Did a microfinance ‘plus’ programme empower female farmers and pastoralists and improve intrahousehold equality in rural Ethiopia?

Evidence from an impact evaluation using a Project-Women’s Empowerment in Agricultural Index (pro-WEAI) survey tool

Using the project-Women’s Empowerment in Agricultural Index (pro-WEAI) survey tool developed by GAAP2, this study aims to estimate the impact of a microfinance ‘plus’ programme on women’s economic empowerment in communities in Oromia and Afar, Ethiopia. The programme incorporates multiple interventions, which are implemented through women-run rural savings and credit cooperatives (RUSACCOs), with the intention of improving beneficiary women’s decision-making over productive assets, control over income, and leadership in rural institutions. A major component of the programme is aimed at rural women’s greater access to credit, but interventions also include agricultural livestock and technology transfers, business training, as well as a community gender awareness component. A difference-in-difference estimator with Inverse Probability Weighting (IPW) is used to evaluate the impact of the programme on women’s empowerment in Oromia. Because of conflict in the area, baseline data collection was delayed and data was collected after some interventions had already begun in Oromia. As such, nearly all beneficiaries already had access to credit through the RUSACCOs at baseline, and both women and men were already empowered in a number of dimensions at baseline. Among households with beneficiaries who continued in good standing between baseline and midline, the programme positively contributed to both women’s and men’s empowerment with regards to respect among household members. It did not lead to additional impacts in terms of overall empowerment and gender parity within the household or across the other pro-WEAI indicators. However, it appears that, by maintaining good standing in the RUSACCOs, female participants were able to maintain high levels of empowerment across the other indicators. A second group of beneficiary women, who either chose to leave the RUSACCO or did not maintain good standing as a member, were also highly empowered across many dimensions at baseline but experienced large average decreases in empowerment across a number of indicators by midline. In Afar, using the midline data only, a single-difference estimator with Inverse Probability Weighting is used to evaluate the impact of the programme. In Afar, the programme had a significant impact on women’s overall empowerment.

As  expected, given the nature of the programme, there were significant positive results in terms of access to and decisions on financial services, group membership, and membership in influential groups. There were also positive impacts on control over the use of income, suggesting that the programme contributed to greater control over the use of the output from agricultural activities and control over income from agricultural and non-agricultural activities. On the other hand, the programme also appears to have resulted in reduced empowerment on average with regards to autonomy in income.

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