Women’s empowerment, socio-economic inclusion and political participation

Where I do research and analytical work:

Eric Mvukiyehe - Economist, World Bank Research Department - Research Map

Research Overview

Gender equality is a fundamental human right and is critical for reducing poverty and for achieving other development goals such as health, education, and growth. While in the past two decades a lot of progress has been made, much more remains to be done to ensure that women are equally included in the political, social, and economic life of their societies. Indeed, according to the 2012 World Development Report (WDR), “Gender Equality and Development” and the companion World Bank Group Gender Strategy (2016-2023), important gender gaps remain in several critical areas including economic opportunities and voice and agency. Despite being the majority, and a crucial part of economies, women tend to be excluded from the labor market or only relegated to unpaid or low-paying jobs due to lack of human capital. Women also tend to lack financial literacy, preventing them from capitalizing on their entrepreneurial potential.

My research on gender focuses on understanding constraints women face in the labor market and public life and the effectiveness of strategies that specifically target these constraints. It investigates strategies to promote women’s entrepreneurship and economic productivity, social and political participation as well as norms-shifting interventions to address intimate partner violence (IPV) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in private and public spaces, among other issues. In addition, much of my work integrate gender disaggregated analysis to provide evidence of any gendered distributional impacts of development interventions. Overall, my gender work is organized across two research strands, which I discuss in detail below.

This research strand focuses on understanding constraints women face in accessing economic opportunities in the labor market and assessing the effectiveness of policy interventions and action designed to address such constraints. In developing countries, especially fragile states, public works programs (PWPs) are a popular instrument donors and governments employ to provide temporary work opportunities to poor and vulnerable individuals and households and in many (if not most) cases there is a gender balance requirement. My work on PWPs (8 impact evaluations across 5 countries) integrate at minimum a gender component that entails gender disaggregated analysis to ascertain whether program activities have differential impacts on women and men. In addition, for some projects where targeting was done at the household level, rather than the individual level (e.g., Comoros), my coauthors and I have been able to directly measure gender-specific impacts of PWP activities by randomly assigning work opportunity to a man or a women of the household.

Furthermore, my work in this space investigates several innovative or “smart” and easily scalable interventions either as add-on or follow-on interventions designed to address persisting bending constraints (e.g., limited access to capital), which prevent women from accessing better paying (more profitable) and longer-term self- or waged employment. For instance, the earnings from PWPs and the short-term nature of these programs may not be adequate to generate savings or capital investments in micro-enterprises. A recent ‘white paper’ by Chris Blattman and Laura Ralston (2015) argued that capital-centric interventions have the most promise to generate employment for and increase income of the poor, especially in post-crisis settings where too little capital might be a binding constraints that forces firms or entrepreneurs to operate below their optimal size. For workers, providing complementary intervention that could improve participants’ employability for existing work opportunities or stimulate self-employment by relaxing capital and credit constraints.

My ongoing work in DRC and Tunisia test the effects of unconditional cash grants provided (or incentivized savings) to a subset of women workers after they exit PWPs and designed to alleviate credit or capital constraints and to promote entrepreneurship and labor market outcomes in a sustained way. Part of this work seeks to provide evidence on how best to close gender gaps in human capital by focusing interventions that reduce women’s vulnerability to shocks that disrupt human capital acquisition. In Nigeria, for example, my co-authors and I have been working on the MAFITA program which targets youth at risk, evaluates the impact of a package of entrepreneurship interventions (including apprenticeship and vocational skills training, entrepreneurship training and access to finance interventions) on human capital, labor market and economic welfare outcomes, socio-psychological welfare among others. This study includes an innovative gender component which comprises of an additional female-only home- based apprenticeship element specifically designed keeping in mind the local cultural norms that restrict women from working outside their homes.

