By Raj Kumar, Devex
Women everywhere are on the cusp of having three things that can change their lives: an ID card, an Internet connection and a bank account.
Consider the ID card. It’s more than just a document. It’s a ticket to making a claim for land rights. To applying for government services like health insurance. To filing a case in court or registering to vote. To being seen by the state as a citizen on your own, separate from your husband and family.
Yet hundreds of millions of women don’t have ID cards, and creating a national ID card system still isn’t a priority for many poor countries with long to-do lists. But today — with biometric scanners, Internet connections and abundant software systems — the once overly costly initiative can be done. In fact, in India, nearly one billion people now have a biometric identity card just half a decade after an ambitious, if controversial, project was launched to register every Indian.
An internet connection is essential to modern life. How else can women — who do most of the farming work in the developing world — track the weather and market prices for their harvests? The technology exists, and women at the bottom of the economic ladder are consumers too. We need to find a way, as we do with food, water and health care, to extend this service to them.
If you can have an Internet connection and an ID card, you can have a bank account. It no longer has to entail a physical branch or high fees for small deposits. We’re on the cusp of a technological revolution that makes micro-banking truly possible.
Without a secure place to keep her funds — no matter the amount — they could be stolen or confiscated by a husband or family member, along with her ability to create a path to a brighter future. Instead, imagine women everywhere walking more confidently knowing they have a bank balance, not just a few bills tucked into their sari-folds. With it, they might invest in a new business or in a daughter’s education or build up a credit score to later take a loan. As one micro-finance banker from Colombia told me, women empowered by a bank account often get that extra ounce of courage to leave an abusive husband or to say no to a family member’s designs on her money.
In the modern world, without an ID card you don’t exist. Without an Internet connection, you have no voice. Without a bank account, you have no power. All three are essential for women to be able to seize their own opportunities in life. Let’s make sure that no woman is left undocumented, unconnected or unbanked.
Raj Kumar is the founding President & Editor-in-Chief of Devex, the media platform for the global development community.
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Photo Credit: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture | Caption: A woman counts money from the sales of cowpea at a market in Nigeria.