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This page includes links to relevant resources on women's groups and COVID-19 that ECWG and partners have produced:

Research and Resources

COVID-19 Lockdown & Collective Activities: Evidence from the World’s Largest Self-Help Group Program

Using data on a large women’s livelihoods program in India – the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) – and a difference-in-differences design, this paper estimates that average monthly savings by SHG members of the NRLM declined by 85% during the nationwide lockdown from March to July of 2020. Decline in monthly SHG savings was likely driven by loss in income sources combined with lockdown stringency. Data from longitudinal phone surveys in six states indicate 30% decline in consumption and 26 percentage-point decline in work opportunities for both SHG and non-SHG households during this time. Although SHG households had lower consumption pre-pandemic compared to non-SHG households, both groups were equally impacted by the lockdown. In addition, households that received assistance from SHGs in procuring food grains or through community kitchens reported significantly lower rates of food insecurity. We present these results in a working paper.

Women’s Groups and COVID-19: An Evidence Review on Savings Groups in Africa [Published in Gates Open Research | Working Paper]

This paper presents emerging evidence from studies in diverse contexts in sub-Saharan Africa —with a deep dive into Nigeria and Uganda—on how COVID-19 has affected women’s groups and how these groups have helped mitigate the gendered effects of the pandemic’s and the associated policy responses’ consequences up until April 2021. The synthesis presents evidence that savings groups found ways to continue operating, provided leadership opportunities for women during the pandemic, and mitigated some of the negative economic consequences of COVID-19 on individual savings group members. Savings, credit, and group support from other members all likely contributed to the ability of groups to positively affect women’s group member’s resilience during COVID-19. However, savings groups themselves often faced financial challenges because of decreased savings, which sometimes resulted in the depletion of group assets. These findings are consistent with a recent evidence synthesis on how past covariate shocks affected women’s groups and their members. We conclude the paper by presenting various policy recommendations to enable savings groups to achieve improvements in women’s empowerment and economic outcomes and research recommendations to address some of the current evidence-gaps on how COVID-19 is affecting women’s groups and their members.

Evidence Review of Women’s Groups and COVID-19: Impacts, Challenges, and Policy Implications for Savings Groups in Africa [English report | French Report ]

As is the case around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women and has reversed progress in gender equality across sub-Saharan Africa. However, recent studies indicate that women’s savings groups have adapted in various contexts to the pandemic. For example, studies from Nigeria and Uganda suggest that these groups cushion some of the economic impacts and have been key in supporting community responses during the crisis.

The Evidence Consortium on Women’s groups collaborated with a group of practitioners, researchers, and funders to conduct an evidence review of how women’s savings groups and their members have navigated the pandemic. Based on emerging findings, they advance a series of recommendations for how governments, organizations, donors, and researchers can support savings groups. This report captures findings from studies undertaken across sub-Saharan Africa over the past year. It focuses on the impact the pandemic (and some of the associated policy responses) have had on savings groups and other women’s groups as well as the ability of these groups to mitigate the effects of shocks for their members and communities.

This report was developed by: Eve Namisango at Africa Centre for Systematic Reviews at Makerere University and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Thomas de Hoop, Chinmaya Holla, and Garima Siwach at the American Institutes for Research and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Sybil Chidiac and Shubha Jayaram at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Jenna Grzeslo and Munshi Sulaiman at BRAC; Emily Janoch and Grace Majara at CARE; Olayinka Adegbite, Leigh Anderson, and Rebecca Walcott at EPAR Evans School of Public Policy and Governance and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Krishna Jafa at Global Center for Gender Equality at Stanford University; Sapna Desai and Osasuyi Dirisu at Population Council and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Tabitha Mulyampiti at School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University and the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups; Julia Hakspiel at MarketShare Associates; and David Panetta at SEEP Network.  

Savings Group Member Resilience Over the Course of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence From Nigeria and Uganda

