From the ECWG Team
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.
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African governments increasingly support large-scale women’s groups interventions aiming to improve women’s economic empowerment with support from multilateral donors and Foundations. Previous evidence indicates that women’s savings, producer, and livelihoods groups can improve women’s access to savings and credit, and human as well as social capital, but it is less clear if the findings of existing evidence are transferable to women’s groups without a discernible focus on financial inclusion or livelihoods. This study uses nationally representative longitudinal data from Nigeria and a large longitudinal dataset from Uganda to examine the association between exposure to women’s groups, asset ownership and decision-making power. The results suggest small yet positive associations between exposure to women’s groups, asset ownership and decision-making power. However, most results do not remain statistically significant after controlling for individual-level fixed effects. The findings highlight the importance of triangulating results of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of specific women’s group interventions with estimates from nationally representative data to understand the transferability of impact evaluation findings.
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ECWG work published in Gates Open Research
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and some of the associated policy responses have resulted in significant gendered impacts that may reverse recent progress in gender equality, including in sub-Saharan Africa. 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, especially savings 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 the resilience of women’s group member during COVID-19. Households with a female member in a savings group in Nigeria and Uganda have coped with the crisis better than those not in savings groups. While savings groups have shown the potential for resilience during the pandemic, they often faced financial challenges because of decreased savings, which sometimes resulted in the depletion of group assets. Savings groups also contributed to community responses and provided women a platform for leadership. 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.
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©Gates Archive/Saumya Khandelwal
From our partners
Matching Intent With Intensity: Implementation Research on the Intensity of Health and Nutrition Programs With Women’s Self-Help Groups in India
In India, a large network of self-help groups (SHGs) implements interventions to improve women’s and children’s health and nutrition. There is growing evidence on the effectiveness of women’s group interventions to improve health but limited information on implementation intensity, including how often groups meet, for how long, and with whom, despite this often being cited as a key factor for success. The authors aimed to assess the implementation intensity of large SHG-based health and nutrition interventions with rural, low-income women, to inform program design, delivery, and measurement. The study found that SHG members spent approximately 30 minutes in monthly meetings discussing health or nutrition. SHG dissolution or limited participation in meetings was a common challenge. Beyond group meetings, home visits reached approximately 1 in 3 households with an SHG member. Pregnant and breastfeeding women’s participation in community events varied across interventions.
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Women’s Leadership in VSLAs in Uganda: Findings from a cross-sectional survey
This assessment in a formative phase was implemented between Feb-Mar 2021 in 23 districts of Uganda. It documented the level of representation of women in village saving and loans association (VSLAs) and the correlations of female leadership with members’ satisfaction and VSLAs performance. Findings are based on a sample of 650 Village VSLAs supported by PROFIRA, Care Uganda, AVSI, BRAC Uganda, and Village enterprise. Results show that women are underrepresented in senior leadership positions. Yet, their leadership resulted in a higher satisfaction of VSLAs members as they were more likely to listen to them, and it was positively associated with the VSLAs’ financial performance.
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©Gates Archive/Nelson Owoicho
Recent research on women’s groups
The study examined the nature of the operation of informal savings groups. Emphasis was on their composition, the mode of financial transactions and sharing of financial proceeds, the impact of the savings and members loaning on the members' financial and business growth, and the perception of the members on the benefits of the savings. The study also profiled the significant challenges encountered by the groups. The findings indicate that informal savings groups are accessible, sustainable and inclusive financing alternatives for low-income earners. Group sizes range from 250 to 3 members. As a sign of commitment, a form of identification is required to join the group. Findings also indicate that group leaders are elected, and their term of service could be renewable. It was discovered that members join mainly to save in financial terms, and they have benefited both monetary and socially. The biggest challenge these groups face is that members default.
Low cost credit to the poor through SHGs has been hailed as a significant poverty reduction tool in developing nations, although there is no evidence of its effectiveness. This paper, using primary survey data, compares the changes in different socio-economic factors of SHG women and non-SHG women. Three main dimensions have been assessed in this paper i.e. loan size, savings pattern, and women empowerment. The authors found that SHG women have higher scores in the average women empowerment index than women with no exposure to SHGs. SHG women on average use more loans for business purposes than non-SHG women.
This paper seeks to improve understanding of the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls in Uganda and recommends actions that Ugandan policy makers and World Bank Group operations can take to ensure women’s participation in an inclusive and sustainable recovery process. The analysis draws on data from high-frequency phone surveys of Ugandan nationals and refugee populations conducted in June and November 2020, respectively, further broken down by age and geography. Among other results, the paper finds that women’s collectives have been a source of social and financial support for all women, but the overall needs of refugee women have been great.
This is a review existing experimental and quasi-experimental studies on interventions that help women entrepreneurs in developing countries grow their business. There is still a lack of evidence about what works for women entrepreneurs and therefore there is still a pressing need to conduct more impact evaluation work to replicate findings. This document reviews the evidence with a focus on experimental and quasi-experimental studies specifically conducted on programs for and with women. The purpose is to be a resource and collect relevant information in one place and to provide guidance for future research and project managers to build on the collected body of work in order to improve the design of their studies and development projects.
News and commentary on Women’s Groups
This article talks about women in N'wamitwa, South Africa, who have been managing food crises and working to mitigate their effects for years. Thirty years ago, these women established a co-operative farm in the midst of a catastrophic regional drought, which they are continuing to use now to face the challenges posed by food shortages.
In Tamil Nadu, India, the financial assistance provided by co-operative societies to self-help groups has been increased from ₹12 lakh to ₹20 lakh from the year 2022-23. Mr I. Periyasamy, Minister of Co-operation, Tamil Nadu, said the loan amount had been enhanced keeping in mind their excellent repayment track record.
As drought and famine continue to plague Somalia, women are using a centuries-old scheme to help each other. Once every month, a group of 10 women gather at the makeshift shelter of Layla Hussein Tawane in a camp for internally displaced people in Mogadishu. Each of them brings $10 to contribute to a common pot.
Around 17,000 self-help groups from the rural parts of Nagpur, India, having more than two lakh women as members, will have a 'mini mall' in the city to display and sell their products. At the proposed mini mall, products ranging from eatables and spices to garments, and locally-made gems and jewellery will be available.