Article | 2019

Executive Summary

It is widely recognized that advancing women’s economic empowerment is central to gender equality, economic growth, and the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Multilateral institutions, nonprofit organizations, development finance institutions, and governments have engaged in a range of programs to promote women’s economic empowerment. Existing types of interventions that address women’s economic empowerment include increasing girls’ financial inclusion and access to education, enhancing their livelihoods through skills-based training, and reforming discriminatory laws for women to gain access to land, employment, inheritance, and property.

This study builds on a companion paper that sets out what we know about the current status and patterns of women’s economic opportunities in fragile and conflict-affected countries (FCA). It aims to provide insights into which interventions have worked or hold promise in increasing women’s economic opportunities.

Based on a number of systematic reviews examining the effectiveness of interventions in low- and middle-income countries, we find that technical and vocational training—paired with some kind of internships, life-skills training, or cash transfers—can be effective in increasing women’s employability and income. However, the implementation of such programs can be costly, and measures of effectiveness are mixed.

Our evidence review is limited in scope and depth by the impact evaluations that are available. Nonetheless, the review points to several encouraging findings, including:

  • Training programs that combine vocational and business-skills training, life-skills training, and on-the-job training (internships and placements) have been shown to have positive effects on young women’s employment. This holds for both post-conflict countries and countries in protracted conflict.
  • Increasing women’s access to savings accounts can boost women’s economic outcomes in countries with protracted conflict, with positive effects on savings and decision-making.
  • Microcredit, either as a stand-alone intervention or bundled with other services, appears to benefit women in post-conflict countries by increasing incomes and household assets in the short term.
  • In countries with protracted conflict and in post-conflict countries, a bundle of agricultural services addressing multiple constraints may lead to better results for women than stand-alone agricultural intervention. Complementing agriculture-based interventions with gender-equity training or psychosocial support services can have positive effects on women’s mental health outcomes as well.

We find that there is much similarity across program types and overall design in FCA countries but differences in outcomes, which indicates that context matters. While this review seeks to draw out good practices, it is critical that programs are not only context specific but also allow for adaptability over time. The lack of evaluations of agriculture-based interventions is a major knowledge gap, especially given that agriculture is the primary sector of employment for women in FCA countries.

We hope that these findings can help to inform future actions and investments to boost women’s economic empowerment in FCA contexts, as well as point to areas where further research is needed.

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