How South Asian cultural narratives prevent women from accumulating wealth

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  • As a woman in the South Asian culture, I was taught that I was not supposed to be good with money.
  • Women in my culture are taught to be “nice” and that has financial implications.
  • We have to unlearn harmful narratives to achieve financial independence.

It was a summer night, Bhangra music playing in the background at my cousin’s pre-wedding celebration. An aunt came up and asked me what she was working on. He had no idea who she was, but he was used to random chicks and questions from her.

when i told him about my work in finance and running a business, she replied, “You shouldn’t be too busy with your career; that’s what your husband will do. How can you run a home and a business at the same time? Your responsibility is to become a good homemaker. “

In fact, I can recall several conversations with aunts in our community advocating that us youngest South Asian girls simply “marry a rich Indian boy, from a good family.”

When it comes to South Asian women’s relationship with money and their ability to achieve financial agency, it is important to understand the cultural context. Any differences are often overlooked in the landscape of traditional personal finance advice.

“Our culture has myriad strict gender roles, one of which is that men manage money and women don’t,” Aashka Piprottar, founder of boss betishe told me by email. “So while men talk about money openly and proudly, women, if they ever talk about it, do it quietly and quickly.”

Those gender roles convinced Aashka from an early age “that I was destined to be ‘bad with money’ and would only have to depend on my father, and then in the future, probably my husband, to manage money for her.” me,” she said.

How being a ‘good’ daughter impacts our finances

As daughters, we were constantly bombarded with messages to be “good and honorable” growing up. However, being good meant being of service to others no matter the cost or inconvenience to us.

This appears in financial clearance — a money disorder in which we overcompensate and provide financially for others, even if it impairs our ability to save or achieve our financial goals. We use money as a way to please people, so whenever our parents ask us for money or tell us to send money to a random relative in India, we will comply, even if it hurts us financially.

“It became standard to try to pay the bill, even when I knew I couldn’t afford it, because this was something I had seen front and center in South Asian culture. I paid the bill for family members for things like car payments, eating out, shopping and buying gifts when I wasn’t in a position to,” said Natasha Khawja, founder of Purpose and Chai.

“I think a lot of it was centered around the idea of ​​pleasing people and trying to make sure others were happy, even if it was to the detriment of my own finances,” he added. “Many of these financial decisions were often based on guilt.”

Some daughters are also prohibited from working part-time. If they work, they are forced to share a bank account with a parent or contribute financially to the household, which inhibits financial agency.

One of my financial counseling clients, whom I’ll call Anaya, struggled with setting financial boundaries with his father, who would ask for a portion of his full-time income and review his bank statements, asking where his money was going. This made it difficult for her to assert financial independence from him and work toward her moving goals, as his family constantly got in the way.

How to be ‘good’ while building financial independence

“Growing up seeing so many examples of women in our community trapped in toxic or abusive situations due to a lack of financial agency, I realized how financial independence could play an important role in protecting us from these situations in the future,” Aashka said. .

She added that she has unlearned harmful money narratives from her childhood by working in the wealth management and financial wellness space.

Some of us may be convinced to provide money to our parents as they have sacrificed a lot to build a life for us in another country. At 27 years old, I built a net worth of $150.00and part of that journey is to be able to support myself and my parents without feeling overwhelmed.

But remember, we must first put on our own financial oxygen masks. I recommend starting a specific savings goal in an account titled “Parents Fund” where you can save money for your family in case they need it. This is a way of setting a financial limit so that you don’t feel resentful or sabotaged if you are asked for funds.

Understanding the complexity of our culture, I helped my client, Anaya, establish strategic savings accounts set aside his money, continuing to contribute funds when his parents asked him to.

Cultural expectations and narratives play a huge role in our ability as South Asian women to make different decisions, especially when it comes to our money and wealth creation.

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