Enhancing Women’s Agency | Webinar Recording

What works and how do we measure it?


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Improving women’s agency, namely their ability to define goals and act on them, is crucial for advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women. Women’s financial inclusion interventions have traditionally focused on narrowing the access gap, but there is a growing recognition these interventions need to go beyond measuring access and use to get at what really matters – increased voice and agency. 

When a woman has agency, she can make more informed and better financial choices for herself and her family based on her own vision of the future. However, this is not without challenges given the complex nature of agency. Agency is hard to define, can change based on context and individual, and is often inhibited by deeply held social norms. Drawing on the findings from J-PAL’s recent literature review and the SEEP Network’s WEE WG publication, the webinar looked at when and how financial inclusion interventions can promote agency and how best to measure it.


Q: Does the dynamics piece include joint vs sole decision-making?

Yes, dynamics can be within oneself as well as between others. This often arises in household decision making and when measured, it is often addressed in the decision making metrics that organizations use to measure agency in households.

Q: Could you please throw some light on if and how the microfinance programs have helped in increasing women's agency in the household decision making, her status, reduction in domestic violence etc.? Thank you!

Microfinance, and other financial inclusion initiatives, had limited effects on measures of women's agency, including household decision-making, business outcomes. That said, there is also strong evidence that economic interventions such as microcredit, transfers, and savings groups when coupled with trainings, discussions, or coaching that addressed gender dynamics explicitly were effective in improving women’s agency. For example, the IMAGE program, a microfinance-based program that integrated training on gender and HIV in South Africa, reduced IPV only women receiving a gender training in addition to microfinance services (Kim et al. 2009).

Q: What do you think is the value (if there is value) as a community to distinguish between agency and empowerment?

Yes, they are linked but different, so it is useful to make a distinction. In the SEEP brief, you can find how we decided to define empowerment and agency, building off of Naila Kabeer’s definitions.

Q: In the Indian example of "a program which opened accounts in women's name", what specific evidence did you see in terms of improved agency for women? And how did it address their power balance with men?

This intervention increased women's labor force participation and mobility, as well as improved attitudes about restrictive gender norms. However, this intervention had no effect on women’s role in decisions about her employment and spending her earnings. While men’s gender attitudes remained unchanged, their acceptance of women in the community working significantly increased. Researchers posited that women’s enhanced bargaining power stemming from control over their wage payments enabled them to push back against limiting gender norms.

Q: Can you speak more about the 4 studies showing positive results from soft skills in business training?

These trainings combined standard business training material with additional training content on topics such as women’s self-confidence, gender equality, or agency. I refer you to page 73 of the review for more details on the specific studies. 

Q: Are there any macroeconomic indicators that can help understand a broader picture of women's agency in a country?

• The World Bank's Women, Business and the Law
• In the SEEP paper we reference SIGI, and UN Women. There is also Data2x.

Q: Should the definition of "women's agency" also include and track the perception of men about how they view a woman's role in the household and the communities?

Agree. It is critical to engage men, as discussed in the J-Pal paper, but it has to be done really well to make any kind of change. Additional insights in the ICRW’s paper on Gender Equity and Male Engagement, Women for Women also has a nice piece on men’s engagement for reference.

Q: Did you ask women themselves what "more agency" meant for them? what decisions weren't they able to make and were important to them?

Yes, the Jordan Valley Links and AWID examples that we shared do exactly this. You can find links to the resources in the SEEP brief.

Thank you for listening. We'd be curious to know what information was useful to you and what, if any, questions remain. If you have a moment, please fill out our short survey. Your responses will inform additional learning activities on this topic within FinEquity.

About this event

COP Webinar