Empowerment aims to ensure that development benefits disadvantaged groups, including women, minorities and the poor. Fully capturing the individual and social effects of empowerment interventions is challenging, and to date the evidence base is limited. One isolated study using cross-country panel data recently found that aid has had an intrinsic positive effect on women’s political empowerment in the MENA region (Baliamoune-Lutz, 2013). Qualitative research has also identified links between trends in economic empowerment and pro-poor growth (OECD, 2012). Likewise, from the reverse perspective, political exclusion has been found to negatively impact on long-term, inclusive growth (Acemoğlu & Robinson, 2013).
A small body of rigorous evidence indicates empowerment and accountability interventions can support improved health knowledge and behaviour (Wiggins, 2012). A recent systematic review has also identified positive effects of women’s empowerment on their sexual health and risk of domestic violence (Kerrigan et al., 2013)
OECD. (2012). Poverty Reduction and Pro-Poor Growth: The Role of Empowerment. OECD.
This policy guidance presents evidence from research and practice on the causal relationships between empowerment, pro-poor growth and poverty reduction. It argues that inequity and power imbalances lead to market failures and to political, social and legal exclusion. These prevent poor people from raising their productivity and production, and therefore their incomes. They also prevent them from increasing their voice within their society and community. Conversely, poor people’s empowerment secures their rights and drives pro-poor growth. The report advocates strengthening poor people’s organisations, their control over assets and their influence in economic governance to improve the terms of their engagement in markets. A combination of economic, political and social empowerment will make growth much more effective at reducing poverty.
See full text
Acemoğlu, D. & Robinson, J. A. (2013). Why Nations Fail. The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. London: Profile Books Limited.
This multidisciplinary book analyses the historical and institutional dynamics of numerous societies. It finds that prosperity is sustained by the transformation of political and economic institutions from extractive to inclusive ones. In rich countries, citizens overthrew elites who controlled power and created pluralist societies instead. The key features of these societies were the broad distribution of political rights, government accountability and responsiveness to citizens, and the opening up of economic opportunities. Broad-based political empowerment bridging social divides has driven economic transformation, but there is no clear recipe for achieving such empowerment.
Baliamoune-Lutz, M. (2013). The effectiveness of foreign aid to women’s equality organizations in the MENA: Does aid promote women’s political participation? Helsinki: UNU-WIDER.
This paper asks whether official development assistance promotes gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa region. It examines the effects of aid to women’s equality organisations on women’s political empowerment, as measured by the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. Based on panel data from 13 Middle East and North African countries between 2002 and 2010, it finds that such aid has been effective. It also concludes that autocracy exerts a negative influence on women’s political empowerment, and that higher adolescent fertility rates are associated with a smaller proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments.
See full text
Wiggins, N. (2012). Popular Education for Health Promotion and Community Empowerment: A Review of the Literature. Health Promotion International, 27(3), 356-371.
This systematic review of 29 empirical studies on high-, middle- and low-income countries finds that popular education is associated with increases in individual and collective empowerment (e.g. self-confidence, critical awareness, sense of community) and action (e.g. participation, actions of solidarity). It is also linked with improved health knowledge, behaviour, physical health and food security. The author recommends donors should provide more long-term support that better accounts for the pre-existing sense of community and any structural barriers to empowerment.
See full text
Kerrigan, D. L., et al (2013). Community Empowerment Among Female Sex Workers Is an Effective HIV Prevention Intervention: A Systematic Review of the Peer-Reviewed Evidence from Low- and Middle-Income Countries. AIDS and Behavior, 17(6), 1926-1940
Does community empowerment of female sex workers in low- and middle-income countries help with HIV prevention? This systematic meta-analysis on literature published between 1990 and 2010 found only ten relevant studies (from India, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic). All were of low rigour. All of the interventions combined community empowerment (including an emphasis on sex workers’ rights, dignity, collective agency and leadership) and three typical HIV prevention activities (peer education, STI screening and management, condom distribution). Overall, the interventions were associated with significant reductions in HIV infection and other STIs, and increases in consistent condom use.
See full text
Women’s economic empowerment
A recent systematic review highlighted the need for more long-term, high quality research that enables better monitoring, evaluation and assessment of the impact of economic asset-building interventions (Dickson & Bangpan, 2012). It found that there is only a modest amount of evidence that women’s empowerment improves their financial assets or participation in social life. Another systematic review similarly found mixed and inconclusive evidence of the relationship between economic empowerment and domestic violence (Vyas & Watts, 2009). Some maintain that evidence of the purported two-way relationship between economic growth and women’s empowerment remains weak (Duflo, 2012).
Dickson K. & Bangpan, M. (2012) Providing access to economic assets for girls and young women in low-and-lower middle income countries: a systematic review of the evidence. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.
This systematic review analysed the evidence for the impact of three types of economic asset intervention: educational incentives, livelihood programmes, and reproductive health programmes. It finds that a modest but growing evidence base suggests that providing girls and women with access to economic assets and developing their skills can improve their ability to generate an income, increase the amount they save, support school participation and increase overall sexual health knowledge. However, it concludes that claims that this will increase their economic standing in society overall, lead to better further educational or career choices, or improve long-term sexual health outcomes, cannot be made.
See full text
Vyas, S. & Watts, C. (2009). How Does Economic Empowerment Affect Women’s Risk of Intimate Partner Violence in Low and Middle Income Countries? A Systematic Review of Published Evidence. Journal of International Development, 21(5), 577-602.
Are women who are more empowered economically less likely to suffer domestic violence? This review of thirty quantitative studies finds mixed evidence and no clear geographic patterns. Household asset wealth and women’s secondary education are generally associated with reduced incidence of domestic violence. However, women being more educated than a male partner, and women’s access to independent income through employment are generally associated with increased risk of domestic violence.
See full text
Duflo, E. (2012). Women, Empowerment and Economic Development. Journal of Economic Literature, 50(4), 1051-1079.
This secondary review of empirical literature finds that the relationship between women’s empowerment and growth is weak. Women’s empowerment may lead to a narrow set of improvements in children’s health and nutrition, but economic development alone is insufficient to achieve significant progress in important issues such as women’s decision-making power in the household, community and polity. The article concludes that actions that favour women over men will continue to be necessary to achieve gender equality.
See full text