Diwali, widely celebrated as the festival of lights and prosperity, encompasses various rituals and ceremonies, with Dhanteras holding a significant place in the Diwali puja. It is traditionally regarded as an auspicious occasion to invite wealth and prosperity into our homes, symbolized by Goddess Lakshmi, the embodiment of prosperity.
However, an intriguing paradox emerges when we analyse the societal dynamics surrounding the perception of wealth and its attainment. Despite celebrating goddess Lakshmi as the collective symbol of prosperity, a critical examination reveals a dissonance in how Indians empower the women in their families to actively pursue and manage wealth. The irony becomes obvious when considering the limited agency granted to women, particularly in their quest for financial independence.
Merely Calling Women Lakshmi And Empowering Them To Be One Are Two Different Things
It becomes apparent that while Goddess Lakshmi is celebrated during Diwali, the identification and representation of her attributes, especially in the context of financial decision-making, are largely confined to the festival. In the broader societal narrative, Indian women often find themselves excluded from the narrative of wealth creation and management.
Take, for instance, the customary expression of joy when a girl child is born or when a newlywed bride enters her new home, proclaiming "Ghar mein Lakshmi aayi hai" (Lakshmi has entered the household). This joyful announcement, unfortunately, does not always translate into an environment conducive to the empowerment of women in matters of financial literacy and economic agency.
Various factors contribute to inadequate financial literacy among Indian women. Despite an overall literacy rate of 70.3 per cent among women, financial literacy remains an area of concern. A study by the Asian Development Bank reveals that merely 27 per cent of Indian adults, including a mere 24 per cent of women, possess a minimal level of financial literacy. This highlights the urgency for concerted efforts to bridge the existing gap and ensure that the celebration of Lakshmi Mata during Diwali extends beyond symbolism to empower women economically and enhance their financial literacy.
In many households, a pervasive cultural norm dictates that the management of household finances is primarily the responsibility of men, restricting women to traditional roles of homemaking and family care. This entrenched practice, whether overtly acknowledged or subconsciously followed, results in a significant gender disparity when it comes to financial decision-making. Men are expected to navigate the intricacies of budgeting, investments, and financial planning, while women are burdened with the responsibilities of nurturing the family and maintaining the household.
This cultural division of financial roles creates a scenario where women often abstain from active participation in financial matters. The prevailing orthodox belief system perpetuates the idea that men are inherently better suited for financial decision-making, further dissuading women from engaging in this domain. Consequently, a substantial portion of women in India remain unaware of the available financial services and government initiatives designed to enhance financial literacy.
Why Gender Disparity Extends Beyond The Realm Of Financial Decision-Making
Despite efforts such as the Financial Education Programme for Adults (FEPA), initiated by the government to enhance financial awareness among the adult population, the outreach to women remains limited. The lack of awareness proves to be a major obstacle in the pursuit of financial independence for women. Many are unaware of the various financial instruments, programs, and services that could empower them to take control of their financial destinies.
Furthermore, the gender disparity extends beyond the realm of financial decision-making. Women, on average, shoulder a disproportionate burden of unpaid domestic work, encompassing family care, household chores, career maintenance, and social responsibilities. This often constrains women, limiting their ability to explore educational opportunities or pursue careers of their choice. In some instances, societal norms and familial expectations curtail their access to higher education, perpetuating a cycle of financial dependence.
Upon entering the workforce, women frequently encounter biases rooted in gender stereotypes. The maternal bias assumes that women prioritize family over career, while the glass ceiling restricts their professional growth, hindering progress to leadership positions. These biases, ingrained in societal perceptions, pose challenges to women seeking equality in the workplace.
It is paradoxical that, on one hand, the goddess Lakshmi is invoked to attract wealth, yet on the other, women, metaphorically identified as the carriers of Lakshmi, are not consistently given the tools and opportunities to actively contribute to financial decision-making. This disjunction raises questions about the depth of societal commitment to the empowerment of women beyond symbolic gestures and rituals.
In essence, the celebration of Diwali and the celebration of goddess Lakshmi offer a moment to reflect on the broader societal narrative surrounding the role of women in wealth creation. To truly embody the spirit of Diwali, it is imperative to extend the symbolic significance of Lakshmi beyond the festival, fostering an environment where women are not only identified as bearers of prosperity but are also empowered with the agency to actively participate in the journey towards financial well-being.
Views expressed are the author's own
Suggested reading: This Diwali, Celebrate 'Ghar Ki Lakshmi' With These 5 Power Moves