Interventions for women empowerment

Interventions for women empowerment and repercussions for family welfare: Evidence from Uganda

A group of researchers have designed interventions for women empowerment and looked at repercussions for family welfare in Uganda

Empowering women is a goal of many development programmes, both as a primary objective and a tool for increasing family welfare and stimulating economic development.

Conventional wisdom suggests that empowered women invest more in children, and this has translated into policy: Many large-scale cash transfer programmes are designed to target women.

However, the evidence to support this idea is limited to a small number of studies, mostly reflecting shifts in empowerment driven by increases in total household resources.

In a study by Kate Ambler Kelly Jones and Michael O’Sullivan, available as an IZA-Institute of Labour Economics working paper, they tested two novel interventions designed to empower women:

  • An economic intervention that transfers resources within the household from the husband to the wife, and
  • a behaviour change intervention that promotes a balanced approach to household management.

They documented the impacts of these interventions on different domains of empowerment and then studied the interventions as an exogenous shift in empowerment to examine the impacts on child and household welfare.

They found that the economic intervention increases women’s access to resources and agency by a substantial amount.

In contrast, the behaviour change intervention increases empowerment through agency and achievements, with no impact on access to resources.

However, they found no changes to most welfare measures that they studied, though there was an increase in life satisfaction.

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They implemented their interventions as a randomized-controlled trial in the Jinja region of Uganda, among smallholder farmers who sell sugarcane to a large company.

The economic intervention consists of the transfer of contracts to grow and sell sugarcane from the husband to the wife, entitling women to receive the revenue from the sale of the sugarcane, and involving them in the logistical aspects of managing the contracts.

The behaviour change intervention is a three-day “Family Vision Workshop” attended by both the husband and the wife, designed to encourage the recognition of the contributions of all household members and arrive at a balanced household management system with equitable access to resources.

It was adapted from the change catalyst workshop of the Gender Action Learning System (Mayoux, 2012).

Households were divided into four groups: Those offered the behaviour change intervention only, those offered the economic intervention only, those offered both, and those offered neither.

The behaviour change intervention took place first, at the end of 2016: 75% of invited couples attended at least two days of the workshop, and 66% attended all three.

Anecdotal responses to the workshop were overwhelmingly positive, with couples reporting that they enjoyed it and found it worthwhile.

The economic intervention was implemented in the following months. Selected households were visited by project staff and offered the opportunity to register a sugarcane block with the wife.

The project made the transfer process easy for the households, streamlining the processing of paperwork and opening of associated bank accounts so that women would not need to travel to the company office.

Takeup was high, with 71% of households completing a registration.

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The researchers measured the impacts of these interventions using an online survey conducted in the second half of 2018. Following the work of Kabeer (1999), they studied three components of empowerment: Access to resources, agency, and achievements.

Their analysis focuses on a composite index for each of these components, consisting of survey measures that they hypothesized might be impacted by the intervention.

Access to resources includes a respondent’s own cane income and control and a measure of personal expenditures. Agency includes a range of decision-making questions and a self-confidence module.

Achievements were measured by self-esteem, life satisfaction, and freedom from domestic violence.

Findings from interventions for women empowerment study

women empowerment, family welfare

They found that the economic intervention had a large impact on access to resources and agency and a more limited impact on achievements.

Conversely, the behaviour change intervention had no impact on access to resources, but strong impacts on agency and achievements. They found no evidence that combining the interventions result in stronger effects.

Interestingly, when they examined the different components of agency, they found that the interventions acted differently.

The economic intervention positively affected women’s ability to make decisions across a range of areas, while the behaviour change intervention improved their self-confidence, including speaking in groups and business negotiations.

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They also looked at possible mechanisms behind changes in empowerment. They found that the economic intervention had large effects on women’s cane ownership, participation in cane management, and measures of financial inclusion.

They also observed increases in marital quality, communication and perceptions of gender norms. The changes from the behaviour change intervention are driven by increases in perceptions of gender norms and improvements in marital quality and communication.

Though women’s empowerment is often considered a driver for economic development, in this context they observed no increase in household cane production or associated change in total household resources with either intervention.

Additionally, and contrary to the popular wisdom on the secondary benefits of women’s empowerment, they found no impact of the interventions on household food security, children’s health, or measures related to children’s education.

These results may suggest that female empowerment does not necessarily lead to improved household welfare, especially for children, particularly in the absence of extra-household transfers.

However, they did document increased life satisfaction for both men and women, confirming that empowerment is a worthy goal in its own right.

About the authors

  • Kate Ambler is a Research Fellow with IFPRI’s Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division (MTID);
  • Kelly Jones is an Assistant Professor of Economics at American University in Washington, DC;
  • Michael O’Sullivan is a Senior Economist at the World Bank Gender Innovation Lab.
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