ISLAMABAD: A consultation was organized by National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) in collaboration with First Women Bank Limited (FWBL) and Open Society Foundation on Tuesday to brainstorm about the “Future of First Women Bank Limited.” According to an official statement, the event was attended by officials of the Ministry of Finance, State Bank of Pakistan and regulatory authorities; as well as women rights activists, bankers, representatives from civil society and development organisations.The Government has recently put up the bank for privatisation. The bank was first put up for privatisation in 1996 which was challenged in the court by Women Action Forum (WAF). As a result, the privatisation process was suspended. Speaking at the occasion, NCSW Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz said one of the major hurdles in the way of women’s empowerment is lack of access and control over financial resources. She said the bank was created in 1989 to address this fundamental issue. At that time, the bank was given a dual mandate of providing development as well as commercial services like any other bank in the market, she said. The issues confronted by the bank in reaching its full potential and offering products and services for women, particularly of low income communities, were discussed at length. Continuously low levels of capital diverse expectations of stakeholders have been identified as main reasons for its low performance.A bank with dual mandate to serve unbanked and unserved market required bigger capital whereas as its capital level was set at Rs 3 Billion which handicapped it to compete commercially with the commercial banks and also carry out research and develop innovative products for their target market, she said. During the meeting, the need for injection of capital and a sound time bound business plan and strategy was recommended with clearly defined targets. It was recommended to form a consultative group to follow up and work towards resolution of issues at various policy and decision making levels. It was also recommended that there must be series of such workshops to bring all stake holders on the same page. Open Society Foundation Executive Director Dr. Saba Gul Khattak speaking to the participants of the consultation said, “14.3% of people in Pakistan have access to banking services, out of which only 3% of are women.” She stressed that financial inclusion of women is an important factor to achieve women empowerment in actual sense. Shahnaz Kapadia Rahat, a renowned trainer and facilitator, offered her complementary services and designed and facilitated the workshop to express her commitment to the cause. First Women Bank CEO Tahira Raza said the ever increasing regulatory requirements, growing competition and squeezing margins have made it more difficult for FWBL to meet both ends with such small capital.Published in Daily Times, November 2nd 2017.