Learning about strengthening women’s decision-making

Women's confidence and self-esteem increase when they have greater knowledge, economic assets and income-earning capacity, and they are more likely to participate in both private and public decision-making.  Low participation is often due to stereotypes, perpetuated by both men and women, which assign women's influence to the private sphere and men's to the public.  The use of quotas and positive action to increase women's participation in decision-making bodies is not enough to ensure their participation, but is an important first step. 

  • Pakistan: New opportunities can affect women's social relations (2001) A 2001 review of gender strategies in two projects in rural Pakistan noted that there had been changes in women's relationships with each other, with their husbands, and with others in their communities.  This showed that the implications of women's empowerment are wide ranging and significant.
  • Grenada: The impact of gender stereotypes on youth (2000) This IFAD report found that gender stereotypes and the lack of challenges for both male and female youth are two underlying causes of teenage pregnancy as well as youth poverty.  Gender stereotypes also influence training and occupational choices. 
  • Chile: Women's empowerment is social change (2000) A review of the gender strategy of an IFAD supported project found that, thought the project consistently focused on gender issues and promoted the participation of women; this was not enough to make lasting changes in gender relations.  Gender sensitization is an important aspect of any gender strategy, to ensure that changes are driven by men and women and rooted in social processes. 
  • China: Changes in women's role and status in the public and private spheres (1996)  Summary of 1996 IFAD research which looks at women's status and role in the household and the community in Guizhou province.  The study finds that the pace of change in gender relations and women's empowerment is slower for the public sphere than the private, and that women's empowerment is driven by diversification of household income.

Savings and credit groups help to build women's confidence, provide a forum for discussion and action on common problems, and provide opportunities for learning.  IFAD have also found that participation of women in water governance processes is particularly important and must be ensured.

  • Savings are an important asset for rural women (2001) Studies of the impact of three IFAD supported projects in South Asia provide useful lessons on rural finance. Traditionally, subsistence households in these areas have coped with food insecurity through crop diversification and informal borrowing was usually for consumption rather than production purposes.  The projects provided women with credit through loans tailored to different types of agricultural activity, as well as promoting saving.  The study found that these services helped women to buffer some shocks of a transition to market oriented production, though informal credit was still used to deal with consumption needs.
  • Uganda: Targeting women for rural finance (2000) An FAO/IFAD study in Uganda looked at credit services targeted at rural women, the effectiveness of the strategy, and the impact and implications for the women borrowers. The study found that women were more conscientious about saving, more cautious in borrowing and more disciplined in loan repayment than men, justifying a focus on them.  However, women's control over the enterprise they are borrowing for depended on their marital status, ethnic group and the nature and profitability of the enterprise.
  • Ghana: Learning from informal financial services (2000) This working paper found the near non-existence of formal financial services and conditions of lending which excluded rural women has resulted in high numbers of informal credit and savings groups.  These informal services have drawbacks, but many strengths, including their foundation in knowledge of the local and personal conditions of the borrowers.
  • Paraguay: Women lose out in access to credit (2000) This study of gender issues in an IFAD supported credit project in Paraguay found a big difference between rural women's participation in technical assistance services, as compared to credit.  A number of reasons are suggested for the low participation of women in the credit component, including attitudes of credit intermediaries and focus on low profit activities. 
  • Syria: Improving credit services for poor rural women (1999) This evaluation of IFAD supported projects providing credit to rural women in Syria highlights some useful lessons on how to improve future activities.  The evaluation found that the lending requirements and loan products favoured wealthier rural people, productive farmers and good credit risks, rather than those without assets or in the greatest need.  Several recommendations for structuring and implementing this type of programme are included.

Also important is the existence of strong, inclusive women's organizations and groups.  Community-based women's groups that function within development projects can be unsustainable without external support and have little influence beyond the community. Projects need to promote self-sustainability and the formation of clusters and associations capable of reaching out to decision-makers and expanding their influence.  What's more, younger women, poorer women and women with time constraints can often be excluded from groups, so it is important to monitor and promote inclusion.  

  • Asia: Women's groups can be a powerful tool for empowerment (2000) A number of IFAD studies have found that where women are weak and marginalized, groups provide them with collective strength and often bring social and psychological benefits for members. The initial actions that groups undertake may not have major development significance, but the groups themselves do serve as a training ground for members, preparing the way for even greater future action. Where women's groups can join together to form hierarchical structures, this adds to their power, particularly in terms of their social status, social leverage and policy influence.  www.ifad.org/gender/learning/project/part/asia_empower.htm
  • India: Self help groups create self-reliance and solidarity amongst women (2000) A 2000 IFAD funded review of the impact of informal credit and savings groups in three villages in the State of Manipur found several types of positive impact on participating women.  These included changed to attitude and behaviour among women and men, and stronger solidarity amongst women. However, it was too early to see any impact on household income and food security.  www.ifad.org/gender/learning/sector/finance/6.htm
  • Women's integration into community organizations is a long-term process (2001) The IFAD Rural Poverty Report 2001 recognizes that even community-level organizational structures may not be equitable. These can exclude the less powerful, such as the poorest households, low-status minorities and women. In many ways, the situation of women illustrates the access problems faced by all these disadvantaged groups.
  • India: Sustainability of women's groups does not happen by chance (2000) A 2000 evaluation of an IFAD supported project which established over 5 000 women's self-help groups noted several factors that contribute to the sustainability of such groups.  A large number of those factors that are important do not occur "by chance", but must be built into the design and implementation of projects. 
  • Nepal: Women participate in work, but not organizations (2001) A 2001 study on the gender impact of an IFAD supported forest project in the hill areas of Nepal found that women ended up doing most of the work and easily lost out on many of the benefits. Women's participation in the legal leaseholder groups was low, though grew slowly, and yet when it came to maintenance of the leasehold forests, women were found to participate more than men.   This lack of legal membership undermined women's access to benefits, including training for the work they were carrying out.