Women’s groups and COVID-19: An evidence review on savings groups in Africa
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.
Economies of scale of large-scale international development interventions: Evidence from self-help groups in India
Livelihoods and microfinance programs for women often show reduced impacts after scale-up. Yet, program scale-up may reduce average per capita costs and maintain cost-effectiveness despite lower impact. This paper presents evidence on the association between program scale, costs, and cost-effectiveness by analyzing how the costs of a large-scale Self-Help Group (SHG) program in India changed from its inception in 2007 to its scale-up in 2019. We use expenditure data from program’s audit statements of Jeevika – the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society – and find that a 1% increase in program membership was associated with a 0.6% increase in annual program expenditures, indicating large economies of scale. Predicted costs from regressions suggest that the annual per capita program expenditures declined from $29 when the program covered 100,000 members to $5 when it reached 10 million members. Previous impact evaluations of Jeevika showed sizeable but smaller substitutions away from high-cost debt after scale-up than during the pilot, but we found that economies of scale led to similar cost-effectiveness ratios for this outcome. We also found that formation of higher-level federations is associated with lower marginal costs than setting up SHGs. However, previous evidence suggests that Jeevika did not generate average impacts on women’s agency and asset ownership after scale-up. Building on a rich history of research on Jeevika, we argue that program implementers must identify key success factors in pilot programs to minimize tradeoffs between cost savings and potentially reduced impacts after scale-up. Further, we suggest investments in linking SHGs to federations to improve the cost-effectiveness of SHGs.
Effects of integrated economic and health interventions with women’s groups on health-related knowledge, behaviours and outcomes in low-income and middle-income countries: a systematic review protocol
Economic groups, such as microfinance or self-help groups are widely implemented in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). Women’s groups are voluntary groups, which aim to improve the well-being of members through activities, such as joint savings, credit, livelihoods development and/or health activities. Health interventions are increasingly added on to existing women’s economic groups as a public health intervention for women and their families. Here, we present the protocol for a mixed-methods systematic review we will conduct of the evidence on integrated economic and health interventions on women’s groups to assess whether and how they improve health-related knowledge, behaviour and outcomes in LMICs.