Sustained Effects on Economic Empowerment of Interventions for Adolescent Girls: Existing Evidence and Knowledge Gaps

Sarah Baird and Berk Özler
Center for Global Development
Publication Date: 
Nov, 2016
Adolescent girls face a multitude of hazards during their transition from childhood to adulthood ranging from school dropout, to child marriage, to adolescent childbearing, to physical and mental health problems, to gender based violence. In response to these risks, there has been an increase in the number and types of interventions targeting adolescent girls in low-and middle-income countries.
Such interventions are wide ranging in their approaches and include, among others, safe spaces, vocational training, school based interventions, cash transfers, information campaigns and health-services. Rigorous evaluations of these interventions generally indicate positive, albeit modest, effects across a wide-range of capabilities.
Promising as findings from these studies are, the evidence relies mostly on short-term followup data, which leaves open the question of whether such programs can substantively improve the wellbeing of their beneficiaries well after the cessation of support. If the aim of these programs is to not only increase current welfare for adolescents, but actually to improve their lives in the long-run by making investments in their human and physical capital during an important period of transition in their lives, then it is important to find out whether the shortterm improvements are ephemeral or sustained. The welfare of these adolescents as adults – as well as their families – will improve only if the interventions altered their life trajectories. Understanding these sustained effects becomes particularly important when one is tackling inherently long-run issues such as economic empowerment.
Kabeer (1999) defines empowerment as “the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire such … ability.” Essentially, Kabeer (1999) argues that two elements, resources and agency, determine an individuals’ ability to exercise choice. While empowerment is inherently multi-dimensional1—including political, psychological, social, legal, and economic empowerment—we focus our attention on the latter. Golla et al. (2011) provide a more precise definition of economic empowerment which fits within this framework:
“A woman is economically empowered when she has both the ability to succeed and advance economically and the power to make and act on economic decisions. To succeed and advance economically, women need the skills and resources to compete in markets, as well as fair and equal access to economic institutions. To have the power and agency to benefit from economic activities, women need to have the ability to make and act on decisions and control resources and profits.”
Golla et al. (2011) note that in order for programs to improve women’s economic empowerment – by affecting economic advancement and agency – programs must either increase the resources (financial, human, social or physical) available to women or redefine norms and institutions.
Using this definition of economic empowerment, this paper explores existing evidence on the effects of adolescent girls’ interventions on economic empowerment. We first expand on this definition and provide a brief conceptual framework that discusses the necessary conditions for adolescent girl interventions to have sustained effects on economic empowerment. This section also provides more detail on the set of indicators we use to measure economic empowerment and discusses the types of programs that exist for adolescent girls, exploring the pathways by which they might impact economic empowerment. Second, we turn to the empirical evidence on the impact of adolescent girl interventions, looking both at short-term (rapidly growing literature) and sustained impacts (limited literature) on economic empowerment. After providing an overall review of the existing evidence, we use the Schooling, Income and Health Risk (SIHR) study in Malawi as a case study. The SIHR study evaluates a two-year cash transfer experiment for adolescent girls and includes evidence on both short and long-run indicators of economic empowerment. The SIHR study serves as a useful example to illustrate some of the promise, and perils, of finding lasting effects of adolescent girls’ programs on economic empowerment. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of the key knowledge gaps and recommend next steps for current policy design, as well as future programing and research.
Read the full report here.
Economic Empowerment