More assets, more decision-making power? Mediation model in a cluster-randomized controlled trial evaluating the effect of the graduation porogram on women's empowerment in Burkina Faso

Karimli, Leyla; Lecoutere, E.I.; Wells, Christine R.; Ismayilova, Leyla


To promote women’s empowerment, numerous programs provide economic services meant to increase women’s access to economic resources in the household. However, women’s access to economic resources does not always translate into improved bargaining power, and effects of economic strengthening interventions may vary across different decision-making domains. There is little robust evidence, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, showing the effect of improved access to economic resources on specific domains of decision-making within a family and very little is known about variation in this effect between monogamous and polygynous families. Furthermore, very few assessments explicitly examine specific pathways from participation in economic strengthening interventions to improved decision-making power in the household for women.

Our study aims to address these gaps by examining—in the context of a randomized controlled trial administered in rural Burkina Faso—the effect of an economic strengthening intervention on specific domains of women’s decision-making power and how it relates to monogamous/polygynous family structures and challenges to intra-household gender roles and responsibilities. Furthermore, we examine a specific pathway to better understand whether increased access to economic resources from this intervention translates into improved decision-making power for women.

We use repeated-measures data collected from 360 adult female caregivers in the 3-arm cluster-randomized controlled trial conducted among households living in abject poverty in Burkina Faso. We ran multilevel mixed-effects logistic regression models to examine the effect of the intervention on different domains of women’s involvement into household-level decision-making and variation of this effect by family structure (i.e. polygamous vs. monogamous families). We fit a structural equation model to examine whether access to assets mediates the effect of the intervention on different domains of women’s involvement into household-level decision-making.

We found that economic empowerment intervention increased women’s involvement in making decisions about their children’s well-being, but had no effect on women’s say in making decisions about general household economy. We found most effects to be stronger in the treatment arm that received economic strengthening combined with family coaching offered to the whole household and directly targeting normative beliefs related to child wellbeing and gender norms. We also found no evidence that increased access to assets mediates the effect of intervention on improving women’s decision-making power in different domains.

Our findings suggest that to improve decision-making power for women in their household it is important to address structural gender inequalities and gender norms rooted in patriarchy, alongside the efforts to economically empower women.