CEGA Celebrates International Women’s Day

The Center for Effective Global Action
Published in
7 min readMar 5, 2020

This roundup celebrating International Women’s Day was co-authored by Lauren Russell (CEGA Director of Operations) and Anne Daugherty (CEGA Journalist Intern).

This Sunday is International Women’s Day (IWD). While there is much to celebrate, women and girls still make up a disproportionate share of the 700 million people living in extreme poverty and continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. CEGA increasingly invests in research that sheds light on how gender norms affect the delivery of services and the outcomes of social programs, as well as the various mechanisms driving women and girls’ empowerment.

The theme of this year’s IWD is “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” In this spirit, we highlight a handful of CEGA studies that address the rights and experiences of women in different contexts and around the world.

Women’s Economic Empowerment and Digital Credit

A woman accesses M-PESA mobile money in Kenya. Credit: Alexandra Wall

Women who are economically empowered are better equipped to achieve their own goals, provide for their families, contribute to society, and advance their own rights. Towards this end, CEGA’s Digital Credit Observatory (DCO) recently directed nearly $300,000 to support six new and ongoing evaluations that examine women’s empowerment in the context of digital financial inclusion. Funded projects in Malawi, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Uganda, and India explore the extent to which women are economically empowered — or disempowered — and the potential of digital credit to promote equitable financial access for women.

While the market for digital financial products continues to expand in many countries, there are still significant barriers to economic and financial gender equality. One study supported by this new round of DCO funding, for example, explores the ways in which human prejudice and gender bias affect financial credit decision-making in Ethiopia. CEGA affiliate Ketki Sheth, EASST fellow Shibiru Melesse, and Shanthi Manian are examining how predictive technology can be used to mitigate underlying gender biases while streamlining processes for distributing capital efficiently and equitably.

Encouraging Adoption of Improved Cookstoves in East Africa

Credit: Burn Manufacturing

Cooking with biomass contributes to more than four million premature deaths each year, generates nearly a quarter of global black carbon, and disproportionately affects women, the primary users of cookstoves. In one study, researchers partially funded through CEGA investigated the barriers to the adoption of low-cost, improved cookstoves among households in Kenya.

In partnership with an energy-efficient charcoal stove producer, UC Berkeley PhD student Susanna Berkouwer and co-author studied how constraints on credit and perceptions of energy savings affect the adoption of new technologies. They found that while households would like to adopt energy-efficient cookstoves — there is a 300% average annual rate of return in terms of fuel savings — they are unable to do so due to credit constraints. Avoided environmental damages generated by use of the efficient cookstoves point to subsidies as a potential solution to this challenge.

Impacts of Social Signaling on Maternal and Child Health in Sierra Leone

Credit: Direct Relief/Creative Commons

Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of under-five mortality in the world. Encouraging women to seek prenatal care and deliver their babies with skilled attendants is one way to improve the health of mothers and children. With funding from CEGA’s Behavioral Economics in Reproductive Health Initiative (BERI), UC Berkeley PhD student Anne Karing collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone (MOHS-SL) to test the potential of a simple yet innovative social signaling intervention — colored bracelets — to motivate mothers to seek care for themselves and their children, while inspiring other women in the community to do the same.

Women at more than 120 public clinics were given colored bracelets at each prenatal visit and when they delivered their babies using a skilled attendant. Researchers are studying whether this type of social signaling (bracelets) together with small incentives motivate mothers to seek care for themselves and their children and influence other women to engage in similar health-seeking behavior. The intervention has strong potential for scale-up through Sierra Leone’s existing institutions, as the bracelets are less expensive to produce and distribute than other incentives.

A related study by Karing, which used bracelets to signal that a child had been immunized, found large positive effects on immunization rates when linked to a vaccine with high perceived benefits.

Empowering Adolescent Girls to Return to School in Tanzania

Credit: Global Partnerships for Education (GPE)/Chantal Rigaud

Just four percent of Tanzanian adolescent girls complete secondary school and less than a third of those who enter lower secondary schools graduate. These young women face lower earning potential, higher rates of abuse, and poorer health. Despite these consequences, researchers hypothesize that many girls who drop out might not have the ability to reintegrate back into secondary school.

