A RESEARCH REVIEW

Carrying out EDWON’s Mission

We believe that that helping women be and feel empowered can change their lives, and the lives of their families and communities, for the better. Being empowered allows individuals to become aware of their potential, to increase their participation in political and social activities, and to believe in their own capacity and skill.

How do we achieve this goal? Which programs do we focus on? How and where do we implement them? In answering these questions, we at EDWON try our very best to focus on cost-effective solutions for maximum impact.

Two things that can be done in this regard are:

  • Evaluating the impact of our own programs, and
  • Keeping up-to-date on best practices and findings in the literature.

While we are in the process of planning and fundraising for our own evaluation, this page is meant to give an overview of the current state of the literature on female empowerment and its various components.

Since this research is always in flux, this page will be updated regularly with new findings and summaries. We will emphasize studies that are more robust, as well as those that are most relevant for the Nepali context. Links are provided for non-gated studies.

Female Empowerment as a Goal

A core conviction behind EDWON’s initiatives is that women’s solidarity groups complemented by human rights awareness, literacy, micro savings and livelihood training can have positive impacts, and that delivering them together in a holistic framework can further increase those impacts.

Below, you will find an overview of available evidence.  A separate overview of savings and loan associations, in particular microfinance, will be available soon.

Women’s Programs Lead to a Multitude of Benefits

Early research on female empowerment found that empowered women have healthier children, in part due to the increased allocation of household assets toward the well-being of children.

In their analysis of district-level census data for 1961 and household survey data for 1971 for India, Rosenzweig and Schultz (1982) found that households allocated more resources to female children in regions with higher female employment. Likewise, increases in education and labor force participation contributed to reducing female disadvantage.

Dyson and Moore (1983)’s results showed that gender outcome differences in India could be related to differences in female autonomy.

Kanbur and Haddad (1994) showed that ten dollars given to the male head of the household versus the same amount given to his wife can have very different implications; not only for the amount of tobacco and alcohol purchased by the household, but also for child labor, education and health.

Using data from Brazil, Thomas 1990 showed that if household resources are in the hands of a mother, this improves the family’s health. In particular, the probability of child survival is almost 20 times larger.

However, these studies were conducted over two decades ago and rely heavily on theoretical modeling. What about more recent studies?

A comprehensive review by the Centre for Economic and Business Research in 2008 finds various contexts in which women’s increased access to microfinance and women’s and men’s increased access to education empowers women and promotes development.

In Nepal, Acharya et al. 2007 found that both the literacy and group finance components of their intervention led to positive outcomes, where “group savings and credit programs provide the driving force to help illiterate rural women start small-scale economic activities.”

Sharma 2007 finds that women’s participation in credit programs leads to a host of positive outcomes. These impacts included:

  • Greater access to financial and economic resources
  • Larger social networks
  • Increased bargaining power in the household
  • More freedom of mobility
  • Improved spousal communication about family planning and parenting

Furthermore, Dabi (‘pressure’) groups in which women, including Dalit women, learned advocacy and negotiation skills improved children’s health, increased civic participation and reduced violence against women (CARE 2010).

However, the studies outlined above do not exploit experimental or quasi-experimental methods, and their reported impact might therefore be biased. While only a few relevant randomized control trials of female empowerment programs have been conducted, there are studies that exploit natural experiments or use other statistical techniques to detect causal impacts.

One such study is Kandpal et al.’s 2012 evaluation of the Mahila Samakhya program in India, which combines education with support groups. This approach to female empowerment was found to increase physical mobility, access to employment, and improve political participation.

Karlan et al.’s 2007 evaluation of a commitment micro-savings program in the Philippines finds a positive impact both on women’s decision-making power in the household, as well as on actual decisions regarding the consumption of durable goods.

Deininger and Liu 2009 find that the formation of female self-help groups in India led to increased empowerment as well as improved nutrition and consumption (although they found no effect on income or asset formation). In fact, the link between female empowerment and nutritional outcomes is of such importance that in their book, Women’s Empowerment and Nutritional Outcomes: An Evidence Review, the authors conclude: “investing in women is therefore considered beneficial for improving human capital formation, especially in terms of child nutrition, health and education…” (p. 1, also here).

Yoong et al. 2012 report interesting results for the impact of economic resource transfers to women versus men; the most robust effects seem to be improved child health and nutrition.

Janssens 2010 finds that trust increased significantly in the Mahila Samakhya communities mentioned above, especially among the lower caste participants. Further relevant studies by Chiodi et al. and Brody et al. are forthcoming.

The WORTH program in Nepal, a women’s empowerment program that combines business, banking and literacy, has been found to increase members’ self-confidence, literacy, education, and access to credit—and even improved sanitation, while also decreasing gambling and child marriages.

Using Mexican data, Andalón et al. 2014 find that the positive impact of educating women extends beyond improved labor market outcomes and includes greater autonomy over their fertility.

Soroushmehr et al. 2012 find that women in self-help groups in Iran have higher mobility, legal knowledge, decision making autonomy, access and control of the household budget, although they find no significant change in domestic violence.

In an interesting paper, Wyndow et al. 2013 even stipulate that female empowerment was strongly associated with democratic development between 1980 and 2005.

Lastly, Duflo presents an interesting and nuanced picture of the relationship between gender equality and development. She concludes that there is a two-way relationship between empowerment and development, and reminds us that both efficiency and equity considerations underlie the pursuit of gender-based initiatives.

Holistic Programs Compound the Benefits

EDWON’s programs are created and structured in such a way that all their different components come together, like puzzle pieces, to create in-depth change. Specifically, we believe that access to finance, health programs, literacy programs and human rights training can complement each other through synergies and spillovers, and that the overall impact of EDWON is greater than the sum of its parts.

A relevant study to this end done in the Nepali context is one by LeVine et al. 2004, which concerns the relationship between maternal health behavior, literacy, and child survival. Their results confirm findings from Mexico, Zambia, Venezuela, Morocco, South Africa and Guatemala that literacy can have an effect on health behaviors and outcomes through the pathway shown below.

A well-respected program within the development community is BRAC’s comprehensive Targeting the Ultra Poor program. They combine micro-finance with health, education and other social development programs, linking them strategically to counter poverty through income generation and protection. Unfortunately, however, rigorous work evaluating this holistic approach is scarce. One of the exceptions is a recent evaluation of so-called “Ultra-Poor Graduation Pilots” led by Dean Karlan, who attempts to answer the question: “Does a big push approach work?” Although the findings have yet to be published, a preliminary discussion about the positive effects of the program can be found here.

Though more tangentially related, another relevant paper uses cluster analysis to tease out complementarities between different Millenium Development Goals in various countries (Bue and Klausen 2012). Interestingly, the authors find that Nepal is a country which exhibits strong positive synergies in MDG indicators.

This provides us with initial evidence that productive transmission channels between different areas – such as education, health and gender equality – exist in the context in which we work. Through EDWON’s holistic approach, we are poised to maximize these synergies, empowering women and promoting communities’ well-being.

 

For any questions or comments regarding this research summary, please write to aletheia.donald@gmail.com.

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