The Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced in his union budget address, a public sector bank exclusively for women. I could see women in the parliament applauding the move, even from the opposition party who most of the time are happy to irrationally oppose anything the government might have to say. The applause was worth it. Why not? The intention really is good. A woman's bank would uplift the gender situation in India that we have. Women will take time out of their household chores to participate in the economic affairs of the state, not to mention the many employment opportunities for women that this bank with an initial capital of 1000 crores would generate.
Intentions may not give the desired results however. Following up on the women's bank, there is news that India Inc sees the women's bank as mere symbolism. However, my article and concern here is not about the economic implications of the proposal, but the kind of message that the women's bank conveys to me. In the wake of the Delhi rape case, while it can be argued that an all-women environment would be friendlier and safer for women coming out of their houses, it fails to make sense out of what I think women want. From all the protests that I saw on television and comments I read in the newspaper, I gathered that the women did not want a man-free environment, but more respect from and parity with men. When you create special ladies' compartment in trains or in this case an all-women bank, in a way you convey a message that you are helpless against a patriarchal society that has no respect for its women; for the safety of women, it is better to separate them from the men.
I do realize that inculcation of gender sensitivity cannot come about overnight, but I fail to see how a women's bank can bring about gender equality. The need of the hour is to provide women with appropriate security in public places, maybe recruiting more women in banks or the police (alongside men) would help. Sensitizing men to the presence of women in the public sphere through public campaigns and stress on the same in education at school and college level is a must. A society that segregates can never foster respect for different groups. A social framework that has more gender integration will promote security and respect for individuals, irrespective of their gender.