With funding from the BRAC-CEGA Learning Collaborative, a research partnership between CEGA and BRAC, researchers are evaluating BRAC’s Education, Empowerment and Life-skills for Adolescent Girls and Young Children (EELAY) program, which provides out-of-school girls in Tanzania with alternative methods to reenter the educational system from which they were excluded. This study measures the EELAY program’s impact on gender equity in education, with a specific focus on girls’ reengagement with formal education, cognitive skills, performance in the labor market, and well-being.

Promoting African Women as Research Leaders

Dr. Grace Mhalu at the 2018 EASST Summit in Kampala, Uganda. Credit: CEGA

UNESCO data indicates that less than a third of people employed in research and development globally are women, perpetuating a lack of perspective on gender and diseases that disproportionately affect women. Meanwhile, an Elsevier report claims that African research publications make up less than one percent of global research. Taken together, African women are largely left out of the global research conversation, with potentially harmful consequences for health and development.

CEGA’s East Africa Social Science Translation (EASST) Collaborative is a multi-institution research network that promotes scientific evaluation of social and economic development programs in East Africa, and makes an effort to recruit as many talented female researchers as possible. Dr. Grace Mhalu, a research scientist at the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania and 2019 EASST fellow, focuses her research on gender and tuberculosis. With funding from EASST, Mhalu is exploring how health-seeking behavior, diagnosis, and adherence differs between men and women. She also has advice for African women seeking to become researchers themselves: “Have an open mind. Expand your horizons and your perspective. Explore and apply for opportunities even if you do not know that you will get them.” Read more about Mhalu’s research and experience as an EASST fellow in this blog post.

Helping Realize Women’s Rights in Pakistan

Bride and groom in Lahore, Pakistan. Credit: Abuzar Xheikh

In Pakistan, marriage officials who register Muslim marriage contracts are responsible for ensuring the document includes protections for women’s rights in accordance with the law, but 90% of them have never attended any formal training on their responsibilities and are often unaware of details of the law or respond to family or community pressures on what the contract should say.

With funding from the Economic Development and Institutions (EDI) program, managed in part by CEGA, researchers tested the first-ever effort to train all marriage registrars in the province of Punjab. After the training, there was a 166% increase in the number of registrars who could correctly identify key rights women have in marriage. The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women shared these results with the Council on Islamic Ideologies, the authoritative body over the Muslim marriage contract in Pakistan. Efforts are now underway to make the marriage contract more “woman-friendly,” an important step to improve access to legal rights for millions of women in Pakistan.

Effects of Gender-Targeted Information on Maternal Mortality

Group of women relaxing and looking after children on the front porch. Photo by Carol Colfer/CIFOR

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have some of the highest rates of maternal mortality, due in part to limited awareness of birth spacing and maternal age. Funded by BERI, Nava Ashraf and coauthors tested whether providing targeted information to men and women improves family planning and maternal health outcomes in Zambia.

Couples of childbearing age attended separate gender-specific meetings in which they receive information on either maternal mortality, family planning, or neither, based on the group to which they have been randomly assigned. Researchers measured the impact of providing this targeted information to different members of the household by tracking outcomes on knowledge and beliefs, household demand for family planning and contraceptive use, and intra-household dynamics.

Skills Development Program Positively Impacts Young Women in Uganda

Educate! secondary school program in Uganda’s Soroti region. Credit: ©Cartier Philanthropy/Andrea Borgarello

Education systems in Africa face many challenges in equipping students with the skills needed to be successful in adulthood. A randomized evaluation funded in part by BERI discovered that soft-skills development curriculum provided to young women in secondary schools in Uganda empowered them to be more in control of their lives and to work towards achieving their long-term goals, among other preliminary findings.

Partnering with Educate!, a social enterprise that provides a leadership and social entrepreneurship skill development program to students, CEGA researchers evaluated how the program affected students’ skills, economic outcomes, and fertility and sexual-related behaviors.

CEGA looks forward to continuing our efforts to promote the rights and empowerment of women through rigorous research, and commend the efforts of the many others around the world working towards the same goal.



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