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India To Set Up All-Women Bank To Address Gender Inequality

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks with bank tellers during a visit to the Working Women's Forum, a grassroots network of over one million women that provides training, networking and business skills, in Chennai on July 20, 2011. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Saul LOEB) | AP

India's government said Thursday it would set up a new public sector bank for women as part of efforts to address gender imbalances in a country still reeling from protests over a fatal gang-rape in New Delhi.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said 10 billion rupees ($186 million) had been set aside to capitalise the new bank that is to focus on lending to women and be managed and staffed by them.

"I hope to obtain the necessary approvals and banking licence by October 2013 and invite all honourable members to the inauguration of the bank shortly there after," he told parliament as he presented the 2013/14 budget.

Last week, the Reserve Bank of India paved the way for the issuance of new bank licences in a push to expand financial services across the country where fewer than half of the country's 1.2 billion people have a bank account.

Other examples of women-only banks exist in neighbouring Pakistan, which opened one in 1989, and in Tanzania in East Africa where a similar version became operational in 2009.

Separately, Chidambaram also announced the creation of a 10-billion-rupee fund aimed at improving the safety of women amid criticism of the government for failing to do more to tackle sex crime.

In December, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was raped and murdered on a New Delhi bus in a vicious attack that provoked street protests and a bout of deep introspection about India's attitude to women.

"Recent incidents have cast a long, dark shadow on our liberal and progressive credentials," Chidambaram said.

"We stand in solidarity with our girl children and women. And we pledge to do everything possible to empower them and to keep them safe and secure," he said to cheers from members of parliament.

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