Gender Matters in Economic Empowerment Interventions: A Research Review

By Mayra Buvinic and Megan O’Donnell

A review of the recent evaluation evidence on financial services and training interventions questions
their gender neutrality and suggests that some design features in these interventions can yield
more positive economic outcomes for women than for men. These include features in savings
and ‘Graduation’ programs that increase women’s economic self-reliance and self-control, and the
practice of repeated micro borrowing that increases financial risk-taking and choice. ‘Smart’ design
also includes high quality business management and jobs skills training, and stipends and other
incentives in these training programs that address women’s additional time burdens and childcare
demands. Peer support may also help to increase financial risk taking and confidence in business
decisions, and may augment an otherwise negligible impact of financial literacy training. These
features help women overcome gender-related constraints. However, when social norms are too
restrictive, and women are prevented from doing any paid work, no design will be smart enough.
Subjective economic empowerment appears to be an important intermediate outcome for women
that should be promoted and more reliably and accurately measured. More research is also needed
on de-biasing service provision, which can be gender biased; lastly, whenever possible, results should
be sex-disaggregated and reported for individuals as well as households.

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