The COVID-19 pandemic and some of the associated policy responses (e.g., lockdowns and gradual relaxations) had considerable gendered impacts that reversed some of the recent progress in gender equality. Women and girls experienced larger adverse consequences along health, economic, social, and educational dimensions than men and boys, though mortality rates for COVID‑19 are higher for men. Evidence from studies in diverse African contexts indicates that savings groups have mitigated some of the negative economic effects of COVID‑19-induced lockdowns and other restrictions on women and girls. In this brief, the Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups (ECWG) and CARE examine the resilience of VSLA members in Nigeria and Uganda. We assess how savings and access to credit of VSLA members were affected by the COVID‑19 pandemic and how VSLA functioning and gender correlate with personal savings and credit 1 year after the pandemic started. We find that: 1) the longer COVID‑19-induced lockdown in Uganda likely contributed to a greater need for income or livelihood support in Uganda than in Nigeria, 2) VSLA meetings occurred as they had before the pandemic for 56% of the VSLA members in Nigeria and 14% of the VSLA members in Uganda, whereas 27% of VSLA members in Nigeria and 47% in Uganda reported adjusted meetings. 3) regularly functioning VSLAs likely can contribute to VSLA member resilience, and 4) decreasing savings and limited access to credit may limit VSLAs’ ability to mitigate the negative economic consequences of the pandemic.

Women's Groups, Covariate Shocks, and Resilience: An Evidence Synthesis of Past Shocks to Inform a Response to COVID-19

Interventions with women’s groups are increasingly seen as an important strategy for advancing women’s empowerment, health, and economic outcomes in low- and middle-income countries, with the potential to increase the resiliency of members and their communities during widespread covariate shocks, such as COVID-19. This evidence synthesis compiles evidence from past shocks on women’s group activities and the extent to which women’s groups mitigate the effects of shocks on members and communities. We reviewed 90 documents from academic databases, organizational reports, and additional gray literature, and included literature diverse in geography, type of women’s group, and shock. We found that covariate shocks tend to disrupt group activities and reduce group resources, but linkages to formal institutions can mitigate this impact by extending credit beyond the shock-affected resource pool. Evidence was largely supportive of women’s groups providing resilience to members and communities, though findings varied according to shock severity, group purpose and structure, and outcome measures. Actions to support individual resilience during a shock, such as increased payment flexibility, may run counter to group resilience, however. We link the findings to emerging evidence on how COVID-19 affects women’s group activities and the extent to which women’s groups mitigate the effects of shocks on members and communities.

Women’s Groups and Member Resilience After COVID-19: Evidence from Nigeria

Women for Women International (WfWI) works with groups of marginalized women in conflict-affected countries to help them move from poverty and isolation to self-sufficiency and empowerment in economic and social domains. The Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups (ECWG) collaborated with WfWI to study the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on WfWI’s members and to explore the role of women’s savings groups in providing resilience against the shocks induced by COVID-19. The study analyzed self-reported data collected in May 2020 through surveys with a convenience sample of past (or graduated) and current members of WfWI’s Stronger Women Stronger Nations Program. Findings indicate that membership in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) was positively associated with some outcomes of economic resilience during COVID-19. Additionally, current program members fared much better on most economic and social outcomes, compared to graduated members, which is likely due to stronger support networks. [Read the technical appendix]

Community and Institutional Response to COVID-19 in India: Role of Women's Self-Help Groups and National Rural Livelihoods Mission

The Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM), one of the world’s largest institutional platforms for the poor, played an important role in Covid-19 response in India, given its mass outreach and membership of about 69.8 million rural women mobilised into 6.3 million self-help groups (SHGs). This report focuses on lessons from ground-level action taken by SHGs and State Rural Livelihoods Missions for crisis response.

Women’s Groups and COVID-19: Challenges, Engagement, and Opportunities

The ECWG has produced a rapid evidence brief presenting potential implications of the pandemic and related lockdown for women’s groups, with a focus on India, Nigeria, and Uganda. This brief summarizes previous evidence on groups’ responses to economic, health, or environmental shocks, and discusses potential mechanisms through which women’s groups and their functioning may be affected by COVID-19. We also present ECWG’s planned short-term and longer-term research agenda related to the impact of COVID-19 on women’s groups in the three countries.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Opportunities for Adolescent Girls and the Role of Girls’ Groups

Covid-19 has disrupted lives, networks, and institutions across social, economic, and health dimensions around the globe. We examine how the pandemic has affected adolescent girls and young women in particular, and explore how group-based programs for girls in low- and middle-income countries have been affected by and are responding to the pandemic.


Learning from evidence syntheses about women’s groups during the What Works Global Summit

Adapting and Responding to Covid-19 With Women’s Refugee Groups in Uganda

Solidarity and Power: Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on Women’s Groups in Northern Nigeria

SHGs and COVID-19: Challenges, Engagement, and Opportunities for India’s National Rural Livelihoods Mission

Every Little Step Helps: How SHGs are Stepping Up to Provide Relief in Times of Covid-19

It’s time to take note of the Self Help Groups’ potential