“Alright, Maria Maami…. that’ll be 500 rupees for this picture.” I was taken aback when my 13-year-old niece demanded quite seriously to be paid after taking my picture with my husband last Eid. On every eid, I am very particular about getting a picture taken which then, of course, has to be shared on my instagram. Because if it isn’t shared did it even happen? So this kid clearly understood the importance of not just the shot but also getting it right.
After a brief moment of shock, everyone burst into laughter. It was a family gathering, so the elders interjected, laughingly shaming her for coming up with such a demand.
She was not joking.
So I insisted on paying her and she took the payment happily. And I must add that I was terribly impressed. Would I have asked for money after taking someone’s picture as a kid? Never. It wouldn’t have crossed my mind. But even if I had done something for someone, I wouldn’t have been able to demand payment because I would have just been grateful to have someone trust me with work. My niece, however, is a far cry from the child that I was. With such a clear understanding about her relationship with money – a skill that was never encouraged in me as a millennial woman – she was unabashed about needing to be rewarded.
My earliest memory of financial awareness is of handing over my Eidi to my mom. Obviously children didn’t know how to deal with money. Also, money talk wasn’t encouraged – actually it was considered cheap when I was growing up. As I entered my teens, the concept of pocket money became popular. This was essentially spent on canteen expenditures. Oh, how rich we felt.
Saving and investing was not considered a teachable skill in those days.
Now, as grown women, we are expected to be smart money managers – we are supposed to run homes, manage our budgets, if we aren’t working we are supposed to manage someone else’s money. Note here: Most women are munshis, not independent financial strategists.
But even this is big. When we were growing up, we couldn’t be trusted with serious financial matters. For most of our lives back then, these matters were managed by others. Initially our parents – fathers in particular, maybe even older brothers.
The next natural transition is that those strategic money decisions will be taken by the husband – the man of the house, when he enters the picture. At this point, women are expected to learn accounting, to be thrifty and stingy, to be something resembling an accountant. They must learn to live within their means but also make the most of this money given to them. Everyday expenses must be handled in a way that there is some savings too.
The concept of earning a steady income and eventually making smart investments for one’s personal self has never been a question worth addressing when we were starting families, or even careers.
It is nothing less than tragic that we are not focusing on inculcating basic financial literacy concepts in our girls. Even when I started earning, I did not know I was supposed to have a healthy relationship with money. This relationship is not just limited to consumer spending and household saving. Earning, investing, borrowing and sharing are also part of the process which we never pay much attention to. It also involves awareness of asset management and investment opportunities; hardly areas of interest for women whose managerial abilities are restricted to running the kitchen. .
I will be 40 this year, and talking about money, especially in a professional setting, still makes me cringe. It took me years to learn ‘finance’ to negotiate basic monetary matters at work. Now, I have figured out a way by outsourcing some of my ‘money talk’ to my manager. However, negotiating and haggling about how much I should be paid gives me the heebie jeebies. How to assess the true value of work, negotiate for that value and then realise that value, are still alien territories for most women. So many women around us get paid less than the value of work they produce just because they are not able to negotiate well for themselves or anyone else.
Things have to change now. Money is power, we must never tire to remind ourselves. If women want to claim the rightful power, they have to be smart when making such decisions. Financial empowerment is THE empowerment women need, and the journey begins from childhood. Any parent who is reading these lines should try to schedule a ‘money talk’ with their child, especially if that child is a girl. Today. Let us not delay it.