Pakistan Institute of Development Economics



The First Women Bank-Why and for Whom?

The First Women Bank which commenced operations in December1989, has over a period of one year, set up 10 branches in the bigcities of the country. The name of the bank suggested that it wouldfunction on the same lines as the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. It waswidely believed that the Bank was meant to assist the very poor women intheir economic uplift. However, with the exception of two branches (onein Gurumander, Karachi and the second in Sukkur), the branches of thebank have been set up in posh localities like Defence, Cantonment, BlueArea and Mall Roads. The expensive location and the expensive set-up ofthese banks has created the image that these banks are meant to caterfor the rich, elite women, rather than the poor deserving women. Thevery poor earning women in low-income localities are totally unaware ofthis bank’s existence because it has not been advertised to them throughaudio or video media. However they envied poor women in India whobenefited from the credit schemes for women, as shown on Indiantelevision.l This paper attempts to look into the factors behind theestablishment of the bank and its working strategy, to clarify, towhatever extent possible, the confusions or contradictions associatedwith this bank. Section II puts forward the various factors underlyingthe establishment of a separate bank for women in Pakistan. Section IIIdescribes the operational strategy of the bank with special focus on thenature of clientele and credit services of the bank. Section IV putsforward the conclusions and Section V gives some policy recommendations.The paper is based on the published material made available by the banki.e. the brochure of the bank (the first annual statement of the bankhad not been published at the time of writing this paper), informaldiscussions with the bank staff, and personal observations of the authorduring the working hours of the bank.

Faiz Bilquees

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