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BANGLADESH: Empowerment impacts of Social Safety Net Programs on women. Gil Yaron World Bank Consultant PREM, World Bank, September 2008. Why measure empowerment?. The WDR 2000/1 identified “empowerment” as an important development objective

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bangladesh empowerment impacts of social safety net programs on women
BANGLADESH: Empowerment impacts of Social Safety Net Programs on women

Gil Yaron

World Bank Consultant

PREM, World Bank, September 2008

why measure empowerment
Why measure empowerment?
  • The WDR 2000/1 identified “empowerment” as an important development objective
  • “Empowerment” is closely linked to other corporate agendas of “social accountability,” and the “demand for good governance”
  • Empowerment enhances people’s choices and opportunities
  • While a legitimate goal in and of itself, evidence suggests that empowerment improves poverty reduction outcomes
bangladesh motivation
The Bangladesh PRSP emphasises the:

Role of Social Safety Net Programs (SSNP) in reducing poverty

Need to focus on the empowerment of women

One SSNP (VGD) explicitly aims to enhance the income-earning capacity and self-reliance of ultra-poor and food-insecure women, government officials identify women’s empowerment as an “additional objective” of another program (PESP). Other SSNP that provide food or income for ultra poor women may well have an impact on their empowerment

The substantial literature on women’s empowerment in Bangladesh does not treat SSNP in detail

It was possible to explore this issue by adding TFESSD funds to an existing JSDF-funded survey of SSNP being implemented by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics

Bangladesh - motivation
bangladesh context
Bangladesh - context

The aim of the survey was to measure the empowerment impacts on women of the following SSNP:

  • Food-for-work (FFW)
  • Vulnerable Group Development (VGD)
  • Primary Education Stipend program (PESP)
  • Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF)
  • Old Age Allowance Scheme
  • Allowance for Widowed, Deserted, and Destitute Women
  • Allowance for Distressed Disabled Persons
operationalizing empowerment
Operationalizing empowerment
  • Empowerment: the interaction of agency and opportunity structure
  • Agency can be measured through proxies -- the material, financial, social, human, informational, psychological and other assets that people deploy to achieve their goals
  • Opportunity structure: the formal and informal institutions (“rules of the game”) that constrain or facilitate people’s ability to exercise agency
bangladesh methodology overview
Bangladesh – methodology overview

FGD (72)

SSI analysis


Survey (2741)


Survey (69)

Beneficiaries: ordered logit

All: Propensity score matching


Survey (2741)

bangladesh empowerment indicators 1
Bangladesh – Empowerment indicators 1

Women’s questionnaire:

  • Control over assets (husband, self, joint, others)
  • Participation in village meetings and elections (& if not, why not)
  • Participation in household decision making (h, s, j, o) including joining organisations, economics & child related
  • Autonomy (visiting & purchases) & domestic violence
bangladesh empowerment indicators 2
Bangladesh – Empowerment indicators 2

Household questionnaire empowerment module e.g.

Programs make:

no difference | a small difference | a big difference |

a negative difference

Being able to resolve disputes

Membership of any local groups e.g. clubs or samitties

Being able to choose who you vote for in elections

Being able to complain to government officials

Participating in development projects

Being able to get clean water

Access to news and information

Being able to choose what work you do

Keeping children in school

bangladesh psm methodology
Bangladesh – PSM methodology

Standard PSM approach

Unobserved determination & social capital

Biased results



Observable proxies on information & attending beneficiary meetings + factors affecting “lobbying”

Our PSM approach

SSNP Empowerment

Unbiased results

psm implementation
PSM implementation

PSM implementation followed standard practice:

  • Estimating the propensity score for each SSNP
  • Running balancing tests using STATA PSCORE
  • Matching using NN (with replacement, 3 closest matches, imposing common support & trimming 2% of observations)
  • Checking significant results with LLR matching
  • NN matches have hetroskedastic-consistent S.E
  • LLR matches have boostrapped S.E.
methodology empowerment
Methodology – empowerment

We distinguish asset-based agency (such as improved self-esteem) from actual empowerment outcomes (such as greater autonomy or more decision making in the household)

Source: Alsop, Bertelsen and Holland (2006)

other methodological issues
Other methodological issues

We distinguish between: female-headed households in which the female heads are formallywidowed, separated, divorced or abandoned; and those

where women run the household without describing themselves in these terms

Need to rule out the effect of multiple SSNP (not meant to happen but 3% of the sample dropped)

bangladesh findings 1
Bangladesh – findings 1
  • SSNP modestly contribute to women’s economic empowerment
  • FFW appears to have less economic impact than do other programs
  • SSNP have a bigger impact on keeping children in school than on access to credit, land, water or electricity
  • Old Age/other allowances pay for education of children within the extended family & PESP is used in other areas -- e.g. allowances are fungible
  • PESP is popular but could be better targeted
bangladesh findings 2
Bangladesh – findings 2
  • FGDs in particular show that SSNP do enhance self-worth and self-esteem, and increase women’s access to information.
  • But -- increased self-esteem and access to information did not translate into empowerment as measured by observable changes in behaviour. Behavior change depends on changes in the norms governing acceptable female behaviour. Should husbands be part of VGD capacity building?
  • Expansion of the Food-for-Work and Money-for-Work schemes was the most frequently voiced request from FGDs, although these programs have the least economic impact. How to design better workfare programs?
bangladesh findings 3
Bangladesh – findings 3

SSNP had little effect on women’s social or civic empowerment (i.e. on autonomy, involvement in household decision-making and incidence of domestic violence).

Old Age Allowances and VGD may actually result in negative impacts, perhaps because increasing women’s economic assets triggers a conservative backlash from poor and poorly educated husbands. Further in-depth qualitative analysis is needed on this issue.

findings 4
Findings 4
  • The combination of FGD and quantitative survey techniques worked well. Ideally, the questionnaire design would have built on earlier FGDs
  • The Empowerment Framework conception of empowerment as the outcome of asset-based agency interacting with institution-based opportunity structure is useful.
  • It is important to focus on de facto female headed households, not only those which identify themselves as “widowed, separated, divorced and abandoned”.