Published on Africa Can End Poverty

More than a short-term escape: Sustainable empowerment solutions for girls and women in Zambia

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ImageIn rural Zambia, women who live in poverty struggle every day to make ends meet and feed their families. In the words of one woman, “to tell the truth we are poor. Any money I make from piece work goes to buying relish, washing soap and bathing soap, I hardly have anything left for anything else...My husband doesn’t work apart from doing a little here and there in our farm, also (my) boy goes to school, so there are school fees to think of.”
For these women, developing a profitable business is a chance to improve their lives. Qualitative research has shown that Zambian women living below the poverty line have big aspirations to be small-scale business owners. To help them realize these goals, the Government of Zambia, in partnership with the World Bank Group, launched The Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihoods (GEWEL) Project this week in Lusaka. GEWEL is a $65 million project that will be implemented over the course of five years. This ambitious inter-ministerial initiative will be coordinated by the Ministry of Gender.
GEWEL seeks to empower girls and women during two critical phases of their lives. To engage the country’s next generation of young women, the project will support adolescent girls to attend secondary school. And for working age women, the project will aim to increase the productivity of their livelihood activities and, through this, their earnings.
The Keeping Girls in School (KGS) component will finance secondary school fees for approximately 14,000 adolescent girls in extremely poor households, as identified through their participation in the Government’s existing Social Cash Transfer Scheme (SCTS). The evidence on the returns to girls’ education is very compelling. Better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labor market, earn more income, give birth to fewer children, marry at a later age, and provide better health care and education to their children. The Ministry of General Education will run this component.
The Supporting Women’s Livelihoods (SWL) component, under the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare, will target about 75,000 poor women aged 19 to 64 in 51 districts to increase the productivity of their livelihood activities and empower them economically. Participants will benefit from:
  • Short-term life and business skills training, provided by trained and paid community volunteers;
  • A productivity grant of ZMW 2,500 ($225), delivered upon completion of the training;
  • Voluntary savings and loan groups, open to all women from the community based on self-selection;
  • Follow-up support, including refresher training and linkages to other public services, offered weekly by the community volunteers, continuing for six to eight months.
The design of the SWL model was informed by rigorous evidence showing that multi-faceted programs that address a variety of constraints can shift poor women into more stable self-employment and increase their standards of living. Some examples are BRAC’s Targeting the Ultra-Poor (TUP) Program in Bangladesh, the CGAP Graduation Pilots in India, Pakistan, Ghana, Ethiopia, Peru and Honduras, and the Women’s Income Generating Support (WINGS) in Uganda. These evaluations also show that the consumption impacts from the graduation approach are maintained long after the programs end, and that the interventions are cost-effective.
With support from the Zambian Government and the Bank’s Africa Gender Innovation Lab, SWL will be evaluated using a randomized controlled trial. In addition to measuring the impact of the full intervention package, the evaluation will also isolate the contribution of the individual project components (which has not been done previously in other evaluations of graduation programs). This will help us understand the relative impacts of the different components and how different types of capital (financial, human, social) contribute to women’s long-term earnings. We also know that simply providing one-off infusions of cash has shown remarkable results (for example in GiveDirectly in Kenya and the Youth Opportunities Program in Uganda), and so SWL will explicitly test this alternative to the bundled intervention.

This week’s launch of GEWEL marks a critical investment for the country of Zambia and an important source of innovation and learning for Bank operations. Rather than offering a short-term escape from extreme poverty, GEWEL will seek to equip girls and women with the education, livelihoods, and self-confidence they need to sustain themselves when the project is over, and we plan to generate the evidence to show it.


Sarah Haddock

Social Development Specialist, South Asia

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