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Can Skills and Training Programs Improve Empowerment Outcomes for Women in South Asia?

Created Sep 05 2023, 5:43 AM by Unknown
  • Education and Skills

The South Asia Region (SAR) Gender Innovation Lab is currently undertaking a review of causal literature analyzing interventions directly or indirectly affecting women’s labor market, income, and empowerment outcomes. The review found nine studies evaluating the effects of Skills and Training interventions on women’s labor market outcomes, and these results are summarized in a previous blog. Here, we summarize the results from the four studies estimating the effects of Skills and Training interventions on measures of women’s empowerment. 

While we only have four studies, there is nonetheless variation in the sample and modality of interventions across settings. While most programs targeted women from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, in low-skill occupations, and with few years of formal education, participants were exposed to an average of 2 to 10 days of training in a diverse range of programs. For example, Giné and Mansuri (2021) offer business training to a sample of women aged 37 years on average, 94 percent of whom are married. Cheema et al. (2019) offer tailoring training to 30-year-old women on average, 69 percent of whom are married and reside in households with 12,700 PKR average household monthly income. Adhvaryu et al. (2018) focus on a sample of female workers of approximately 27 years, 60 percent of whom are high school educated and have worked for 1.3 years on average. 

The papers evaluate short to medium run impacts after implementation, between 6 to 22 months. The findings are summarized in the chart below. 

Interestingly, there is a lack of significant impact, either positive or negative, across empowerment outcomes. The programs often have positive impacts on employment, productivity, and/or earnings, so why do we not see changes in empowerment outcomes such as decision-making? Giné and Mansuri (2021) suggest the limited impact of their business training and lottery interventions in Pakistan is attributable to female business owners in their sample having low control and decision-making power in the businesses they are involved in. In fact, 40 percent of women in the sample report their husbands make all the decisions for their business. A lack of mobility to sell products or purchase material from the market further limits the scope for their training to increase decision-making. Similarly, the provision of tailoring skills alone does not improve civic engagement or empowerment measures in the short or long run for women in Pakistan (Cheema et al. 2019). 

At first glance, these results may seem disheartening. However, in a separate intervention arm offering market linkages alongside tailoring skills, Cheema et al. (2019) find positive impacts on female empowerment 9 months after the intervention. The market linkage provides participants access to sales agents who deliver marketable cloth designs and raw materials for stitching to the women. The agents then sell the stitched clothes in the market for which participants receive 200 PKR per suit. Thus, the need for women to visit the market themselves or rely on male family members to purchase material is diminished. The results from the market linkage highlight the potential for the joint use of supply and demand side interventions to move non-economic outcomes, while also highlighting the importance of considering social restrictions when designing interventions.

For more details on the skills interventions, impact magnitudes, or the methodology adopted in the systematic review, read the detailed note. For links to included papers, see below:

WEESA is supported by the South Asia Trade Facilitation Program (SARTFP) and implemented by the South Asia Gender Innovation Lab. SARTFP is a trust fund administered by the World Bank with financial contributions from the Government of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.