Finally, some of my work in this space also focuses on understanding how new economic empowerment and labor market opportunities affects intra-household bargaining and dynamics between them and their male partners. While enhancing women’s entrepreneurship and economic empowerment might establish their rightful place and respect in the household, it could also potentially lead to resentment of their male partners and increase the likelihood of intimate partner violence (IPV). Several studies in the Latin American context have explored the impacts of cash transfers on IPV and found that these transfers, targeted primarily towards men, can reduce IPV. In addition to investigating how women’s participation in PWPs affects their bargaining power and intra-household resource allocation, this research also investigates potential perverse effects of such participation. Thus, our endline surveys typically include a detailed module on these outcomes. Furthermore, the Tunisia cash grants study included a gender dialogues session, whereby male partners of female workers were invited to participate in financial literacy and joint decision-making training about HH finances with their spouses or partners, etc. The goal is to see whether this complementary intervention can mitigate potential “male resentment” and reduce IPV than the economic intervention alone.

While addressing economic empowerment and inclusion issues women tend to face may be a necessary condition for achieving gender equality, it is by no means enough. Indeed, as noted earlier, much more work remains to be done to ensure that women are equally included in the social and political life of their societies. Women also tend to be severely underrepresented in political offices and participate at lower rates than men. As such, they remain deprived from being in a position of power to address the barriers that they face in an institutional context. Women’s low participation rates in elections and everyday politics could be associated with lack of information pertaining to their political rights, and limited access to political information in general. Some of my research investigates the effects of information-provision interventions and a variety of delivery mechanisms designed to remove or circumvent these constraints.

In Liberia, for example, I investigate the effects of providing rural women with access to a United Nations radio’s elections-related programs on their political attitudes and voting behaviors. The results point to positive significant effects of the intervention on women’s political participation both on a national and a local level. In a related research project joint with Cyrus Samii (New York University), we investigated how adding a “gender component” to standard civic education programing might enhance women’s social and political participation, while in another project in Zimbabwe joint with Kate Baldwin (Yale University) we looked at the effects of an intervention designed to reform village-level governance via horizontal pressure on gender inclusion and empowerment. Finally, in the DRC, I am working with co-authors on 2 impact evaluations focusing on CDD programing that have an important gender component—the former to ensure gender-equitable participation in decision-making and the latter to ensure access to clean water and better sanitation.

Reducing poverty and promoting welfare and wellbeing for the poor and youth

Eric Mvukiyehe - Economist, World Bank Research Department - Reducing PovertyThis research seeks to understand the sources of poverty and vulnerability for the poor and youth in fragile contexts and investigates the effectiveness of strategies to unlocking their labor market potential and breaking poverty traps in a sustainable manner.

Read More

The political economy of conflict, peace-building and development in fragile states

Eric Mvukiyehe - Economist, World Bank Research Department - The Political EconomyThis research focuses on understanding the causes, drivers and consequences of conflict in order to build more stable peace and prosperous societies. It covers information asymmetries, social dislocations, collective action and political participation, among other issues.

Read More

Strengthening state capacity in fragile states through reforming the civil service and traditional institutions

Eric Mvukiyehe - Economist, World Bank Research Department - Strengthening State CapacityThis research focuses on understanding state incapacity in fragile states and on strategies to improve public sector governance. It covers wide-ranging issues, including recruitment and deployment strategies, breaking patronage networks, etc.

Read More

Women’s empowerment and social, economic and political inclusion

Eric Mvukiyehe - Economist, World Bank Research Department - Women's EmpowermentThis research focuses on understanding constraints women face in the labor market and public life. It investigates strategies to promote women’s entrepreneurship, social and political participation as well as norms-shifting interventions to address IPV and GBV. Read More

Leveraging existing studies for COVID-19 research to inform policy responses

Eric Mvukiyehe - Economist, World Bank Research Department - Women's EmpowermentThis research leverages and builds on existing RCT studies in different countries to: (i) collect rapid, just in time information on exposure and impact of COVID-19 (and government response measures) on businesses and people’s livelihoods; and (ii) investigate the extent to which the original interventions may have helped mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic.

Read More