint secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.
“Women in villages and in tribal areas use only cash, and they scrimp and save to put aside money. Now they cannot even buy daily necessities,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
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Women often put aside money without the knowledge of their husbands, building a nest egg for themselves and their children, and as a safety net for emergencies, Moghe said.
These women do not have bank accounts as they do not have the minimum amount required, or because their husbands have an account, or because they lack the necessary documentation, according to a World Bank study of rural Jharkhand state.
Demonetisation will hurt India’s informal sector workers, numbering about 482 million, who earn cash incomes, according to consulting firm Deloitte.
In Mumbai’s red-light district of Kamathipura, commercial sex workers who get paid in cash have had to settle for smaller payments and rely on brothel owners to exchange their money, leaving them vulnerable to further exploitation, said Manju Vyas, director at Apne Aap Women’s Collective.
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